Treasures of the PI Nixon Library Blog

Treasures of the P.I. Nixon

Investigating the Origins of a Spencer Monocular Microscope

S. Perry Post, M.D., donated this Spencer monocular microscope to the P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library in April 2001. Little information was provided about the microscope upon its delivery. Dr. Post merely stated that he purchased the microscope, second hand, from an upper classman when he entered medical school (UTMB, Galveston) in 1934. Preliminary research revealed very little following the microscope’s arrival. When the Spencer microscope was donated, both the date of manufacture and the original price could not be determined, and no record of the Spencer Company could be found. But it is still in perfect working condition, though a little dusty. So, exactly how old is this microscope? This is the question surrounding the mystery of the microscope.


Pieces of the Puzzle

Initial inspection of the microscope and its accessories revealed a label with “Spencer Lens Company” located on the rack and pinion connected to the body-tube. “Spencer Buffalo U.S.A” is also printed on the lid of the objective lens canisters with the corresponding objective lens size: 16mm, 4mm, 1.8mm.

Recognized as the first American to successfully make microscopes in the U.S., Charles Spencer published his first catalog in 1838. In 1865, he founded the company C.A. Spencer & Sons in Canastota, New York, but moved the business to Geneva, New York in 1873 to manufacture microscopes for the Geneva Optical Co. These instruments were marked “C.A. Spencer & Sons for Geneva Optical Company.” Following the death of Charles Spencer in 1881, the business was carried on by his son Herbert, who moved the company to Buffalo, New York in 1890. From 1890 to 1895, the company was known as Spencer and Smith, but changed to the Spencer Lens Company in 1895. The Spencer Lens Company remained in Buffalo, New York. In 1935, the Spencer Lens Company was bought by American Optical but continued operation under its own name, after the acquisition, until 1945 when it became known as the Instrument Division of American Optical Company.

What does this mean for our Spencer monocular microscope? It means that it could have been manufactured any year between 1895 and 1934. To add more mystery to the microscope’s history, a mechanical stage adjustment with a “C” mount is attached to the stage of the Spencer microscope. “Bausch & Lomb Optical Co. Rochester, N.Y. U.S.A.” is engraved on the mechanical stage adjustment. B&L Optical Co. was established in 1874 and patented the mechanical stage “c” mount in 1897. The “c” mount may have been attached to the Spencer microscope following its production. Since the “c” mount is adjustable vertically and horizontally, it was adjusted to reveal two holes on the stage. These two holes indicate that the original stage clips may have been removed and replaced with the mechanical stage.

Spencer Monocular Microscope, mechanical stage "c" mount and holes for the original stage clips


Was the Spencer microscope manufactured after 1897, when the mechanical stage “c” mount was available? Or, was the Spencer microscope manufactured before 1897? The microscope’s owner may have replaced the original stage clips with the mechanical stage “c” mount after its purchase. A precise date of manufacture has yet to be determined.





Physical Description

Housed in a well-built wooden case, the microscope is black and bronze and has a rectangular pillar that sits on a horseshoe base and supports the limb and the fixed stage. The body-tube has a rack and pinion for coarse focusing and carries objective lenses with different focal lengths screwed into a circular, triple nosepiece. The micrometer screw on the bottom of the limb (under the pinion for coarse focusing) is used for fine focusing. The swing out substage consists of a condenser, iris diaphragm and filter holder. The swing out double mirror is attached beneath the stage. The microscope stands approximately 10″ in closed position and approximately 14″ fully extended.

In addition to the monocular microscope, the case houses a four-hole, eye-piece container holder, and an objective lens canister holder with three objective lens canisters. These canisters are used to immerse the eye-piece (objective lens) in oil or water. For high magnification applications, an oil-immersion objective or water-immersion objective has to be used. The objective is specially designed. Refractive index matching oil (or water) must fill the air gap between the front element and the object to allow for greater resolution at high magnification.

