The Lloyd Library: The Unknown Alexandria of Herbal Medicine

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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Written by Christopher Hobbs LAc AHG

Explore Wellness in 2021