VCU Libraries has acquired a treasure trove of thousands of rare medical books, manuscripts, silhouettes and prints, providing researchers with the opportunity to explore the history and evolution of medicine in its earliest printed form.
The collection of Joseph Lyon Miller (1875-1957) — who practiced medicine in Thomas, West Virginia, while serving as medical director of the Davis Coal and Coke Co. and as surgeon to the Western Maryland Railroad Co. — includes 2,250 books, published from 1500 to 1946; 78 silhouettes; 3,500 prints; as well as approximately 400 manuscript items, including correspondence, account ledgers, medical student notes and essays with a significant portion related to Virginia and Virginia physicians.
“The Richmond Academy of Medicine Joseph Lyon Miller Collection contains remarkable first and second editions of books dating back to 1500, as well as prints and records,” said Teresa L. Knott, associate dean for VCU Libraries and director of the VCU Health Sciences Library. “These books shaped the practice of medicine, nursing and public hygiene. Many are artifacts themselves — offering beautiful illustrations, interesting printing techniques and insight into medical history.”
Arthur L. Kellermann, M.D., senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System, said he had a recent opportunity to see The Miller Collection and was “struck by its beauty, historical significance and power.”
“I am proud and grateful for the team who worked so hard to bring the Miller Collection back to VCU Libraries,” Kellermann said.
The acquisition is a homecoming for the collection, which Miller began building as a student at the University College of Medicine, which merged with the Medical College of Virginia in 1913 and was a precursor of the VCU School of Medicine.
In 1927, Miller formally offered to donate the collection to the Richmond Academy of Medicine on the condition that the organization would build a permanent home for it with a fireproof library. William T. Sanger, Ph.D., president of the Medical College of Virginia, proposed the institutions cooperate via a public-private partnership that led to the construction of the Richmond Academy of Medicine’s first permanent facility at 1200 E. Clay St., built in tandem alongside and connected to VCU’s health sciences library that opened in 1932. The collection was available in the building for 56 years, until it was relocated in 1988 to the Virginia Historical Society, now the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.
“It’s exciting to see the collection return to the corner of 12th and Clay streets,” Knott said.
“Until 33 years ago, The Miller Collection was available to VCU Libraries personnel who helped organize and present the collection, through the double doors connecting the library and the Richmond Academy of Medicine building, now the Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research,” she said. “Most importantly, Health Sciences Library special collections materials were acquired based on having the Miller Collection readily accessible. The collections complement each other like two interlocking pieces.”
Jodi Koste, interim department head and university archivist, VCU Health Sciences Library, said the collection is significant for a number of reasons.