How old do you think this Spencer monocular microscope is? If you have a guess or any comments or questions, please contact Mellisa De Thorne at or call 210-567-2470.


Trinaé Weldy, Special Collections Intern


References and Additional Information:

“995.3.1: Microscope, Monocular, c. 1890.” British Columbia Medical Association: Medical Museum. British Columbia Medical Association, 2007-2008. Web. 21 November 2013. <>.

“American Optical/Spencer.” Robert A. Paselk Scientific Instrument Museum. Humboldt State University, Department of Chemistry, R. Paselk, 04 Feb 2009. Web. 18 November 2013. <>.

Van Vleck, Richard, ed. “Bausch & Lomb – Microscope Makers.” American Artifacts: 19th Century American Microscope Makers. American Artifacts, 1999. Web. 20 November 2013. <>.

Van Vleck, Richard, ed. “Charles A. Spencer – Microscope Maker.” American Artifacts: 19th Century American Microscope Makers. Greybird Publishing, 1999. Web. 20 November 2013. <>.

The Life and Experiences of Dr. John Matthews


The medical bag and instruments below belonged to Dr. John Matthews, an ophthalmologist whose practice was held in the Nix Medical Arts Building (now the Emily Morgan Hotel), in San Antonio.  Dr. Matthews was a prominent member of San Antonio’s medical community. As a physician and active member and leader in local medical organizations, Dr. Matthews played a significant role in the establishment of the South Texas Medical Center. On the board of the San Antonio Medical Foundation and President of the Bexar County Medical Society, Matthews secured the endorsement of the Texas Medical Association, initiating the development of a medical center in the 1950s. Once appropriate requirements were met and important decisions made, Governor Preston Smith signed the bill approving the Medical Center’s construction in Northwest San Antonio.

Contents of Medical Bag: (from left) Diagnostic set, 2 Tonometers, metal syringe, box of Heat Sterilized Catgut Sutures, double-set case for 1 Cystotome and 1 Von Graefe's cataract knife, surgical kit, stethoscope, 2 Binocular Loupe (1 is a pair of bifocals)              From Left: Diagnostic kit, 2 Tonometers and surgical kit.

The University Archives houses an oral history with Dr. Matthews conducted by David LaRo on February 10, 1995.  Approximately 87 years old at the time of the interview, Dr. Matthews discusses various aspects of his life, his experiences as a physician, and the changes he had seen, and hoped to see, within the medical field.

Born in San Antonio December 15, 1908, Dr. Matthews spent his childhood in Eagle Pass, Texas only to move to Laredo, Texas in 1919 after his father lost his job at the Border National Bank. Not until 1922 did Matthews return to San Antonio, where he would retain a permanent residence. Matthews first decided to pursue a career in medicine under the influence of Dr. Homer T. Wilson, a general practitioner who had a background in surgery. The guidance of Dr. Wilson proved valuable as Matthews attended the University of Texas at Austin and then transferred to the University of Texas at Galveston’s Medical Branch for his medical training.

In his last year of medicine in Galveston, Matthews started a two-year rotating internship with the Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia. Following the internship, he returned to San Antonio and entered a general practice until 1938. Upon his return to San Antonio he joined the Army Reserve as a First Lieutenant in the 111th Medical Regiment. Dr. Matthews admits he had little interest in the field of ophthalmology up until this point. He took a correspondence course in military medicine (around 1935) and the subject intrigued him; it was then that he decided to pursue ophthalmology. Shortly after entering general practice, Matthews left San Antonio when he secured a two year residency at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. In 1940, Matthews returned to San Antonio and opened his office in the Nix Building in the general practice of ophthalmology.

