Lot #197
Georgios Papanikolaou Archive (16 Letters)

Sixteen letters from the pioneering Dr. George Papanicolaou
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Estimate: $7500+


Sixteen letters from the pioneering Dr. George Papanicolaou

Greek physician (1883-1962) who was a pioneer in cytopathology and early cancer detection, known for his invention of the 'Pap smear.' Archive of sixteen letters from Dr. George Papanicolaou to veterinarian, dog breeder, and eugenicist Leon Whitney, comprising thirteen TLSs and three ALSs, most signed "George" or "Pap," plus a telegram and Whitney's retained carbon copies of his letters to Papanicolaou; in all, the archive represents 35 pieces of correspondence. This friendly correspondence covers a diverse variety of subjects, including diagnoses of cancer in humans and dogs, dog breeds, flowers, Turkish food, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Also includes an excellent copy of Papanicolaou’s 1954 work Atlas of Exfoliative Cytology in its original binder, with 38 plates of non-malignant and malignant cells. In overall fine condition.

Excerpts from the back-and-forth correspondence:

Leon F. Whitney to George N. Papanicolaou, May 19, 1937, New Haven, CT:
“Thank you very much for the dahlias but thank you more for saying that you will be able to come up this Sunday. It will be convenient for us indeed. As I see it now there is only one cloud on the horizon. I sold a bloodhound to a man in New York State who is coming over to get him and expects a demonstration of his trailing ability. It may take an hour out of the day to talk with him and explain to him how to work the dog. There may possibly be some other interruptions in the way of visitors to see the dogs from far and near but I think I can arrange to have my assistant take care of these people so that we can be alone. Kate has never learned the art of making pilaff, so for Sunday dinner you will have to be content with New England baked beans or something else equally unromantic.”

Leon F. Whitney to George N. Papanicolaou, June 14, 1937, New Haven, CT:
“Thank you very much for writing to Dr. Watt. I presume he will carry out the treatment faithfully. The Paclava [baklava] lasted a long while. We put it in the ice box and it was eaten like candy. I am ashamed to admit that I ate by far the greater part myself. I do not know of anything that tastes quite as good as that.”

Leon F. Whitney to George N. Papanicolaou, November 30, 1937, New Haven, CT:
“Have I told you since I last saw you that I entered the Graduate School at Yale and am taking four courses: Organic Chemistry, Histology, Medical Bacteriology, and Dr. Allen’s seminar course in reproduction. It is a fascinating schedule all but the Organic Chemistry which I find very hard and very unnecessary but in order for me to get a D.V.M. degree it has to be taken and passed. I hope to go for four years, half time, to the University of Pennsylvania to finish up. Strictly between ourselves, it now appears that there is a very extended ovulation in the bitch or else two distinct ovulations which come several days apart. I mated one bitch to a Great Dane and four days later to a hound. There were five puppies by the Great Dane and six puppies by the hound. This is only one illustration and most interesting. We must get together and talk this over…P.S. I bought a microscope which I think even you would be proud to own since my old one had no oil emersion and was a monocular. I decided I would have to buy a new lense anyway so I had a chance to buy a Zeitz binocular and monocular from a wealthy friend, who several years ago thought he would like to monkey around with a microscope. He paid $355 for it when there was a very light duty. Today the same microscope cost $455. He had not unpacked most of it yet and he sold it to me for $200 and thought he did well and I thought I got a bargain. It certainly is a magnificent job. It has the three ordinary lenses and also 10X - 15X eye piece so I can get real magnification. I use it mostly in Bacteriology.”

George N. Papanicolaou to Leon F. Whitney, Western Union telegram, May 14, 1945, New York, NY:

George N. Papanicolaou to Leon F. Whitney, August 28, 1946, New York, NY:
“First the report on your bulldog bitch. The two slides show numerous acidophilic cells characteristic of estrus and a small amount of blood. The leucocytes are rather scanty and there are a good many spores of a fungus. There is no indication of a malignant neoplasm. Whether the fungus infection is responsible for her symptoms it is hard for me to say. Mrs. Pap. and I would be very glad to accept your proposition and bring a lot of pilaff and paklava with us if we were not trying ourselves very hard to lose a few pounds.”

George N. Papanicolaou to Leon F. Whitney, June 30, 1947, New York, NY:
“This is just a report on a smear you sent me from Dr. Mildred Clarke’s dachshund. Is is [it] a cervical or a vaginal? It looks more like a cervical. I have been unable to see any malignant neoplastic cells in it. It is essentially negative, except for some indication of a mild cervicitis. If you send me another slide, please send also some information with it. It makes its reading easier.”

Leon F. Whitney to George N. Papanicolaou, November 21, 1949, New Haven, CT:
“I am sending you a book which means that you will have to buy a dog. Now aren’t you sorry you ever met me? Right after the first of the year, I will send you another one which, after you have looked at it, will cause you to buy another dog, a cat, a rabbit, a canary, a parrot, and a lot of tropical fishes. By that time Mrs. Pap will have something to say about it I am sure.”

George N. Papanicolaou to Leon F. Whitney, December 19, 1949, New York, NY:
“Your book is here and I certainly took a great deal of pride in reading your inscription, but we are still without a dog. Maybe by the time we receive your next book we’ll decide to get one unless you send us one with your next book. If you do so, it has to be one of the Mexican Chihuahuas which Mrs. Pap could put in her handbag and carry back and forth to the school, for we are still going through the same daily routine.”

