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 then he received an 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.
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 of 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 assiduously traveled to Europe in search of books and manuscripts.
In 1927, Dr. Crummer became one of the editors of the journal Annals of Medical History, in which he had already published two important articles about the subject of anatomical fugitive sheets. 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). Le Roy Crummer died on January 2, 1934. Most of his books were bequeathed to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, and the bequest is one of the jewels within the History of Medicine Collection in the Special Collections Library.
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 fourteenth-century copies of Carmen de urinis, a poem on the subject of uroscopy — the examination of the urine as a means for 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 Glaucon, 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. There are also subsequent editions and translations of this work.
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, Anatomical Treatise on the Movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals (Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus). 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 by Richard Lower: Tractatus de corde. Item de motu & colore sanguinis et chyli in eum transit.
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.