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The Lloyd Library: The Unknown Alexandria of Herbal Medicine

© Christopher Hobbs LAc, AHG

All of the knowledge of the ancient world available in print--the written record of the discoveries and deeds and thoughts of humans were gathered in one place: the monumental library in the great cultural city of Alexandria. The Alexandria Library burned, destroying most of the manuscripts, which can be considered one of the great tragedies of human civilization.

Today, the vast storehouse of herbal written knowledge is housed in an unlikely place--not London, Athens or Rome--not New York, Chicago or Washington, but in Cincinnati. Why Cincinnati? Well, to start at the beginning, there were 3 brothers with a distinct talent for herbal medicine, pharmacy and botany. And most important for making the Lloyd library a reality--finances.

John Uri Lloyd was the genius writer and self-taught pharmacist. He invented many pharmaceutical processes and developed a number of patented medicines--many from plants. The second brother was Curtis Gates Lloyd--he was the pharmacist/naturalist. His passion was for fungi, botany and systematics. Then there was Nelson Ashley Lloyd, a pharmacist-turned businessman. He paid the bills and watched over the growing pharmaceutical business the 3 brothers bought in Cincinnati about 1876. The three brothers together built the Lloyd Brothers products, a company that manufactured herbal remedies such as the specific medicines--one of the most famous and widely used was specific medicine Echinacea.

As it turns out, John Uri was the initial inspiration behind the Lloyd library. He bought a few chemistry and pharmacy texts (the first was Parrish's Elements of Pharmacy for 25 cents) and kept them in a small case in his bedroom and study when he was apprenticing with a pharmacist, around 1863. As he developed in his work, a passion for books came over him and he began spending every spare cent on them. His thirst for knowledge was prodigious. Later, the knowledge he gained was offered to the world in his own style in the form of over 2,000 scientific articles and 12 books.

Fortunately, the 2 other brothers developed the book bug--while John Uri was buying pharmacy books, Curtis Gates was buying botany books, books on fungi and other books and journals in the natural sciences. Nelson Ashley sent book agents to Europe to buy rare books--current journals, all back issues, rare herbals and even complete libraries. Today, it would be nearly impossible to put together a collection such as the one they were building--unless one had the money of a Trump. For instance, the same herbal by Dioscorides that might sell for $100 in those days would cost in excess of $5,000 dollars today--that is if one could find it at all. Fortunately, as the Lloyd collection of books grew, so did their pharmacy business. They did so well with it, in fact, that they were able to set up a trust fund to finance the Lloyd library in perpetuity.

The original library was built in 1908. The third building, a landmark in Cincinnati was at 309 West Court Street in downtown Cincinnati, and was replaced by a beautiful modern new library in 1971. The new building has 4 floors--two of which house extensive stacks of journals, books, pamphlets and Lloyd memorabilia. I have walked through these stacks--it is the closest place on earth to heaven for an herbal book freak. The new building has a reading room and conference room, and the administration office has all the modern conveniences. The library is currently set up with up to date on-line bibliographic facilities and it is completely air conditioned--an important feature, for humidity is not beneficial to 5 or 6 hundred year old books.

A few statistics: The lloyd library houses over 170,000 volumes and more than 120,000 pamphlets. These were all gathered by the Lloyd brothers over a period of 100 years.

According to UNESCO, the Lloyd library has the largest collection of pharmacopeias, formularies and dispensatories in the world and the library has the largest collection on Eclectic medicine in the world. The library's journal holdings in herbal medicine, herbal pharmacy and related fields is superb. I have browsed the journal stacks, and saw many rare old journals on herbal medicine not available anywhere else in the United States, except perhaps the National Library of Medicine in Washington. They also have many European Pharmacy journals that are very difficult to find--some of them unavailable in the whole western half of the United States--such as Deutsche Apotheker Zeitung (DAZ)--a German journal with excellent articles on herbal medicine. For the botanical and mycological researcher, the library has an extensive, up to date journal holdings, as well as many rare and modern books. I had the pleasure of doing part of the research for my book, Medicinal Mushrooms in C.G. Lloyd's mycological collection. I found books I had no idea existed that contained gems of information about the therapeutic qualities of fungi.

I know from experience that it is not possible to find such a collection specifically on herbal medicine, herbal pharmacy, medical botany and pharmaceutical botany under one roof anywhere in the world. The collection is especially good in the areas of herbal therapeutics and medicine-making. The Eclectic practitioners had one of the most recorded medical herbal practices in history. They had medical schools throughout the country, training herbal medical doctors and thousands of practitioners who used herbal medicines every day in practice--many of them writing about their clinical experiences in journals (such as the Eclectic Medical Journal). Therefore, the Lloyd library collection on Eclectic medicine must be considered one of the finest resources ever for the doctor or health professionals using herbs in practice. For the herbalist interested in the history of herbalism, the Lloyd Library has a great collection of old and rare herbals--the kind of collection that one rarely sees outside of Europe.

Because the library is in Cincinnati, visiting is a surprisingly mellow experience, considering the world-class status and the recent interest in herbal medicine. This would not be the case if the library was in a major city on the East or West coast.

Anyone can use the library, and it remains open during the week, but is closed on weekends.

In June, 1990, it is fitting then, that the first official meeting of the only professional organization for herbalists--the American Herbalist Guild will take place at the Lloyd Library. This is a great opportunity to join with other herbalists from all over the country in celebrating the herbal Renaissance and to participate in conferences on all aspects of traditional and scientific herbalism, as well as tour the Lloyd library.

References for further reading.

Simons, C.M. 1972. Lloyd Library. Cincinnati Journal of Medicine 53: 185-8. Reprinted by the Lloyd Library.

Lloyd Library. "Meet the Lloyd Library." Brochure available from the librarian.

Felter, H.W. 1902. History of the Eclectic Medical Institute. Cincinnati: Alumnal Association of the Eclectic Medical Institute.
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About The Author
Christopher Hobbs is a fourth generation herbalist and botanist with over 30 years experience with herbs. Founder of Native Herb Custom Extracts (now Rainbow Light Custom Extracts) and the Institute for Natural Products Research. Christopher writes and lectures internationally on herbal medicine. He is a consultant to the herb industry and is currently practicing and working on a......more
 
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