More Culture:

August 17, 2022

Historic medical library at the Mütter Museum open to public for first time

Visitors can check out over 500-year-old books, stone tablets and handwritten letters on Saturdays and Sundays

Arts & Culture Mütter Museum
Mütter Museum historical library open to public Courtesy of/The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

The Historical Medical Library, located above the Mütter Museum, is open to the public for the first time ever. Visitors can browse rare artwork, books and photographs on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Weekend visitors to the Mütter Museum can now head upstairs to peruse rare artwork and books in a historic library that was formerly closed to the public.

The Historical Medical Library will be open for the first time in it's 200-plus year history on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission to the library at 19 S. 22nd Street is free with a weekend museum ticket, which runs between $15 and $20.

The library and museum are part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, an organization for medical professionals that was founded in 1787. Previously, only researchers with appointments could browse the library.

"Up until now, the only way to access our collection was by appointment or viewing our digital collection, which only represents one percent of the overall collection," Heidi Nance, Historical Medical Library director, said in a release. "Opening our doors to all visitors on weekends represents a new phase for one of Philadelphia's greatest hidden treasures, sitting just above the iconic Mütter Museum."

The Historical Medical Library was established in 1788 by the College's Fellows and acted as the city's central medical library for over 150 years. It has been in its current location, built to house the growing library, since 1908. 

Today, it's an independent library that serves scholars, health professionals, students, writers – and now, anyone in the public who is curious to learn about the history of medicine and medical humanities.

"As we've worked to make The College of Physicians of Philadelphia more accessible in a variety of ways, inviting the public into the Historical Medical Library has long been a dream," said Dr. Mira Irons, President and CEO of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. "The complementary collections within our Museum and Library work together to tell a story of the past, present and future of medicine."

As of 2014, the library's collection is valued at $37 million and contains 300,000 rare books, art, historic medical photographs, medical trade ephemera, first editions and woodcut art. Visitors can also browse scrolls, stone tablets, lithographs, daguerreotype photos and handwritten letters.

Mutter Museum library books

A highlight of the library is the collection of more than 400 books printed before 1501, known as "incunabula." The oldest book on-site was printed in the 13th century.

Visitors to the library's recently-restored gallery will encounter historic artwork lining the walls, coffered ceilings and rotating exhibits that change every three months. The space is punctuated by a late-Gothic fireplace that was moved from the College's previous building on Locust Street. George W. Childs, publisher of the "Philadelphia Ledger," donated the fireplace, which had been designed in 1885 by prominent Philadelphia architect Theophilus P. Chandler.

Mutter Museum library fireplace

Unlike in most of the Mütter Museum, photography (even with flash) is welcome within the library's exhibits.

Along with opening its historic upstairs library to visitors, the museum also is hosting two events this month in the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden to finish out the summer.

Wellness Wednesday Massage takes place on Wednesday, Aug. 24 from 5 to 7 p.m. Massage therapist Nasrene Kordani will lead a hands-on lesson of self and partner massage. Tickets are $15 and include museum admission and a botanical-infused mocktail.

On Wednesday, Aug. 31 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., the museum is hosting its final beer garden of the summer. Roaring 20s Beer Garden includes hors d'oeuvres, prohibition pop-up talks, a live roaring '20s themed jazz set and alcoholic beverages for purchase. Tickets are $35 and include museum admission and a drink ticket. 

Tickets for both events, as well as weekend admission to the library, should be reserved in advance online.

Follow Franki & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @wordsbyfranki | @thePhillyVoice
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice
Have a news tip? Let us know.