From Left: metal syringe, box of Heat Sterilized Catgut Sutures, Binocular Loupe—bifocals, Stethoscope, Binocular Loupe, His first year of practice in San Antonio was interrupted when he was called into federal service and transferred, as Flight Surgeon, to the 111th Observation Squadron out of    Houston. The Squadron would remain encamped at what later became the Brownwood Airport until December 7, 1941. January, 1942, Matthews was transferred to the School of Aviation Medicine, in Randolph Field, as an instructor for the Department of Ophthalmology. Matthews examined cadets for aviation training and lectured in the field of optics. In 1943 Matthews became the Chief of Ophthalmology at the school and would hold that position until 1945. As Chief of Ophthalmology, Matthews was privy to some of the advances made in the field of ophthalmology during the war, particularly those involving color vision and the effects of radar on the human body. Such research led to the development of night vision and color vision testers used by the service.

In 1945, Matthews was released from the School of Aviation Medicine and he and his wife decided to return to the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia for a “little refresher work.” Discharged in 1946, they returned to San Antonio and Matthews re-opened his practice in the Nix Building until his retirement in 1994. After 59 years as a physician, Matthews was asked how the medical field has changed. Not only has he witnessed a number of advancements made in surgical techniques and drug therapy, he has also witnessed the role of the doctor change. Dr. Matthews suggests that increased specialization has taken away the “greatness” of being a physician, and that the doctor-patient relationship has lessened significantly. Would you agree? What changes have you experienced in the medical field? What changes would you like to see?


Thank you for taking time to read my post.  If you have a story of medicine in San Antonio to share, please send it to or call 210-567-2470.

The transcribed interview with Dr. Matthews is also available for review through Matthews Interview Transcript_1995

Audio clip of his oral history is available by clicking the play button below:


Trinaé Weldy, Special Collections Intern


Information Courtesy of:

“About Us.” Bexar County Medical Society. Bexar County Medical Society, n.d. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

“Building History.” The Emily Morgan Hotel: A Doubletree by Hilton. Blue Magnet Interactive. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

“History of Medicine.” Texas Medical Association: Physicians Caring for Texans. Texas Medical Association, n.d. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

“History of the Foundation.” San Antonio Medical Foundation. N.p.. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

Matthews, John L. Interview by David LaRo. 10 Feb 1995. 4 Nov 2013. Print.

“The Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.” UT Health Science Center Library. UTHSCSA Libraries, 29 Jan 2013. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

“Who We Are.” South Texas Medical Center. N.p.. Web. 6 Nov 2013. <>.

References for Medical Instrument Identification and Use:

Blaufox, Donald . “Ophthalmology.” Museum of Historical Medical Artifacts. Web. 9 Oct 2013. <>.

“Equipment.” Frank’s Hospital Workshop. Web. 7 Oct 2013. <>.

“Images from the History of Medicine (IHM).” U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 23 Jul 2013. Web. 9 Oct 2013. <>.

“Miltex 18-262 Ziegler Knife-Needle.” 4MD Medical Solutions: Solutions 4 All Your Medical Needs. 4MD Medical Solutions, n.d. Web. 9 Oct 2013. <>.

“Ophthalmology.” British Columbia Medical Association: Medical Museum. British Columbia Medical Association, n.d. Web. 9 Oct 2013. <>.

“Ophthalmic Surgical Eye Instruments: Products.” Ophthalmic Surgical, LLC: Not Just Another Instrument Company. Ophthalmic Surgical, LLC . Web. 7 Oct 2013. <>.

October is American Archives Month—How to make a Humidification Chamber

Humidification is the process of introducing moisture into paper by placing the document inside an enclosed area with a water source.  This is often done for tightly rolled documents such as large maps, posters, or large pictures.  Water vapor enters the fibers of the document, allowing them to relax.  Often the document may then be opened safely, after which it can be pressed and dried to keep it flat.

A conservator is a professional whose primary occupation is the practice of conservation and who, through specialized education, knowledge, training and experience, formulates and implements all the activities of conservation in accordance with an ethical code such as the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice.

Humidification is relatively safe, but there is always some risk when documents are exposed to water.

Items that should only be treated by professional conservators are:

  • Rare and valuable documents.
  • Non-paper documents such as parchment and vellum.
  • Photographs.
  • Documents that are heavily soiled.
  • Documents that show previous mold growth
  • Documents with water soluble inks or paints as they may smear or bleed into the paper.

