RARE FIRST EDITION OF THE 1754 ANATOMICAL ATLAS BY WILLIAM SMELLIE, WHO "CONTRIBUTED MORE TO THE FUNDAMENTALS OF OBSTETRICS THAN VIRTUALLY ANY INDIVIDUAL," WITH 39 EXTRAORDINARY ELEPHANT FOLIO ENGRAVINGS, THE FIRST ACCURATE IMAGES OF THE FETUS IN UTERO, ONE OF ONLY 80 COPIES PUBLISHED
SMELLIE, William, M.D. A Sett of Anatomical Tables, with Explanations, and an Abridgement, of the Practice of Midwifery, With a View to illustrate a Treatise On that Subject, and Collection of Cases. London: [D. Wilson], 1754. Elephant folio (14-1/2 by 21-1/2 inches), contemporary half calf gilt, original marbled speckled boards. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $15,000.
Rare first edition of the pioneering 1754 anatomical atlas by William Smellie, "one of the most important obstetricians of all times," with 39 striking copper-engraved plates, the first accurate illustrations of the fetus in utero and during labor, far superior to any before seen, after drawings by Jan van Rymsdyk, Peter Camper and Smellie, accompanied by text and published under the supervision of Smellie's close friend, author and physician Tobias Smollett. One of only 80 copies printed.
The foremost British physician of his time, "William Smellie contributed more to the fundamentals of obstetrics than virtually any individual" (Garrison & Morton 6154). "Until Smellie's time, operative obstetrics consisted largely in destructive procedures on the fetus… Against this background emerged the genius of William Smellie… 'One of the most important obstetricians of all times and countries… Smellie was the first to measure the diagonal conjugate of the pelvis… His name is associated with the manual maneuver for assisting the aftercoming head in breech deliveries. Smellie's most important contribution to obstetrics, however, is thought by many to be his description of the mechanism of labor" (Speert, 490-1, 495). "When we review Smellie's contributions to obstetrics we realize that his influence on the fundamentals of that science probably has been greater than that of any single individual" (Thoms, Classical Contributions to Obstetrics, 124). The expressive folio engravings appearing here "are the first accurate anatomical illustrations of the fetus in utero" (Norman 1955). This is the first edition of the first of two volumes of case studies and was published two years after Smellie's landmark Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery, a work based on 1,150 deliveries. Intended to accompany that 1752 text and drawn from his own case histories, this "celebrated atlas… is a complete work in itself" (Garrison & Morton 6154.1) "The plates in this classic of obstetrical illustration are far superior to any that had appeared before. They give everywhere a masterly representation, true to nature, of the relations of the parts of mother and child, and have perhaps contributed more to spreading correct ideas of labor than all the books that have ever been written on the subject. Of the 39 plates, 26 were based on drawings by the Dutch comparative anatomist Jan van Rymsdyck. Eleven other plates were by one of Smellie's students from Holland, Dr. Pieter Camper, and Smellie himself is believed to have drawn the illustrations for the other two plates. All were beautifully engraved by Charles Grignon" (Grolier, 100 Medicine 43B). The 26 plates by van Rymsdyk were initially prepared for use in Smellie's obstetrical lectures. Pieter Camper, later a professor of medicine in the Netherlands, was renowned for his anatomical drawings, which "are all graceful and bold in design and, by a sparing use of cross-strokes, are characteristically crosshatched" (Choulant, 285). "Only 80 copies are believed to have been printed" (Speert, 491). "All of Smellie's books were prepared for the press by his friend, the novelist Tobias Smollett, who also practiced midwifery" (Norman 1954). Blake, 420. Grolier 100 Medicine 43B. Norman 1955. Waller 9012. Bookplate to title page.
Plates beautiful and unusually fine; title page reinforced on verso, with expert repair, including to a neat cut across the lower quarter of the page. Contemporary binding worn, joints cracked, cords holding firm. A great and important rarity of medical illustration.