PINCUS, Gregory Goodwin. The Eggs of Mammals. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1936.

Octavo (216 x 140mm), pp. ix, [1 (blank)], 160, [6 (final blank ll.)]. Diagrams, letterpress tables, and half-tone illustrations in the text, 8 full-page. Original green cloth, upper board lettered in gilt with series title ‘Experimental Biology Monographs’ and with blind-ruled border, spine lettered in gilt. (Extremities a little rubbed and bumped, spine darkened and rubbed with loss of gilt.) Provenance: ‘$3.75’ price inkstamp on front free endpaper with slight offset onto facing pastedown – Joseph Edwards, Cambridge 1937 (1905-1992, ownership inscription on front free endpaper).

First edition. The American endocrinologist Pincus (1903-1967), gained a BS in agriculture from Cornell University in 1924 before graduating from Harvard University – where he studied genetics and physiology under W.E. Castle and W.J. Crozier – with a master’s degree and a doctorate in science in 1927. From 1929 to 1930 Pincus undertook research in Europe, studying at Cambridge University under the pioneers of reproductive biology F.H.A. Marshall and Sir John Hammond, and at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut für Biologie in Berlin under the geneticist R.B. Goldschmidt. On his return to the United States in 1930 Pincus was appointed an instructor in biology at Harvard and then an assistant professor in the following year, holding the position until 1938. In 1937-1938 Pincus was a visiting investigator at Cambridge University; in 1938 he was appointed a visiting professor of experimental zoology at Clark University, Worcester, MA (holding the position until 1945); from 1946 to 1950 he held a titular professorship in physiology at Tufts Medical School; and then a titular professorship in biology at Boston University Graduate School from 1950 until his death in 1967. In 1944 Pincus and his friend Hudson Hoagland established the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology and in the same year he organised the first annual Laurentian Hormone Conference, continuing to do so until his death.

At the Worcester Foundation, Pincus and his associate M.C. Chang undertook research into synthesised hormones which could inhibit ovulation in animals and thus prevent pregnancy, and ‘[i]n collaboration with J. Rock and C.R. Garcia, Pincus immediately extended these studies to humans and perfected the oral contraceptive pill’ (DSB X, p. 611). As Chang wrote of his colleague, ‘Pincus was prominent in the study of mammalian reproductive physiology and endocrinology for more than thirty-five years. Some of his contributions in the early 1930’s concerned processes involved in mammalian fertilization and development. With increasing knowledge of steroid hormones in the early 1940’s, his attention became increasingly focused on the roles of these substances in general physiology and especially in reproduction. In the early 1950’s, when powerful, orally active, synthetic hormonelike compounds were produced, Pincus and his associates seized the opportunity to develop an oral contraceptive. Their success was such that they produced that pharmaceutical rarity, a chemical agent that is virtually 100 percent effective. More important, the work of Pincus and his colleagues has transformed family planning in all the parts of the world in which it is systematically employed’ (loc. cit.).

Pincus’ The Eggs of Mammals was his first book, which brought together the results of his researches into mammalian reproduction, documenting his success with in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer with rabbits, and it was quickly recognised as a ‘pioneer work’ (op. cit., p. 610), prompting a public debate into the ethical issues raised by the possibility of human in vitro fertilisation. This copy was acquired in Cambridge, shortly after publication, by the British scientist Joseph Edwards, who had been educated at Glasgow University (BSc) and the University of Minnesota (MSc). In 1932 Edwards joined Sir John Hammond’s team at Cambridge University’s newly-established Animal Research Station, which was working on artificial insemination (AI), frequently using rabbits due to budgetary constraints. As one obituarist wrote, ‘[a]part from his work with AI, Edwards’s main interest was in the relatively new concept of progeny testing, whereby a sire was judged by the performance of his offspring rather than by his ancestry, which had been the usual method. He published several papers on the subject, but progress was slow because of the difficulty of assembling enough animals. Edwards was quick to realise that AI was the way to progress as a result of the numbers of progeny generated’ (The Independent, 28 July 1992). Given the shared research interests, it seems very likely that Edwards would have met Pincus at Cambridge in 1937-1938, through Sir John Hammond, and may even have acquired this copy in 1937 as the result of such an encounter.


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