For help finding a conservator, contact the American Institute for Conservation at 202-452-9545 or visit their website at

Moving on to the fun stuff!  What supplies do I need to make a Humidification Chamber?

Supply list:

  • Plastic container with a tight-fitting lid, they come in different sizes and shapes.  Select one made of plastic with no ventilation holes.  Remember to choose a container which works best for the documents you want to flatten.  Examples below:

container_1 container_2

  • 2-3 bath towels.
  • Water pitcher.
  • 4 freezer containers.  You can find these at any grocery store, Walmart or Target for less than $4.00.
  • Warm water.
  • “Egg Crate” light panel.  These are plastic grids with holes in them.  The documents will rest on this panel so it should have a small grid, approximately ½”, to give even support.  The panel should be at least 3/8” thick, to prevent the document from touching the water filled containers beneath it.  Cut the panel to fit on the lip of the container.  You may need to cut the panel to fit in the container. Use caution when cutting because the plastic is brittle, and bits may fly about as it is cut.  Wear protective eye gear when cutting the panel.  Another option is asking hardware store staff to trim it for you.

eggcrate_1 eggcrate_2










  • Blotting paper—purchase online at suppliers such as or
  • Paper for signage.  Use this wording for the Sign: Humidification in Process.

Pre-humidification steps:

  • Unfold or unroll the document before humidifying, if that can be done without damaging it.
  • Remove staples and paper clips.  Metal fasteners can rust in humid conditions.

Humidification procedure:

  • Step 1—Fold towels and place at the bottom of the container.
  • Step 2- Place 4 freezer containers of equal size on top of the towels
  • Step3- Pour warm water into the freezer containers.
  • Step4-Place egg crate panel on the lip of the container. It should fit snuggly, raised a few inches above the freezer containers to avoid their contact with document.
  • Step 5- Cover the container and wait patiently for 4-8 hours.  Check the progress of the document every 15-20 minutes.  If you have to open the container, do not leave the lid off for long, or the humid air will escape, and this will prolong the humidification process.
  • Step 6- Remove document from container, it will unroll on its own.
  • Step 7- Lay the document flat on blotting paper.  Make sure blotting paper covers top and bottom of the document you are drying.  Use a book to provide even pressure while the document is drying.  Leave on blotter paper for a minimum of 12 hours.
  • Final step-Remove document from blotter stack.  You are finished with humidifying your document.

For more information about the Archives or to make an appointment to view archival materials, contact Mellisa DeThorne, Special Collections Assistant, at 210-567-2470 or

Happy American Archives Month, All!

Mellisa DeThorne, Keeper of precious things


Information Courtesy of:



Electrotherapy: Stimulating Medicine


The early twentieth century was a transforming period for the United States. Progress was the name of the game and science became a way to play. Physicians of the day used scientific language and data to authenticate their methods and equipment. The PI Nixon Medical Historical Library has such medical equipment from the period available, particularly in the realm of electrotherapy.

Figure 1 STAR-RIGHT Violet Ray Electrotherapy Apparatus. Manufactured by The Fitzgerald MFG. CO.

Figure 1 STAR-RIGHT Violet Ray


Popular for the treatment of minor muscle discomfort, the Violet Ray electrotherapy apparatus was believed to provide healthy stimulation to ease anxiety, rheumatism, and inflammatory conditions. Developed using Nikola Tesla’s (1856-1943) invention of the resonant transformer circuit, known as the Tesla coil, and growing knowledge of alternating electrical currents, these violet ray machines were manufactured and became accessible to the public.  Figure 1, a STAR-RIGHT Violet Ray electrotherapy apparatus was manufactured by The Fitzgerald MFG. CO out of Torrington, Connecticut in approximately 1926.  The Grey 10″ X 6″ box, with a cloth interior, contains 2 general body electrodes (glass)used to provide electric therapy to various parts of the body, 1 metal electrode, an insulated handle with cord connected to the transformer, with a  secondary cord connecting the transformer to the plug.

