Papier-mache sculpture of a human skeleton, produced by a Mexican artist for the Day of the Dead Festival at Lake Patzquaro, Mexico, 2 November 1975. © The Wellcome Library.
With wealth earned from his pharmaceutical company, Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936) began collecting medical tomes in earnest in the 1890s. His main interest was the history of medicine, taking in subjects as varied as alchemy, witchcraft, anthropology and ethnography.
By the 1920s, staff were needed to man this personal library, and it opened to the public in 1949 at the Wellcome Building on Euston Road in London. Nearly 60 years later, it has reopened its doors following a thorough revamp, allowing improved access to 2.5 million items spanning 3,000 years.
The refurbished, WiFi-enabled Library features a spacious rare materials reading room, twice as many computers as it previously had, viewing rooms and an e-learning room.
Harmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle, published in 1493, with over 1,800 woodcut illustrations. The Wellcome Library.
From 17th century Persian manuscripts to an advertisement for Marzine travel sickness tablets (as used by NASA astronauts!), the Library’s collection is a truly fascinating resource and many items plus a catalogue can be browsed online at its new look website, library.wellcome.ac.uk.
“The Wellcome Library is utterly unique,” says Frances Norton, Head of the Library. “The collections, although ostensibly medical, cover the breadth of social, psychological, political and scientific history, across all cultures. They speak eloquently to us as people, about our own experience of health and disease, as well as providing evidence of the progress of medicine over time.”
“The return to Henry Wellcome’s intended location on Euston Road comes at a significant time, as we prepare for the opening of the Wellcome Collection and embark on a programme of digitisation of the collections.”
Portrait of Paul Ferdinand Gachet, physician and art collector, an impression of the only known etching to be made by Vincent van Gogh, created on June 15 1890. The Wellcome Library.
The Library occupies two floors of The Wellcome Collection, a major new cultural venue spread over nine storeys at 183 Euston Road. Opening in June, the Collection will explore the connections between medicine and art.
A virtual library will also launch in June. Entitled Uncover, the touchscreen installation will allow users to explore the items in the Library virtually, create their own virtual exhibition and listen to Library staff talking about works.
The Wellcome Trust, which oversees both the Library and the Collection, is the largest independent charity in the UK, funding biomedical research and supporting public debate.