This varied collection of approximately 2,500 prints offers a fascinating look into the history of medicine through popular imagery. The medium of the print, being an economical means of image production, allowed for the dissemination of pictures to a wide audience. Painted portraits and scenes could be drawn, engraved, and thereafter reproduced and circulated in large quantities. While only a select few could see an original painting, engraved prints could appear in publications, feature as frontispieces in books, or be sold separately.


The majority of the Osler Library Prints Collection consists of portraits, printed in a variety of techniques, such as line engraving, stipple engraving, etching, lithography, and mezzotint, as well as photography. Many of these prints were removed from publications like the Gentleman’s Magazine, the European Magazine, and Vanity Fair. Portrait prints could serve to honour the dead, or could be a method of self-promotion. Sitters are typically shown in a solid, upright pose, fashionably attired, projecting an aura of respectability and authority. The British and European medical men featured in our collection, predominantly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, are often shown with attributes of their profession and of their other endeavours. In many cases, these portraits present an image of the doctor as an inquisitive intellectual, whose interests extend beyond medicine into the fields of botany, philosophy, chemistry, and natural history. Portraiture not only serves as a record of an individual, but as a tool in the self-fashioning of a profession.


The significant number of cartoons and caricatures in this collection provide a more light-hearted and satirical view of medical professionals throughout history. This genre of popular imagery often poked fun at doctors, dentists, and apothecaries, playing on cultural stereotypes of medical men as over-zealous and as charlatans or “quacks”. Cartoons were also used in moralizing advertisements to instruct the public about health and hygiene: for example, teaching mothers how to maintain a sanitary environment for their children. Our collection of cartoons includes etchings by the famous Scottish caricaturist, John Kay, late nineteenth-century colour lithographs from Vanity Fair, and full-page French comics printed by the pioneering firm of Pellerin and Co., commonly referred to as Imagerie d’Épinal.

Canadian Content

While most of this collection is of European and British origin, there is also some Canadian content in our print holdings. We have a significant number of late-nineteenth century carte-de-visite photographs of Canadian physicians, many of whom were affiliated with McGill University. The prominent Montreal-based photographers, William Notman (1826-1891) and James Inglis (1835-1904), who photographed numerous local doctors and McGill alumni, are well-represented. In addition to photographs, there are a number of twentieth-century posters relating to the famous Canadian physician and Communist, Dr. Norman Bethune (1890-1939).


This print collection was acquired from a number of sources, most significantly from Dr. Frederick Kalz (1958), Dr. John Howell Evans (1960), and Mr. William H. Helfand (2010).

The Kalz collection, donated in 1958, was the first major contribution of engraved portraits to the Osler Library. The prints were largely amassed by the pioneering dermatologist and ardent collector, Dr. Ferdinand Kalz of Prague. His son, Dr. Frederick Kalz (1906-1993), who was Assistant Professor of Medicine (Dermatology) at McGill, added to the collection and subsequently donated it to the university. The 175 portraits in this collection date from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, representing early European physicians with an emphasis on France and Germany.

Dr. John Howell Evans (1810-1962) was an Oxford-educated English surgeon and cancer specialist who was based in London, at the Prince of Wales' Hospital and the Cancer Hospital. He was an associate of Sir William Osler, who encouraged his print collecting and his interest in the history of medicine. His collection, purchased in 1960, is the largest component of the Osler Library Prints Collection, comprising over seven hundred items. It is not possible to identify for certain which specific images come from this acquisition (particularly where there are duplicates), as this is not clearly indicated on the prints. There is a paper catalogue available (P072) that gives a complete listing of the physicians represented in the collection. This set of prints, while consisting primarily of portraits, also includes cartoons, caricatures, and medical-related scenes.

Mr. William H. Helfand is a retired executive with the multinational pharmaceutical company, Merck & Co. He is a respected historian in the fields of pharmacy and medical imagery, and has worked as a consultant to such institutions as the National Library of Medicine and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A noted speaker, curator, and collector of medical prints, cartoons, and ephemera, Mr. Helfand is the author of several books, including Pharmacy: An Illustrated History and The Picture of Health. His generous donation to the Osler Library (received in 2010) consists of approximately 150 prints, the majority of which are French cartoons and caricatures from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

There is also a set of 29 anatomical engravings from an Italian publication that were a gift of Ms. Ellen Wells (1934-1995) in 1975. Wells was Associate Osler Librarian from 1968-1971, and Acting Osler Librarian from 1971-1972, going on to become head of special collections at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. She was the founding Editor of the Osler Library Newsletter, and was instrumental in organizing the Friends of the Osler Library.


Edward Bilodeau, Library Technology Services
Amy Buckland, Library Technology Services
Megan Chellew, Collection Services
Chelsea Clarke, prints catalogue and website writer, Osler Library
Alice Hayward, Student assistant
Greg Houston, Library Technology Services
Chris Lyons, Osler Library
Pamela Miller, Osler Library
Louise O’Neill, Library Technology Services
Claire Stewart, Student assistant
Elizabeth Thomson, Library Technology Services

McGill University does not claim copyright over any images displayed in this collection.