Figure 2, is another Violet Ray electrotherapy apparatus manufactured by the A.S. Aloe company out of St. Louis between 1900 and 1940. It is in a wooden box with a cloth interior and,

Figure 2 Violet Ray Electrotherapy Apparatus. Manufactured by the A.S. Aloe Company.

Figure 2 Violet Ray

contains 3 general body electrodes (glass), one surface electrode, one comb electrode, and one throat electrode. An insulated handle with cord and plug is also included.

Another type of electrotherapy device in use was the McIntosh combined, dry cell, Galvanic and Faradic battery. This battery is unique because it was the first combination of two different types of batteries. This combination had its appeal to physicians and other scientists because either battery, or current, could be used separately or simultaneously, and it was portable. Galvanic currents were used to create localized muscle contractions or to remove or reduce moles, ulcers and tumors. The Faradic current gave a more powerful jolt to the body and was used as a general stimulant. The electrolytic needle holder was used in the removal of hair. Figure 3 shows a McIntosh Combined dry cell Galvanic and Faradic Battery, manufactured by the McIntosh Electrical Corporation out of Chicago between 1922 and 1946. It has a black, leather covered, wooden case with a covered handle and two latches, and has a purple velvet false lid that covers the compartment and is attached by two poppers.

The box contains instructions (stained with various holes) on how to use the machine and how to recharge / replace the battery, 3 felt pad electrodes, 2 wooden handles

Figure 3 Combined Dry Cell Galvanic and Faradic Battery. Manufactured by the McIntosh Electrical Corporation. 1922-1946

Figure 3 Combined Dry Cell Galvanic and Faradic Battery, 1922-1946

with metal shafts, 1 electrolytic needle holder, and 2 miscellaneous rollers. The use or purpose of these rollers is unknown.  The set may be missing a magnifying glass that attaches to the electrolytic needle holder, as well as conducting leads.

MiscRoller.ResizedIf you have any ideas or knowledge of what the two miscellaneous rollers may have been used for or if you would like to see this equipment first hand, please visit the Nixon Library or contact Mellisa DeThorne at or 210-567-2470.


Trinaé Weldy, Special Collections Intern

Information Courtesy of:

Behary, Jeff. “AS Aloe Lightning Catalog.” The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum. The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum, 28 Aug 2004. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <>.

“Biographies.” Corrosion Doctors. Kingston Technical Software, n.d. Web. 12 Sep 2013. <>.

Blaufox, M. Donald. “The Instruments: Electricity.” Museum of Historical Medical Artifacts. Museum of Historical Medical Arifacts. Web. 4 Sep 2013. <>.

“Electrical Stimulator, 1922-1946.” British Cojumbia Medical Assocation: Medical Museum. British Cojumbia Medical Assocation, n.d. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <>.

“Museum Collection: 1800-1900 Galvanism and Faradism.” The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum. The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <>.

“Museum Collection: Violet Rays.” The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum. The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <>.

Vujovic, Ljubo. “Tesla Biography: Nikola Tesla The Genius Who Lit the World.” Tesla Memorial Society of New York. Tesla Memorial Society, 10 Jul 1998. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <>.

Additional Links:

For pictures of electrotherapy newspaper advertisements, please visit The Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum, the AS Aloe Lightning Catalog at

For more information on Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), who discovered the Galvanic current, Michael Faraday (1791-1867), who discovered the Faradic current, or Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), who invented the battery please visit the Corrosion Doctors’ website

Through the Eye Piece of the Microscope … San Antonio Nature Observations

Dr. Rudolph Menger was an early San Antonio doctor who loved nature and is best remembered for his nature observations and pictures.  He was born in San Antonio, Texas on April 21, 1851, to Johann and Augusta Menger.  His parents, native Germans, arrived in Texas in 1846. Menger attended the German-English school, a school established in 1858 by German immigrants, which endeavored to educate the children of recent immigrants. After graduation, he studied medicine in Germany at the University of Leipsic, in Saxony, graduating in November, 1874.

