This collection has been gathered from the private libraries of Latvian doctors. It contains books dating back to the 16th century, perhaps even earlier — the collection is still being researched. The core of this collection used to be part of Pauls Stradiņš’ (1896–1958) personal library, which he and his family directly donated to the Museum. In later years, the collection was supplanted by gifts from doctors — notably N. Pavlovsky, along with anatomists, medical historians and a member of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences, Vasily Ternovsky (1888–1976). A highlight of the collection is a 1564 edition of the Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, originally purchased by Dr. Pavlovsky in Tehran. The Museum’s book collection stores nearly 18,000 publications, many of which are extremely rare globally, and some happen to be the only specimens available in Latvia.
The second issue of the magnum opus of Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564), pioneer of scientific anatomy, is part of the ancient Riga book collection, the Bibliotheca Rigensis. In the 19th century, it was used by the Riga Association of Practicing Doctors and was later acquired by Pauls Stradiņš for his own collection, which would save it from the bombardment of Old Riga during World War II.
Justus Christian Loder (1753–1832) was one of the most famous anatomists and surgeons of his day. His anatomical illustrations are exemplary tokens of the state of the art in science at the turn of the 19th century. Loder established an anatomical theatre, a maternity hospital and a surgical clinic at the Jena University in Germany. He was friends with Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) and Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), and taught anatomy to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Loder spent his later years in Moscow where his mineral springs facility became such a popular leisure and recuperation destination that the Russian word лодырь (idler) was derived from his surname.
The 17th century edition of a book of aphorisms by the great Ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates is just 4.5 × 8.5 cm in size, but of enormous value. It was issued by the famous Dutch Elzevier printing house, which published intricately designed miniature books.
The German physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762-1836) was one of the most eminent doctors of his day and a prolific writer on medicine. By a twist of fate, this first edition of the System der practischen Heilkunde was saved from one devastating fire in 1941 only to endure another in 1947. The fire broke out in a barracks building at what is now the Stradiņš Hospital grounds, where collections of historical items were being stored. Fire brigades were joined by hospital staff and even their children, all struggling together to save most of the valuable objects from burning up.
Over 1,000 hand-painted engravings of thousands of distinct plants characterise the scope of ambition of Johann Wilhelm Weinmann (1683–1741), an 18th-century pharmacist. Images for the book were produced by Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708–1770) — one of the most brilliant botanical artists in Enlightenment Europe.
Farmers dancing and playing their fiddles, pigs grazing under an oak, a serpent tempting Adam and Eve by an apple tree, a person lounging under an exquisitely drawn grapevine, another vomiting next to a ficus plant in accordance with a contemporary method of cleansing the body. These are just a few of the stories depicted by the artist David Kandel (1524–1596) for this tome of medicinal plants by the German botanist Hieronymus Bock (Tragus) (1498–1554). The book and its illustrations provided a benchmark for many future generations of authors.
Jean Bodin (c. 1530–1596) was an influential French writer on demonology. This book took a long and circuitous journey to the Museum. It has traversed many countries, aristocratic libraries, auction houses and small-time antiques dealers. The author himself had a controversial life story, too — as mayor of the city of Laon, he participated as the prosecutor in around 200 witch trials, although he spoke out against torture and the mass punishment of sorcerers.
Safeguarding the health of mothers and children formed part of the Soviet Union’s governmental health policy. On the one hand, this led to considerable reductions in mortality, more effective treatment of diseases and improved preventative care. On the other hand, it saturated reproductive health, childbirth and child-rearing science with Soviet ideology.