OP (but not forgotten): The unlikely story of “Mr. Bones”

By Becky Clark

For University Press Week, JHUP’s director of marketing looks back on one of our most surprising publishing successes.

Leon Schlossberg

Leon Schlossberg

Once upon a time, years before cell phones, the Internet, and Project MUSE, the bestselling item from the Johns Hopkins University Press was a three-dimensional anatomical skeleton developed by Leon Schlossberg, one of America’s foremost medical artists.

From the time of its introduction in 1961 until manufacturing was discontinued in 2003, the 18-inch polyethylene and vinyl skeleton, “Mr. Bones,” was a sensation, even making an appearance on NBC’s Today Show in 1974. The 1985 release of a 35-inch model—“L.L. Bones,” named in honor of a certain catalog company in Maine—was covered by the Los Angeles Times.

Mr Bones 1Alas, the end of the twentieth century brought changes in the anatomical model business. The market softened, and sales of the hand-assembled Hopkins skeletons were hurt by cheaper models manufactured offshore. After a phenomenal 42-year run that generated more than $3.5 million of revenue, the Press made the difficult decision to declare Mr. Bones out of print.

Astute collectors might be able to buy a used Mr. Bones model—distinguished by Mr. Schlossberg’s copyright notice on the back of the left tibia—from eBay or other resellers. And there are several copies of Mr. Bones and L.L. Bones (one decorated with a purple mylar cape) in the Press offices. The few remaining pristine models are safely ensconced in the Press archives.

Becky Clark is the director of marketing in the books division at Johns Hopkins University Press.