Treasures of the PI Nixon Library Blog

Treasures of the P.I. Nixon

An Anatomical Masterpiece

Bernhard Siegfried Albinus was a remarkable perfectionist, remembered for his beautiful anatomical work in Tables of the skeleton and muscles of the human body. Albinus lived 1697–1770, originally from Frankfurt, Germany and became a professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Leyden in 1721.

Albinus became fascinated with the idea of “homo perfectus,” which shows the body “subject to physical and mathematical laws both anatomically and physiologically.” He worked 22 years at finding this “homo perfectus,” and was influenced by one of the most famous physicians of all time, Hermann Boerhaave (1668–1738). Boerhaave, who was his mentor and friend, taught Albinus about the mechanical function of the body using mathematical laws to explain these theories. Albinus took on similar attitudes while putting together his anatomical book Tables of the skeleton and muscles of the human body. He insisted on being completely accurate in depicting the human body, comparing it to an architect drawing a building with all the measurements drawn to scale. He stated in the book’s preface, “And not a single picture has been drawn free hand. All have been measured, brought down to scale, either from an indeterminate distance, as the architects do…” A new technique of anatomical illustration emerged from this desire for accuracy. Albinus used a large wooden frame that had nets and grids attached with the body in the center, making his proportions and perspectives more precise.

Although Albinus was the mastermind of this anatomical operation, he needed the help of artist Jan Wandelaar (1690-1759) to make his visions a reality. Wandelaar became a close companion to Albinus when he moved in with Albinus and lived with him for 20 years, allowing him to be completely familiar with Albinus’ visions. Albinus strived for accuracy and perfection, causing Wandelaar’s artistic talent and opinions to be overlooked. Although the drawings needed to be under the direction of Albinus, Wandelaar had free range to draw the landscapes, architecture and lush backgrounds. One of the best known drawings displays a rhinoceros grazing in the background, which was the “first example of its species imported into Europe.”

This book displays human bodies with fluid motions showing the beauty of each pose and drawing. In order to make this a reality for Wandelaar, behind the specimen being drawn would be a man of equal height and stature standing in the same position. Albinus also moved away from the format of previous anatomy books, which first showed the outside of the body while working their way deeper to the skeleton. He aimed at creating the structure first, which was the skeleton, then working to the muscles.

The P.I. Nixon Library owns a first edition English translation of this work that contains 40 copper plates of re-engraved copies of the originals done by Jan Wandelaar. It took Albinus eight years and 24,000 Dutch florins of his own money to create this illustrious book. In addition to the twelve plates representing the human body, there are sixteen additional engraved plates highlighting special muscles and parts of muscles.

Please drop by to see this magnificent treasure. The Nixon Library is open Monday – Friday 8 AM-5 PM.  We prefer appointments, but walk-ins are always welcome. Any questions about this post, please send to Mellisa DeThorne at or 210-567-2470.

Sarah Borque, Special Collections Intern

Bronze Hands, Anyone Interested?

Dr. Ferdinand Peter Herff was born in the late 19th century in San Antonio, Texas. Like his Father and Grandfather before him; Ferdinand worked as a physician in San Antonio for many years. Dr. Herff’s bronze hands were sculpted by Waldine Tauch, who was Pompeo L. Coppini’s pupil. The McNay generously donated the hands in 1995.

For more information about the Herff Family consider checking out their memoir at the Briscoe Library: or come to the P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library and see the hands up close.  The Nixon Library is open Monday – Friday 8AM-5PM.  We prefer appointments, but walk-ins are always welcome.  Any questions about this post, please send to Mellisa DeThorne at or 210-567-2470

Sarah Borque, Special Collections Intern


Mellisa D.  –Keeper of all things old and precious

Nixon Library Owns Rare Tintype of Crawford Long

Photograph of Crawford Long performing a mock amputation on a sedated patient

The University Archives owns a rare tintype of Crawford Long demonstrating the use of ether as an anesthetic. Long is credited with the first use of ether as an anesthetic in a surgical procedure.  In the early 1840’s, a new fad of inhaling “laughing gas” at parties had developed.  Dr. Long noticed that persons under the influence of ether at these parties literally felt no pain when falling.  It occurred to him to use ether to render surgery painless.  On March 30, 1842, Long used ether during the removal of a cyst on the neck of James Venable, who insisted he felt no pain.  This was four years before William Morton’s famous demonstration of chemical anesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Dr. Long’s claim was eventually verified, and he is now recognized as the discoverer of modern anesthesia, although he did not publish his findings or make them known to the medical profession.