Leon F. Whitney to George N. Papanicolaou, December 29, 1949, CT:
“All of a sudden there has been a great interest in my ovarian transplanting. Science Service sent a man up for a story, and several writers have been around looking for feature articles which I discourage. You will be interested in knowing that a Danish doctor has repeated my work with good results. Personally I think the really valuable discovery that comes out of the whole thing is that the ovaries of old animals are rejuvenated. My next job is going to be to buy some sheep and try transplanting their ovaries. It should be easy compared to the dog jobs because the sheep have no capsule. It will also be interesting to find out whether or not they will take when the ewe is not in heat. In a week or so you will receive another book which I trust will intensify your desire to own some pets. If you don’t think this book represents a lot of work, guess again. I wrote 460,000 words which were reduced to 300,000. Just to be sure that you have at least some pets, I am going to bring you some real fancy guppies which I breed; and if you don’t want to keep them at home you can keep them in your laboratory. They are not going to be just ordinary nasty little guppies but something that will surprise even you. If after you see them you can resist them, of course you can give them away.”

George N. Papanicolaou to Leon F. Whitney, January 6, 1950, New York, NY:
“I envy you for being independent and free to write one book after another and to continue your interesting experimentation. You’re better off than if you were associated with an institution. Here I find myself an actual slave wasting most of my time in routine functions which do not allow me to make use of my accumulated experience in the cytologic field.”

Leon F. Whitney to George N. Papanicolaou, February 26, 1951, CT:
“Every magazine I pick up tells something about the wonderful Dr. Papanicolaou. Of course, I want to write to the magazine and tell them it is not the doctor; it’s his old lady who really does all those wonderful things. But then, thinking that you might be mad at me for doing it, I refrain.”

Leon F. Whitney to George N. Papanicolaou, April 3, 1952, CT:
“I’m glad you like the poem I sent, "The Explorer." I am sending you a quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes which I thought applied to you and which applies to me in just a small measure, too, I think. I read this and wrote to Mr. Holmes and asked him if he would kindly sign it for me, and he did and sent it to me; so I have the quotation signed by him personally and I treasure it greatly. It hangs in my study.”

George N. Papanicolaou to Leon F. Whitney, May 8, 1952, New York, NY:
“Now since traveling is not a problem for you, couldn’t you take a short trip to our little town and have dinner with us and my nephew and niece? We can promise you a special Ajem Pilaff and a good Paklava. We will also have a chance to talk about a lot of things including the problem of breast cancer in the dog. I knew of Oliver Wendell Holmes as a great judge, but I did not know of him as a real poet. His quotation proves him to be a great writer and a great thinker. His words are certainly food for thought, and I can see why you prize the autographed quotation so highly.”

George N. Papanicolaou to Leon F. Whitney, January 11, 1954, Douglaston, NY:
“Being both fond of cheese, we enjoyed tremendously your Christmas present. It was a wonderful assortment of choice varieties, some of which were new to us. They were very elegantly arranged in a beautiful box, which we have decided to keep because of its very artistic cover.”

George N. Papanicolaou to Leon F. Whitney, February 26, 1954, New York, NY:
“It was nice of you to suggest my name for the 1954 Dr. C. C. Criss Award. I am returning the letter of Mr. Carden to you with my most sincere thanks. I have no idea as to what this prize is for and whether I am worthy of it, but I am, just the same, grateful to you for your suggestion. The winter is practically over and we should make new plans soon though not before the 17th of March. That is the date of my second appearance in the educational television programs of the American Cancer Society. The first one was presented yesterday and I am glad it is over. There is a lot of fun, but also nonsense, in these television programs.”

Leon F. Whitney to George N. Papanicolaou, March 16, 1954, New Haven, CT:
“I wish I had known you were going to be on television because I certainly would love to have watched the show. Please tell me when the next time is going to be so I can run over to George’s and see you. Then I’ll be able to tell everyone looking on that we are friends and it will make me very proud.”

These two eminent scientists carried on a friendly correspondence for more than twenty years. Leon F. Whitney, an American instructor at the Yale School of Medicine, was most famous for advocating the forced sterilization of millions of 'defective' Americans and praised Adolf Hitler for doing the same in Germany. Meanwhile, Greek George Papanicolaou at the medical college of Cornell University developed a test that identified uterine, cervical, and other female reproductive cancers, leading to early detection and treatment for millions of women. This archive demonstrates how science—and common interests such as flowers and dogs—could bring together these two men in the intellectual and cultural world of twentieth-century America.

Interestingly, Whitney references Papanicolaou once in his 1934 eugenics book The Case for Sterilization by referring to Papanicolaou’s monograph as 'one of the most important' studies on the 'sexual cycle in women' in his discussion of sterilization.

A review of Papanicolaou’s Atlas of Exfoliative Cytology described it as 'dealing primarily with cancer diagnosis in exfoliated cells' and 'an outgrowth of his pioneer studies on the reproductive physiology of mammals by means of his well-known vaginal-smear technique.' This publication largely founded the modern medical specialty of cytopathology that studies and diagnoses diseases on the cellular level.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Fine Autograph and Artifacts, Ft. Art and Literature
  • Dates: #610 - Ended June 16, 2021