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April 4, 1966

The "Cradle-Books" of Medicine

Author Affiliations

Curator, History of Science Collections, Cornell University Libraries. Ithaca. NY.

JAMA. 1966;196(1):55-58. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03100140109029

The Latin word cunae, meaning cradle, has given us the English term incunable (Latin incunabulum) to designate the earliest books which were printed from movable type from the time of Gutenberg to the close of the year 1500. Here were texts, whether of earlier or current treatises, reproduced in a quantity and with an accuracy never possible in manuscript. And they were reproduced by hardheaded, profit-minded publishers, reproduced therefore to be bought and read and used.

Among the new books few could have been more practical than those of medical content. Small wonder then that physicians bought them, consulted them, studied them, annotated them, accumulated libraries of them. It was an age when information was avidly sought, whether in Greek, Latin, Italian, German, French, or Spanish. Accordingly, any physician who reads their languages today will realize that he should value these books not primarily because they are now museum pieces,

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