Niche Collecting - Antique Medical Kits
Dr. Bouteiller's French Naval Surgeon's kit, ca 1860
As the only doctor on a ship at sea for months, a naval surgeon had to be
able to perform any type of medical procedure. Yes, even amputations.
To find a complete 100+ year old medical kit is extremely rare.
The majority of antique medical equipment remain in the
family of the doctor to whom it belonged or has been
purchased privately by museums and medical colleges.
An antique neurosurgical trepanning by
Lichtenberger of Strasbourg, ca 1780:
Trepanning was the rather barbaric practice of drilling holes
in the skull to "release noxious humours trapped in the head."
Here's another more elaborate trepanning kit:
This rare antique neurosurgical kit belonged to Dr. Samuel Sharp
(1709-1778) who operated at Guy's Hospital, London, in the 18th
century. It was made by surgical instrument maker Edward
Stanton of The Saw and Crown between 1730-1740.
His Royal Highness, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria,
had his own set of dental instruments. The set was crafted by the
Queen's royal goldsmiths, Charles Rawlings and William Summers
in the 1840's. The handles are agate and mother-of-pearl.
Two similar dental sets belonging to Queen Victoria and young
Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII bear the same hallmarks
and date to 1846. The Queen's set is on display at the National Museum
of Dentistry, Baltimore, while the set of the Prince of Wales is on
display at the British Dental Association Museum, London.
Antique battlefield surgical kits are popular among collectors but due to
the chaotic conditions in which they were used, few kits survive intact.
This early 19th century set was made by Francis Cluley of Sheffield,
England. The handles are ebony and the no-frills set was compact to
accommodate emergency battle conditions.
History isn't always romantic or pretty. The Civil War brought about
many changes in medical practice and embalming became an option for
battlefield casualties. Here is an extremely rare portable embalming
kit made by Favre of Paris:
Collectors of antique surgical kits are usually on
the lookout for odd or unusual medical supplies.
A mid-18th century sterling silver tongue depressor is pictured below.
American silver-smith Paul Revere is known to have made similar depressors.
A pair of Perkins Tractors in their original case
dating to the end of the 18th century:
Elisha Perkins provided one of history's best known examples of
medical quackery. Perkins asserted that the rods were made of rare
metal alloys and, when pressed against the skin or affected area, could
"draw off the noxious electrical fluid that lay at the root of suffering."
Not surprisingly, they didn't.
Antique medical kits and supplies are definitely not for the
squeamish but you have to admit they're fascinating.