Browsing the Web for anything on collecting subject firsts led me to Steve Trussel's site, which could keep you busy for weeks checking out all the book-related links, but here's one pertinent to this post, which expands on my initial thoughts about firsts:Robert F. Lucas.
Here is the book mentioned earlier that qualifies as a first publication in a subject area. The Brenthurst Papers, edited by Jack Penn (Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg, 1944) is the first academic journal of plastic surgery in the English language. There is an interesting history lurking between the covers.
The reminiscences of a plastic surgeon during World War II was published in The 1978 Annals of Plastic Surgery (Ann Plast Surg. 1978 Jan;1(1):105-15.). Following is the Abstract for that article:
The experiences of the author while an Officer in the South African Medical Corps are related. During the battle of Britain he was attached to the R.A.M.C. and observed the work of pioneers in modern military plastic surgery. On his return to South Africa, he set up the Brenthurst Military Red Cross Hospital for Plastic Surgery and dealt with many thousands of allied battle casualties--South African, British, French, and Polish. The injuries treated included aircraft and tank burns, facial destructions (particularly the nose and eyes), extensive facial fractures, and limb amputations. Various procedures are mentioned. The first plastic surgical journal in English, The Brenthurst Papers, was produced describing these innovations.
Excerpted from Wikipedia about Dr. Penn:
Penn was born in Cape Town in 1909. He served in World War II as a major, 7th Field Ambulance, where he trained in plastic surgery and helped in London with war casualties in need of plastic and reconstructive surgery. He returned to South Africa, where he founded and was commander in charge of the Brenthurst Military Hospital. Dr. Penn, at the age of 35, was appointed first professor of Plastic Surgery at the University of the Witwatersrand.To top it off, it appears that Dr. Penn signed this book. The inscription is from "Jack." Surely that is Dr. Penn, a remarkable man who had a remarkable career as a plastic surgeon. His innovative work led to the creation of a bound collection of journal articles, remarkable in its own right as the first of its kind in the English language.
His academic positions included visiting professorships at Oxford, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Ann Arbor, UCLA, New York, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hiroshima, Tokyo, and the Taiwan Army Medical Centre.
Penn resigned from the University in 1950 to found his own clinic, which he named the Brenthurst Clinic. Penn originated innovative techniques in plastic surgery, notably the Brenthurst Splint which was standard for many years for jaw fractures.
In 1956 Penn was the moving force behind the establishment of the Association of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and he was elected unanimously as its first president.
He helped to initiate plastic and reconstructive surgery in other countries, including Israel (during the 1948 war), Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Kenya, Gabon (then French Equatorial Africa, at the invitation of Albert Schweitzer at Lambarene), Japan(assisting Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims) and Taiwan.
Penn was also responsible for the first academic journal of plastic surgery in the English language, the Brenthurst Papers, and he authored many professional papers, editorials and book chapters in this field.