The photographic image, probably made between 1855 and 1860, was staged to portray Dr. Long’s original discovery and use of anesthesia.  The image shows a surgeon ostensibly preparing to amputate, an anesthetist monitoring the patient’s pulse and administering ether on a cloth, and an assistant standing by with instruments.  The picture raises several interesting questions: first, which medical man in the photograph is Crawford Long, since other known likenesses of Long bear resemblances to both the surgeon and the anesthetist in the picture; and second, what does the lettering on the wooden box in the photograph mean?

Crawford Long was living in Athens, Georgia, probably at the time the ferrotype was made.  He operated a drug store and shared a practice with his brother, Robert, also a physician.  Long’s approximate age at the time the photo was made would have been between 39 and 45, making it more likely that Long is the surgeon in the picture.  Could the young man administering the ether be Robert Long?  His dress and posture in the photograph suggest that he is a medical professional, and the family resemblance to Long is strong.

The wording on the box in the foreground reads “Williamson” on the first line, “Temperane” on the second, and “Ga” on the third.  The box is evidently a shipping crate and the words on the side an address.  It is speculated that “Temperane” was a misspelling of “Temperance.”  There were three towns called Temperance in Georgia, one of them relatively close to Athens.  The wording appears reversed due to the process of producing a tintype, which resulted in a direct positive image that was reversed.  Tintypes were on thin sheet iron that had been lacquered black or chocolate brown.  Since they were on metal plates, they could not be corrected by turning them over.

The Crawford Long tintype, the only known photograph of Dr. Long, was discovered in 1986 by an antique dealer in Gainesville, Georgia, who purchased it from a descendant of Dr. Long.  It was purchased for the Nixon Library by Dr. Scott Smith, who found the rare tintype at a book fair in Austin, in honor of Dr. Maurice Albin, professor of anesthesiology at the Health Science Center and director of neuroanesthesiology at Medical Center Hospital and the VA Medical Center.

To view the tintype, contact Mellisa DeThorne at or 210-567-2470.


Mystery Men

Your friends at the Briscoe library found a group photo with no identifcation on the back.  Help us identify the men in the photograph.   Contact Mellisa DeThorne at, if you have any information.

Steward of all things old and mysterious, Mellisa D.

Bloodletting in the 19th century

Bloodletting for therapeutic purposes was at the height of popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries (Davis & Appel, 1979). Though many styles of tools have been used to extract blood (care for a leech?), above are two examples held by UT Health Science Center Historical and Special Collections – a scarificator and a spring lancet.

 The brass scarificator has 13 blades and dates between 1833 and 1855. The label inside its box says “Geo. Tiemann & Co.; Manufacturers of Surgical Instruments & Every Description of Cutlery; No. 63 Chatham St.; New York.” The scarificator is cocked by pulling the lever. Then a button releases the blades. Scarificators were developed as an accessory for cupping, the suction of blood from small cuts using glass cups. The procedure went something like this: the cups are heated and applied to the skin to create suction; the cup is quickly removed so the scarificator can be applied, creating in this case, 13 quarter-inch deep cuts; the cup is reapplied, pulling and collecting blood from the cuts (Davis & Appel, 1979). After about 1780, cupping sets were being exhausted by valves and syringes rather than heat.

While scarificators and cups were used to draw blood from capillaries, the lancet was a tool for venesection. This style of brass spring lancet pictured above was made during the 1800s. The blade was used much like a fleam or thumb lancet to puncture a vein. An internal ratchet and spring mechanism allows the blade to be cocked and then released.


Davis, A. & Appel, T. (1979). Bloodletting instruments in the National Museum of History and Technology. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

(UT Health Science Center Historical and Special Collections has initiated a project to identify items in a collection of medical artifacts. If you have further information about the items highlighted, please comment.)

Have any idea what these are?