After graduating from medical school, Menger returned to San Antonio and served as Assistant Surgeon in the United States Army for one year then was appointed City Physician of San Antonio from 1875 until 1881, and was appointed once more in 1892. He was an active member of the West Texas Medical Society, wrote numerous articles for various medical journals, and worked in private practice.

He married Barbara C. Menger in 1879, a native of San Antonio and daughter of William L. Menger, owner of the Menger Hotel but unrelated to Ruldolph.  They had eight children: Minnie, Edward, August, Louis, Gustave, Rudolph, Theodore, and Margaret.

Dr. Menger’s book Texas Nature Observations and Reminiscenses, published in 1913, includes many of his photo-micrographs and observations.  It is available in the P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, and the university’s copy may be viewed online in full text through the University of North Texas’ Portal to Texas History at .

Picture from Menger book of scorpions

Picture of scorpions from Menger book


The P. I. Nixon Library owns the original scrapbook with Menger’s microphotographs.  It has been digitized for preservation, and the library hopes to make it viewable soon through the UTHSC Digital Archive.

Page from Menger Scrapbook

Page from Menger Scrapbook


A Guide to the German-English School (San Anonio, TX) Records, 1858-1893.  Texas Archival Resources Online.

Guide to the Rudolph Menger Papers. Texas Archival Resources Online.

“Menger Hotel,” The Handbook of Texas

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read my post.  If you have a story of the early days of the Health Science Center or medicine in San Antonio to share, please send it to or call 210-567-2470.


Mellisa DeThorne, keeper of precious things

Archives Matter!

What is an Archives?  Is it some mysterious club that only library workers belong to?  The short answer is no.  Chances are you have an archive at home -maybe love letters to your spouse, family photos, mom’s wedding gown, a collection of your favorite vinyl records.  My personal archives consists of photographs, handwritten love letters from my husband, my first piece of jewelry from my dad.  Yes, everyone has something worth preserving for future generations.

The Society of American Archivists defines archives as  materials created or received by a person, a family, or an organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value in the information they contain or because they provide evidence of the function and the responsibilities of their creator.  Both these records, and the places in which they are kept, are called archives.  Archival records take many forms, including correspondence, diaries, photographs, video or audio recordings, publications, and electronic records.  The people who manage these records are called Archivists.   Archivists, or in my case Archival Assistants, keep records that have enduring value as reliable memories of the past, and they help people find and understand the information they need in those records.  Now that you understand the terms archives and archivist, let’s move on to preservation.

As defined by the Society of American Archivists, Preservation is the act of keeping from harm, injury, decay, or destruction, especially through invasive treatment.  Have you ever seen the yellowing, fading, and warping of papers, books, or photographs exposed to too much light  (artificial and natural) and heat , perhaps from sitting around somebody’s hot garage for days, months, or years or from hanging near a window?  What about the mold spots growing on that picture in Grandma’s attic?  If you want to save these materials for future generations, place them in a room with minimal light exposure and with climate control to lower temperature and humidity.

light exposure before uv filter installation--before and after photo

light exposure before uv filter installation–before and after photo


Your University Archives has many records that document the history of the campus.  Do you know that in the very beginning this campus was a medical school, not the UT Health Science Center?  Do you know the names of the founding faculty members?  Are you curious about the first graduating class or are you interested in researching early medical doctors who lived and practiced in San Antonio?

Materials in the University Archives include photographs (like the ones pictured below), yearbooks, news clippings, meeting minutes, student newsletters, graduation programs, video and sounds recordings, college catalogs, casebooks and journals, and many other items – too many to list here.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read my post.  If you have a story of the early days of the Health Science Center or medicine in San Antonio to share, please send to or call 210-567-2470.  Happy Archives Month, All.

