For centuries the RCP library and archives have collected and commissioned material to support physicians' learning and document our history, providing a fascinating record of the RCP’s activities and an insight into the world of medicine. These collections are made accessible to the public for their research.
Viewing our collections
All library materials (except those held in the MERC) are available to the public for reference use, with those prior to 1850 requiring an appointment. The majoity of more recent items are available for loan.
Digitised versions of material are increasingly available online. The catalogue for archives, manuscripts and personal papers is also available via the National Archives, where you can search the collections of many other organisations.
Rare and early books
The RCP has had a library since its foundation in 1518. RCP fellows including William Harvey have donated books over the centuries, so the library’s collections reflect the collecting habits of past physicians and the broad education they were expected to have. The subjects of our rare books include medicine, science, law, architecture, travel, cookery and medical advice for the public. The collections include:
- 126 books published before 1501 (termed 'incunables'), including some of the earliest printings of classical medical texts by Greek, Roman and Arabic doctors
- over 100 books from the lost library of John Dee, the Elizabethan astrologer and occultist
- the former library of the Marquis of Dorchester, including over 3,000 items, which was donated in 1680.
19th century books online
Over 4,000 books dating from 1780 to 1914 are searchable in full text and free to download, having been digitised as a part of the UK Medical Heritage Library. Subjects include medicine, science, sociology, history, library science, antiquities, religion, magic, languages and general reference materials.
Medicine across the centuries
Our print collections include:
- almost every significant text in the history of cardiology from the 16th century to the 1970s, making up the 1,262 titles in the Evan Bedford collection
- over 1,000 books, pamphlets and journals on rheumatology and rehabilitation from 1534 to 1983 in the Heberden collection
- complete runs of The Lancet and The BMJ, The Medical Directory and The Medical Register
- biographies of medics, scientists and famous patients
- materials relating to 20th-century socio-medical milestones such as the formation of the NHS, the legacy of two world wars, the impact of AIDS and obesity, and the increasing participation of women in the medical profession
- texts relating to the relationship of medicine with other disciplines such as philosophy, art and literature.
Institutional records and publications
From the RCP's founding charter to 20th-century reports on the effects of smoking, there is a wealth of material on the RCP's role in relation to contemporary medical advances. There are many archive records defining the RCP’s changing role in setting standards in medical practice.
This is also reflected in the publications the RCP has produced, including the RCP’s journals: Medical Transactions (1768–1820), the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians (1966–2000), Clinical Medicine (2001–) and the Future Healthcare Journal (2014–).
Voices of medicine: oral histories and obituaries
Unique obituaries of all RCP fellows are publicly available in Munk's Roll: the lives of the fellows.
'Voices of Medicine' is a collection of oral history interviews with RCP members and fellows. The interviews span multiple subject areas, including medical education, working lives in the NHS, medical developments over the past 70 years and the role of the RCP in the formation of health policy.
Manuscripts and personal papers
RCP members have always collected manuscripts and papers on a wide range of medical and non-medical topics. As a result the archives contain an eclectic range of 14th- to 19th-century manuscripts, including works on astrology, alchemy, religion, travel, medical theory and medical practice.
Personal papers of past fellows from the 16th century to the 20th century provide glimpses into the personal lives and social concerns of many distinguished physicians.
Donations to our library collections
Offers of donations are always appreciated but be aware that restrictions on space and other resources mean that only some items can be accepted.
For offers of unpublished material or artefacts please contact us for details.
The library and archive catalogues and other collection management documents may contain information about living persons, in relation to collection items. The RCP also keeps records on research visitors, to meet access and security requirements.