Can you help us identify these tools? Because they are vaguely catheter-shaped, my best guess is a urethral dilator or sound, but I have not been able to confirm this.  Each probe is threaded as if they attach to a handle. They are each about six inches long, and there is no opening in the end. Please comment if you have a clue what these are used for!

(UT Health Science Center Historical and Special Collections has initiated a project to identify items in a collection of medical artifacts.  If you have further information about the items highlighted, please comment.)

What is it?

The above tools, called trephines or trepans, were used to cut a circular hole in the skull. Practiced for tens of thousands of years, trepanation is believed to be the oldest surgical procedure practiced by humans (Frey, 2005). Early trepanations are thought to have been treatment for psychological disorders, epilepsy, and headaches (Frey, 2005).

The all-metal trephine pictured above is from after 1860, while the one with the ebony handle is from between 1860 and 1870.  Both have Galt-style blades, characterized by the angled grooves on the cutting crown. This style was meant to produce less bone dust than the older straight crown. During the 19th century, trephines were used to relieve pressure on the brain following cranial injuries (Bakay, 1985).


Bakay, L. (1985). The early history of craniotomy: From antiquity to the Napoleonic Era. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Frey, R. J. (2005). Trepanation. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Detroit: Gale.

(UT Health Science Center Historical and Special Collections has initiated a project to identify items in a collection of medical artifacts.  If you have further information about the items highlighted, please comment.)

A P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library Closer Look: Micrographia

by Special Collections Librarian, Pennie Borchers

Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses With Observations and Inquiries Thereupon

Robert Hooke  (1635 – 1703)

Robert Hooke was one of the most penetrating and original minds of the 17th century.  A scholar at the Westminster School in England, Hooke read and absorbed Euclid’s first six books in a week and – in his spare time – invented thirty separate flying techniques.  He also explored the world of microscopy.

Early microscopes were primitive tools with a small field of view and images so distorted and dark that peering through their lenses for any length of time resulted in blurred vision.  Hooke, undeterred by such obstacles, examined a myriad of tiny objects – from needles and razors to moulds and fungi and, ultimately, the intricate structure of insects.  Nowhere is his artistic ability more apparent than in his depiction of the drone fly’s eye.  In drawings executed with astounding accuracy and beauty, each anatomic detail was revealed with precision, down to the cell itself, Hooke’s own discovery.

At the age of twenty-nine Robert Hooke produced his masterpiece, the Micrographia.

The National Library of Medicine has created a digitized copy of the Micrographia, which can be examined online at

The P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library owns the beautiful 1667 edition.  If you would like to have a close-up look at this amazing book, please contact Pennie Borchers, Special Collections Librarian:

Eye-to-eye with a grey drone fly

Plate of a grey drone fly head from the Micrographia

Plate of a grey drone fly head from the Micrographia

“I took a grey Drone-Fly…  I found this Fly to have the biggest clusters of eyes in proportion to his head of any small kind of Fly that I have yet seen…  The surface of each of these was shaped into a multitude of small Hemispheres, ranged over the whole surface of the eye in very lovely rows, between each of which were left long and regular trenches perfectly intire.  I was assured of this by the regularly reflected Image of Objects which I moved to and fro between the head and the light, and by examining the Cornea or outward skin after I had stript it off, and by looking both upon the inside and against the light…  Every one of these Hemispheres reflects as exact and perfect an Image of any Object from the surface as a small Ball of Quick-Silver of that bigness would do.  In each of these Hemispheres, I have been able to discover a Landscape of those things which lay before my window…”

From the Micrographia by Robert Hooke

UTHSCSA Yearbooks Collection

We are missing the following  yearbooks:

1974-1976, 1978-1980, 1983-1984, 1986-1991, 1993-1994, 2000-2002

If you have a copy, please consider donating to the University Archives.   If you have questions regarding this post, contact Mellisa DeThorne @ 567-2470 or  e-mail

A History of the Texas Medical Association 1853-1953

By: P.I. Nixon

A History of the Texas Medical Association 1853-1953 was written by Dr. PI Nixon.

“The combination of a competent, busy physician and a trained, excellent historian is infrequent. No one in Texas except Dr. Nixon had both the knowledge and the ability to write “the larger story””.

                                                                                                                     -Merton Minter