Information Courtesy of:

Mellisa DeThorne, Keeper of precious things

Anatomists and their art

In October 2011, Dr. Charleen Moore, Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Health Science Center’s Department of Cellular and Structural Biology, gave a fascinating presentation on “Anatomists and Their Art” which featured many of the most important works in the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.  Dr. Moore explained the interrelationship between anatomical study and art by looking at:

  • Artists who dissected (such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer),
  • Anatomists who drew (such as Robert Hooke and the Bell brothers), and
  • Anatomists who teamed up with artists (as  Vesalius did with van Calcar, or Albinus did with Wandelaar).

You can see and hear Dr. Moore’s presentation (28 minutes long) by clicking the “play” button below.

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Rare Treasure at the P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library

Illustration of Charles Darwin

Summer is a great time to explore nature and science with your family. The P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library may be a place to begin your adventure.

The library owns a rare first edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, or the Preservation of
Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
Published in 1859, the library’s fragile volume is a treasure. The valuable first editions with iconic green spines are in high demand for book collectors and science lovers. A first edition was recently found in the lou of a home in Southern England. It was sold to an anonymous buyer through Christie’s of London. The library’s copy, one of only approximately 1,250 printed, is part of many antiquarian texts originally donated to the Health Science Center in the early 1970’s by the Bexar County Medical Society.


Copy of Origin of Species

Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. His mother, the daughter of the famous potter Josiah Wedgwood, passed away when he was eight and he was raised by his sisters. Darwin’s school record wasn’t outstanding yet he began his medical studies in 1825 at Edinburgh University.  He found “anatomy and material medica dull and surgery unendurable.” He entered Christ’s College, Cambridge, in 1828 and took a course in botany where his beetle collection became famous. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1831, he took his botany instructor’s advice and accepted the position of naturalist for the second voyage of the H. M. S. Beagle. In December 1831, the voyage took Darwin to the coast of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego off the coast of South America.

The breakthrough in his ideas came in the Galapagos Islands, 500 miles west of South America. In observing the birds and animals on the islands, Darwin noticed that each island supported its own form of finch, which were closely related but differed in important ways.  On his return to England in 1836, Darwin proposed a theory of evolution occurring by the process of natural selection to solve the riddle of how different species evolve.  He worked on his theory for 20 years and along with another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, announced the discovery in 1858.

Illustration of FinchesDarwin had published several articles on his species studies but On the Origin of Species introduced Darwin’s works to a much larger audience. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, “The publication of Darwin’s book secured worldwide attention and aroused impassioned controversy.” Jon van Wyne, Bye-Fellow at Christ’s College, Cambridge, England, explains how the work “demonstrated with converging evidence from geological distribution, comparative anatomy and embryology, and the fossil record that life evolves.”

No matter your take on Darwin’s science, consider your nature exploration in San Antonio. The Witte Museum is currently hosting the American Museum of Natural History’s Darwin exhibit Darwin: How One Man’s Theory Turned the World on its Head. It runs through September 3, 2012 and includes Darwin’s handwritten journals of his observations while on the Galapagos Islands. For additional resources for children and families, visit the American Museum of National History’s Resources for Darwin. Darwin’s complete works can also be read online.

To view the Health Science Center’s first edition of On the Origin of Species, or any of the other 5,000 treasured medical texts, contact Special Projects Librarian Susan Hunnicutt at (210) 567-2406 or; or Mellisa DeThorne at 210-567-2470 or  Additional and selected materials from the Nixon Library may also be viewed online in the UTHSC Digital Archives / Historical Collection.

 – Melva Ramirez, MLS, Records and Information Management Intern, Special Collections

 Information Courtesy of:

Christ’s College, Cambridge

 Gale Document Number: GALE|K1631001688

The Huffington Post

P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library

San Antonio Express News

 Photographs Courtesy of:

Early ophthalmology text turns 500 this year

First page of treatise "De oculis" from Champier's _Speculum Galeni_

The PI Nixon Medical Historical Library is celebrating the 500th birthday of one of its treasures, an edition of Symphorien Champier’s Speculum Galeni.  The book includes one of the first treatises on ophthalmology ever printed.

