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Early investments


The first official acquisition C J S Thompson made for Wellcome’s library was a seventeenth-century collection of medicinal recipes by Lady Ayscough, bought in 1897. A year later, he made the company’s first major book purchase at auction, acquiring 482 lots from William Morris’s library at Sotheby’s for the sum of £1843 9s 6d. Not long after, Thompson was formally appointed to care for the company’s growing mass of books. The first and longest-serving of Wellcome’s collecting col- laborators, Thompson would remain head of the Library for 13 years, before becoming Curator of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum.


We may say that the last idea is that you shall be known as ‘librarian’.


Wellcome’s secretary writing to C J S Thompson in 1899


Frank Payne bookplate L0021429 Wellcome Images


Osler reported in Bibliotheca Osleriana that Payne’s library ‘was lost for the School in an aggravating way’ after the Sotheby’s lot was knocked down to an un- known bidder within a minute. Osler was magnanimous in defeat: ‘I am glad for the sake of Dr Payne’s memory that it has been kept together and will be well housed in the Wellcome Historical Museum’. Osler also man- aged to accumulate his own collection of 8000 books, now housed at the Osler Library of the History of Medi- cine, which opened at McGill University in 1929.


‘Like stout Cortez’


C J S Thompson L0013410 Wellcome Images


An aggravating bidder


An early acquisitions coup was the 1911 purchase of the library of medical historian and librarian to the Royal College of Physicians Dr J F Payne (1840–1910). Rich in incunabula, early herbals and plague literature, the collection was also a target for Canadian physician Sir William Osler (1849–1919), who had been commis- sioned to buy it on behalf of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.


Originally located with the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in London’s Wigmore Street, the Library was separated from its sister institution in 1921, when it moved to nearby premises in Stratford Mews. It remained there for seven years, never opening to the public. In 1928, the Library moved once again, to


a spacious former wireless factory on the Hythe Road industrial estate at Willesden Junction. No readers were allowed to visit, though postal enquiries were handled. Much of the staff’s time was spent unpacking, cataloguing and sorting consignments of books that had been sitting unopened for years. Noël Poynter, who joined as a junior assistant in 1930 and rose to be Director of the Museum and Library, likened disturbing ‘the dust of years’ on these ‘heaped mounds of books’ to the explorations of a new world by ‘stout Cortez’.


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