60. Bones, Bodies and Disease: the Rare Medical Books of Dr Calvin Wells

These striking images are from a collection of historic medical books gathered by Dr Calvin Wells.  This unfortunate child has “measels”: he appears in the frontispiece of Domestic Medicine, by William Buchan. New ed. 1782, along with illustrations of smallpox, ring worms, scald head and various intestinal worms.  Buchan’s work was aimed at the general public and proved very popular, running into many editions (this interesting article from Boston Medical Library explains his appeal to British and American readers).

Detail from frontispiece of Buchan's Domestic Medicine, new ed 1782 Calvin/BUCDr Wells (1908-1978) was a fascinating individual, a doctor turned archaeologist.  He began his career in medicine in London, training at University College London and University College Hospital and specialising in obstetrics.  He also became interested in anthropology. Later, when he had moved to Norfolk, Dr Wells began to combine these two strands, using his medical knowledge to interpret archaeological finds and so shed light on the diseases and injuries suffered by ancient people and sometimes also on modern health problems. His best-known work was Bones, Bodies and Disease (1964). His widow, Winifred “Freddie” Wells, donated his books and archive to the University of Bradford in 1984.

Emblems of Immortality, p.170 of Thornton's Philosophy of Medicine vol 2 1799-1800 Calvin/THOThis beautiful engraving shows emblems of immortality (caterpillar to butterfly, acorn to oak tree).  It is from volume 2 of Thornton’s Philosophy of medicine (1799-1800) which is full of intriguing illustrations and interesting anecdotes.  This illustration accompanies an article about the brain in which the author defends ideas of the soul and immortality.

Both Calvin and Winifred Wells collected historic medical books.  Their book collection is particularly rich in 17th and 18th century volumes on gynaecology and obstetrics, by authors such as Thomas Sydenham, Francois Mauriceau and William Smellie.  There are also 20th century works on archaeology and anthropology, practical medical and nursing works, and books on exotic travels, ear, nose and throat medicine, and the archaeology of Norfolk.

More on Dr Wells’ archaeological interests in a later Object!

2 responses to “60. Bones, Bodies and Disease: the Rare Medical Books of Dr Calvin Wells

  1. Pingback: A visit to the Calvin Wells archive « Digitised Diseases

  2. Pingback: 92. The Story of Skeleton A8: Dr Calvin Wells and Leprosy in Saxon England | 100 Objects

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