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The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

A Glimpse Beyond the Stacks: The Private Collections of the Fellows of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia


The College of Physicians of Philadelphia was founded in 1787 as a professional medical society in order “to advance the science of medicine and to thereby lessen human misery.”  A year later, in 1788, a committee of Fellows was charged with drafting a plan for a library. In December of that year John Morgan — a founder of both the College and of the first medical school in the United States (now the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) — presented sixteen volumes. Other Fellows soon followed Morgan’s example and before long the College allocated funds to purchase books, bind them, and erect a bookcase to hold them.  The Library continued to grow, due mostly to donations from Fellows.

Today, the Historical Medical Library holds about 2,300 linear feet of manuscript collections and College archives; over 375,000 volumes of journals, books, and rare books, including over 400 incunabula (books printed before 1500) and the largest collection of confirmed anthropodermic books (books bound in human skin) in the country.  Its collections include rare books, medieval manuscripts, journals, photographs, lantern (glass) slides, film reels, video cassettes, audio cassettes, diaries, manuscript (handwritten) recipe books, lecture notes, correspondence, scrapbooks, and other papers.

Just like the first Fellows of the College, many of our current Fellows are collectors of historical medical materials, including correspondence, notebooks, rare books, and artifacts.  A Glimpse Beyond the Stacks highlights special items from the private collections of our Fellows.



For more information about College Fellowship, please visit

Curated by Chrissie Perella, Archivist