A variety of medical instruments are considered collectable, particularly types which are no longer used.

A variety of bottles and jar associated with medical practice, including those for storing bulk drugs and lotions (apothecaries jar), those which held patent medicines and those in which medicines were dispensed to the public (pharmacy or drug store bottles) are discussed in the article on bottle.

1872 marked a turning point in medical practice. In that year, Lister discovered the principle of sterilisation. Before that time, surgical instruments often had ornate handles of ivory, mother-of-pearl or intricately turned wood. From 1872 on, instruments were dipped in boiling water before use and fancy handles were no longer feasible.

The original monaural stethoscope was invented in France in 1816 by René Laennec in Paris.

One of the original stethoscopes belonging to the French physician Rene Theophile Laennec.
One of the original stethoscopes belonging to Rene Laennec (ca 1820)

The binaural stethoscope (with two ear pieces and flexible tubing) was also introduced late in the 19th century. Previously monaural stethoscopes, resembling small trumpets made of wood were used.

Doctors bags, particularly if they still have their original contents, are often collected. As well as the general purpose Gladstone bag, doctors often had bags specially equipped for particular situations, such as an obstetric bag.

Equipment associated with procedures which are no longer carried out are valued. These include items such phrenology heads and equipment for blood-letting and trepanning.


Blood-Letting Equipment

 The basic item used for blood-letting was the lancet. The standard 19th century thumb lanced had a tortoise shell cover; more elaborate covers in ivory and mother-of-pearl were also produced. Lancets were often carried in sets in boxes ranging from simple leather boxes to elaborate cases made of silver, gold, tortoise shell or mother-of-pearl.

Fleams have one or more blades at right angles to the handle. Most commonly, they have two or three steel blades of different sizes in a brass case.

Brass scarificator (1669)
Brass scarificator (1669)

Scarificators were also popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. These had from four up to twenty blades which made multiple cuts simultaneously.

After the scarificator had been used, a cup was often placed over the wound as a receptacle for the blood. Cups were also used in a procedure known as “dry cupping”. A wad of burning material was placed in the cup, which was then placed on the skin. As the cup cooled, suction was created. The equipment or bleeding and cupping was often kept as a “cupping kit”.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, bleeding bowls, used to catch blood, were usually made of tin or pewter and had a series of concentric rings on the inside to measure the amount of blood produced.

As well as cutting devices, leeches have been used since antiquity to bleed patients. These were contained in a variety of containers but the large decorative ceramic containers, often inscribed “leeches”, from the middle of the 19th century are the most highly prized.


Trepanning Devices


Trepanning is the process of removing some bone from the skull in order to relieve the brain (and, thereby, supposedly relieve headaches).. The practice is believed to have existed since Neolithic times and is an even older surgical procedure than amputation.

In the 16th century, Andrea de Croce of Venice invented the trepan., a frame with drill bits and detachable circular saws The trepan was a rather cumbersome, two-handed instrument. It was superseded by the trephine, which could be operated with one hand. Trephines continued to be used into the 20th century.

Frequently, the bone of the scull would fracture and the surgeon would remove a piece of bone and smooth the jagged edges with a special file called a lenticular.

Drilling and filing created dust which would be removed from the cutting instrument.


Antique medical instruments available now
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