United States National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health

Prints and Photographs

  • About the Prints and Photographs Collection

    The Prints and Photographs Collection contains approximately 100,000 images dating from the 15th to the 21st century. The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine. Most types of printmaking are represented: woodcuts, engravings, etchings, mezzotints, aquatints, and lithographs. Also included in the collection are illustrations from the historical book collection. The collection is administered by the NLM History of Medicine Division (HMD).

    • Description of the Prints and Photographs Collection

      The collection's strength lies in its pre-World War II materials. Areas of concentration include portraits of health professionals and biomedical scientists; views of health institutions, such as hospitals and medical schools; fine prints with medically related themes; and images reproduced from the Library's rare book and manuscript collections. There are smaller numbers of illustrations of anatomy, medical techniques, and diseases, chiefly derived from rare book illustrations, such as Andreas Vesalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Subjects include medieval astrology, World War I hospitals, international efforts to overcome drug abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases, among others. Of particular note is the fine prints collection, numbering more than 3,000 items, including several hundred caricatures on medically related subjects by Honoré Daumier, George Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson, and Louis Léopold Boilly. The poster collection of approximately 12,000 items includes representative examples of historical and contemporary posters dealing with public health issues, such as AIDS, smoking, illicit drugs, and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as several hundred posters documenting activities at NIH.

    • History of the Prints and Photographs Collection

      The collection began in 1879 with the acquisition of 6,000 medical portraits by Cornelius Wilhelm Hendrik van Kaathoven. The prints were purchased at auction in Amsterdam by John Shaw Billings, the first director of the Library of the Surgeon General's Office, United States Army, which would later become NLM. In 1942, to insure the safety of the collection during World War II, the Prints and Photographs Collection was moved to Cleveland, along with the Library's rare and valuable books and manuscripts. During the ten-year period following the war, the portrait and print collection grew from 15,000 items to almost 60,000. In May 1962 the collection was moved from Cleveland to the Library's current location in Bethesda. The Prints and Photographs Collection has continued to grow through the generosity of many donors, transfers from other government agencies, and purchases. Recent collection efforts have concentrated on posters, especially those dealing with the AIDS epidemic, and 20th-century materials.

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  • About the Image Database (IHM)

    The Image database, Images from the History of Medicine (IHM), is an online picture database of nearly 65,000 images that are in the NLM historical prints and photographs collection.

    Newly acquired posters and other materials are continually being added to the IHM. In addition, existing records are regularly reviewed and upgraded, with new records and edits immediately available in the IHM.

    Future plans include adding more new images and catalog records to the database.

    See Recent Acquisitions: Prints and Photographs.

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  • How to Search Prints and Photographs

    Search for prints and photographs in the Image database (IHM) or LocatorPlus.

    To Search Images in the IHM

    Items from the Prints and Photographs Collection may be searched using two approaches, Keyword and Browse. For most searches, we recommend use of KEYWORD searching.


    1. Searches terms from ALL fields in the record or terms from specifically selected fields (SUBJECT, AUTHOR, TITLE, NOTES, etc.)
    2. Permits combination of terms and fields using Boolean expressions.


    1. Displays specific lists of terms in the database in alphabetical order. You may browse and select terms and phrases from the lists to retrieve specific images or records.
    2. Browse places the pointer to the term or phrase which most closely matches the user search.
    3. No Boolean combinations available.
    4. Best used for controlled vocabulary searching or known number searching (e.g. MeSH terms or Order No.)

    To Search Images in LocatorPlus

    1. Go to the NLM LocatorPlus website: http://locatorplus.gov
    2. Click on LocatorPlus.
    3. Go to QUICK LIMIT and highlight the HISTORY OF MEDICINE IMAGES selection.

      Or you can go to SET LIMITS BEFORE SEARCHING, scroll down to "LOCATION" and click on HMD PRINTS AND PHOTOS. Click on SET LIMITS.

      Note: Limits only work with Keyword and Title searches.

    4. Go to SIMPLE SEARCH – AS: ("Keyword Anywhere" is recommended).
    5. Enter your Keyword in the Search: field and click the Search button.
    6. A list of images will display. Click on the ones you want to see. For the most complete information, click on DETAILED VIEW and read the SUMMARY.

      Note: Sample search examples to come.

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  • How to Access and Use Prints and Photographs

    The easiest access to the Prints and Photographs Collection is through the Image database (IHM).

    Prints and photographs may also be consulted in the History of Medicine Reading Room between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. Please see the Reference staff to request an item.

    How to Order Reproductions from the IHM Web Site

    Photographic reproductions and digital representations of images in the Image database (IHM) can be obtained from Light, Inc. by using the following process:

    1. Place order directly with Light, Inc. Orders cannot be filled by NLM.
    2. When ordering an image, identify the image by Order Number, which is located in each picture's record.
    3. Read carefully the IHM Copyright & Permission Information.

    Note: The following commercial non-government company is listed for your convenience. The government does not endorse or guarantee the services of the company.

    For reproductions contact:

    Light, Inc.
    12160-A Tech Road
    Silver Spring, Maryland 20904-1914
    E-mail: nlm.requests@yahoo.com
    Phone: (301) 680-9700
    Fax: (301) 680-0575

  • Contact Prints and Photographs

    Paul Theerman, Acting Manager
    E-mail: theermp@mail.nih.gov
    Phone: (301) 594-0975
    Fax: (301) 402-0872

    Prints and Photographs Collection
    History of Medicine Division, Bldg. 38, Rm. 1E-21
    National Library of Medicine
    8600 Rockville Pike
    Bethesda, Maryland 20894

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Last reviewed: 13 August 2008
Last updated: 13 August 2008
First published: 22 April 2004
Metadata| Permanence level: Permanent: Dynamic Content