Le Roy Crummer Collection

LeRoy Crummer,M.D., drawn by British artist Dame Laura Knight
Portrait of Le Roy Crummer. Laura Knight, June 1925. Charcoal drawing. Courtesy of the University of Michigan, Special Collections Library

Le Roy Crummer was born in Elizabeth (Illinois) on April 15, 1872. His father, Benjamin F. Crummer, was a physician who eventually moved to Omaha (Nebraska), where he became a successful doctor. Le Roy Crummer graduated from the University of Michigan in 1893 with a bachelor degree and M.D. from Northwestern University in 1896. Next, he joined his father's practice in Omaha, also becoming an instructor at the University of Nebraska. During W.W.I., Dr. Crummer was a captain in the Medical Corps stationed at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia, where he taught cardiology to medical officers. As a result of this teaching experience, he wrote a book on heart disease, Clinical Features of Heart Disease; an Interpretation of the Mechanics of Diagnosis for Practitioners. (New York: P.B. Hoeber, 1925).

In 1919, he was named Professor of Medicine at the University of Nebraska, a position that he held until 1925. As his health began to deteriorate from heart disease, he moved to Los Angeles where,  he led the quiet life as a scholar and collector of rare books illustrating the early history of medicine. In the decade between 1920 and 1930, Dr. Crummer and his wife Myrtle Crummer, herself a collector of Dickens and Elizabethan literature, assiduously traveled to Europe in search of books and manuscripts. The importance of this rapidly growing collection was first recorded in a catalog Myrtle presented to her husband on his fifty-fifth birthday: A Catalogue, Manuscripts and Medical Books Printed before 1640 in the Library of Le Roy Crummer, Omaha, Nebraska (Omaha: Privately printed, 1927). It lists 442 manuscripts and printed books.

In 1927, Crummer  became one of the editors of the journal Annals of Medical History, where he had already published two important articles on the subject of anatomical fugitive sheets, of which he was a collector: "Early Anatomical Fugitive Sheets" (1923); and "Further Information on Early Anatomical Fugitive Sheets" (1925). In 1929, he published an edition of a manuscript by the distinguished British physician William Heberden (1710-1801): An Introduction to the Study of Physic (1929). In the preliminary essay, Crummer describes his excitement at finding this manuscript in a bookstore in south London.

Le Roy Crummer died on January 2, 1934. Most of his books were bequeathed to his Alma Mater, the University of Michigan, being one of the jewels within the History of Medicine Collection. 

De urinis
Gilles de Corbeil (ca. 1140-ca. 1224). De Urinis (Com. Gentile da Foligno [d. 1348]. Italy; 14th c. 

Overall, the Le Roy Crummer Collection focuses on the early history of medicine, particularly from the late Middle Ages through the seventeenth century. It includes some extraordinary medieval manuscripts, such as a fourteenth-century copy of Carmen de urinis, a poem on the subject of uroscopy -the examination of the urine as a means of diagnosis- by Gilles de Corbeil (1140-1224), and the Pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum secretorum and Problemata.

The collection contains numerous early-printed editions of the masters of Greek medicine, including Hippocrates, Galen, and Dioscorides, most of them in Latin translations. There are some rare, early editions of the works of Galen in the original Greek, such as Johannes Winter's edition of Galen's Method of Medicine to Galucon, published in Paris in 1537. Dr. Crummer was also interested in the medieval didactic poem Regimen sanitatis (Rule of Health), of which the collection includes thirty-four editions and translations. The holdings also reflect the output in many different disciplines that were formerly considered part of the science of healing: astrology, astronomy, alchemy, magic, botany, and natural history.

Rich in the early history of anatomy, the collection includes the second edition of Andreas Vesalius' masterpiece: De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1555).There are also subsequent editions and translations of this work, including a shorter version consisting mostly of plates: De Humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome (Cologne: J. Buxmacherus and G. Meutingus, 1600). 

Woodcut from Charles Estienne (1504-c.1564) De dissectione partium corporis humani libri tres, à Carolo Stephano, doctore medico, editi. Vnà cum figuris & incisionum declarationibus, à Stephano Riuerio chirurgo cõpositis (Paris: S. Colinaeus, 1545)

The post-Vesalius era is illustrated by numerous masterpieces that integrate Vesalian anatomy in the study of surgery. This is well exemplified in the output of Ambroise Paré (c. 1510-1590):  Les oevvres d'Ambroise Paré ... Diulsees en vingt hulet liures, auec les figures & portralets.tant de l'anatomie, que des instruments de chirurgie, & de plusieurs monstres, Reueuës augmentees par l'autheur (Paris: G.Buon, 1585). 

As a cardiologist, and as someone suffering from a rare heart condition, it was probably natural that Dr. Crummer was interested in William Harvey's work. Indeed, the collection includes the first edition of Harvey's treatise on the circulation of the blood, Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus (Anatomical Treatise on the movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals) (Frankfurt: William Fitzer, 1628).  Moreover, there are not only other subsequent editions of Harvey's masterpiece, but also many works inspired by Harvey's findings such as the work of Richard Lower: Tractatus de corde. Item de motu & colore sanguinis et chyli in eum transitu (London: J. Allestry, 1669).

Dr. Crummer was also a great scholar. He was the first to inventory and catalogue the so-called anatomical fugitive sheets. Published separately as broadsides in the printing technique of woodblock or copperplate engraving, they were mainly records of actual dissections or anatomical representations of the male and female body. They were more affordable than books, and primarily published for teaching purposes: each illustration was accompanied by a brief text. Some of these sheets could be fairly sophisticated by including layers of flaps that the user could lift up to reveal the internal organs of the body. The Crummer Collection includes a fascinating selection of this rare material.

In 1927, Dr. Crummer realized that Dr. Pilcher had not included his extensive collection of  editions of Thomas Browne's Religio Medici in his gift to the U of M Library. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Crummer donated his entire collection on this work, containing thirty-nine editions and translations. In a copy of a Latin edition of 1743, published in Zurich, Dr. Crummer added a note that offers a vivid snapshot of himself as a passionate collector in the history of medicine at the beginning of the twentieth century:

The finding of this copy in an old bookshop in New York in 1915 was the beginning of this collection. I wrote Sir William Osler offering him the copy if it was not in his collection. I received immediately a characteristic Osler letter, saying he had the book and telling me about it, and so the seed was planted for my book collecting mania.


Select Bibliography

Crummer, Le Roy. "Early Anatomical Fugitive Sheets." Annals of Medical History 5, no. 1 (1923): 189-209.

________. "Further Information on Early Anatomical Fugitive Sheets." Annals of Medical History 7, no.1 (1925): 1-5.

________. An introduction to the study of physic. by William Heberden <1710-1801> A prefatory essay by Leroy Crummer; with a reprint of Heberden's Some account of a disorder of the breast; portrait in photogravure; six illustrations. New York, P.B. Hoeber, inc., 1929. 

Crummer, Myrtle. A Catalogue, Manuscripts and Medical Books Printed before 1640 in the Library of Le Roy Crummer, Omaha, Nebraska. Omaha: Priv.print., 1927.

Uhlendorf, B.A. "Dr. Le Roy Crummer. '93, 1872-1934: Collector of Rare Medical Books." Michigan Alumnus Quarterly. Vol. 41, 11 (1935): 307-311.






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Last modified: 06/05/2019