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University of Iowa News Release

June 3, 2004

John Martin Rare Book Room Celebrates 30 Years With Open House

The John Martin Rare Book Room will celebrate its 30th anniversary and the centennial of its benefactor's birth with an open house at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 10, on the fourth floor of the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences.

Many of the 5,000 rare medical books in the collection will be on display, and visitors will be able to read them and admire the superb illustrations. Admission is free, and refreshments will be served.

Martin was a physician in Clarinda, Iowa and an incurable collector of rare medical books who donated them to the university. His books date back hundreds of years and provide a timeline of the development of scientific and medical thinking.

"It constitutes one of the finest and most important collections of rare medical books in the country," said Edwin Holtum, University of Iowa librarian and curator of the Martin Room. "Not only are these books important from a scientific and historic perspective, they are also beautiful pieces of art and inspiring to look at."

Holtum said Martin gave his collection to the university despite the fact that he had no formal connection here. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Northwestern University and worked at Northwestern and at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he started the hospital's first neurology unit. He never lived in Iowa until he retired from Walter Reed and moved to Clarinda.

Martin had been collecting old medical books ever since he purchased his first while in the Army in Rome during World War II. He purchased thousands more during the coming decades and donated them to the university in 1970 when he realized he could not keep the collection secure in his Clarinda home. He chose to donate them to UI in part because the university was building a new health sciences library that could provide a proper storage environment, and because of his respect for professors of medicine Robert Hardin and William Bean and UI librarian Leslie Dunlap.

Martin donated about half the books in the collection. The remainder has been purchased using an endowment Martin left to maintain and add to the collection. He died in 1996. Holtum said the value of the collection is incalculable. As an example, he points to a book Martin purchased in Rome decades ago for $740. "Today, its value is in the six figures," he said.

A web site containing illustrations from some of the books in the Martin collection can found at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010,