Edinburgh Thesis Project Ebling Library University of Wisconsin Madison


Over the course of three sales at Sotheby’s in London in 1969, the library of the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh was dispersed. The Society was founded in 1734 and had built up substantial holdings of important medical and scientific texts. By the mid 1960s, faced with inadequate facilities and changes in the focus of the organization, the decision was made to relinquish the library at auction.
The librarian of the Middleton Health Sciences Library at the time was Helen Crawford, who undertook the task of obtaining as many relevant titles as possible after being contacted by Anthony Rota of the Bertram Rota booksellers firm in London. Due to the amount and complexity of the offerings, she traveled to London to personally attend the sales. Crawford’s efforts in preparing for the auction in Wisconsin, then participating in it in London allowed the University of Wisconsin to successfully acquire a substantial portion of the books offered. She wrote an engaging account of her experiences for the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association in 1970, describing the sale as “a protracted courtship of a lot of books, with all the conventional elements of suspense, competition, pursuit over great distances, and, finally, conquest.”
While not in the pristine condition favored by collectors, the books that Crawford obtained at these auctions document a great legacy in medical knowledge and instruction, and the signs of use and handling they exhibit demonstrate centuries of learning. This "working collection" is now gratefully used by students and scholars at the Ebling Library.


home page history of the collection Helen Crawford thesis search using the collection Sotheby's Auction Catalog         This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17, US Code).                                                                         Photo by Amanda Lambert, Edinburgh 1995
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