Symphorien Champier (1472-1539) was an early French humanist and physician to Charles VIII, Louis XII, and the Duke of Lorraine.  He settled in Lyon, where he established the College of the Doctors of Lyon and studied Greek and Arab scholars as well as medicinal science, composing a great number of historical works.   He was also an admirer of Galen, the great second-century Greek physician and philosopher.  Champier set out to expand his contemporary colleagues’ knowledge of Galen by using a powerful new tool: the printing press.  

Speculum Galeni, printed in Lyon in 1512, begins with Champier’s own biography of Galen and a list of Galenic works.  It continues with Champier’s careful compilation of Latin translations of key works that were (at that time) attributed to Galen, to form a complete Treatise of Medicine.  Included in the compilation is “De oculis,” a treatise on the eyes, the first page of which appears in the photo above. According to later historians, “De oculis” may not have been Galen’s at all — it is only known today from this Latin translation, and no Greek original has ever been found.  Nonetheless, its inclusion in Champier’s compilation makes it one of the first printed works on the subject of ophthalmology. Photo of cover of our copy of Champier's book

Our copy of Speculum Galeni is bound together with another work of Champier called Practica nova in medicina which was probably printed several years earlier, around 1509. The beautiful binding was also created around the same time; it is stamped pigskin over wooden boards with metal clasp closures, and the whole volume is in beautiful condition.  We know from the stamps and inscriptions in the book that it once belonged to the Strahov Monastery Library in Prague.

The book came to the PI Nixon Medical Historical Library as part of the Andrew A Sandor Ophthalmology collection, a group of some 400 rare and historical books that the library acquired in 1988. We invite you to come and see this historical treasure, along with many other treasures on the history of ophthalmology such as Georg Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia (1583) and Samuel Thomas Sommering’s Abbildungen des menschlichen Auges (1801).

The P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library Reading Room is located on the fifth floor of the Briscoe Library and is open Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. In order to view books in the collection, it is best to schedule an appointment prior to visiting by calling 567-2470.

— Luke Rosenberger, Director of Library Technology & Historical Collections

A cure for what ails you

Photograph of a pharmacy case from 1910 holding medicine vials

This is a 1910 pharmaceutical case produced by The Abbott Alkaloidal Company in Chicago. The folding case has loops to hold 12 small vials — two brown glass vials with rubber caps and 10 clear glass vials with cork stoppers. The vials contain “dosimetric granules,” an early form of pills created by Dr. Wallace C. Abbott, physician and pharmacy owner (History timeline, 2010).

(Note: these particular vials are not necessarily original to the kit.) Description of vials from left to right:

(1) Typho Bacterin Mulford, First immunizing dose containing 500 million killed typhoid bacilli, Lab. No. 26521A;

(2) Typho Bacterin Mulford, Second immunizing dose containing 1000 million killed typhoid bacilli, Lab. No. 29299A;Photograph of pharmacy vials from 1910

(3) label missing, granule residue;

(4) atropine sulfate, Gr. 1-500, (32) Gm. .000125, full of granules;

(5) Anticonstipation, (233) Waugh, Alkaloidal Formula;

(6) empty;

(7) Aloin, Gr. 1.12., (16) Gm. .005. [used as a laxative]

(8) Pilecarpine, Gr. 1-10, Gm. .01;

(9) Colchicine, Gr. 1-134, Gm. .0005.;  [used to treat gout]

(10) Quinine Arsenate, Gr. 1-67., (184) Gm. .001.;

(11) Morphine Sulfate, Gr. 1-12., (152) Gm. .005.;

(12) Anodyne (Waugh), (231) For Infants. [generic term for pain killer]


History timeline. (2010). Abbott Labs: Global health care & medical research. Retrieved March 8, 2011, from

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