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Sources for Identification of Antique Medical Instruments
in Print and on the Internet

Suzanne M. Shultz
Director of Library Services Philip A. Hoover, M.D. Library York Hospital
Correspondence address: WellSpan Health at York Hospital 1001 South George Street York PA 17405


The internet has become an invaluable tool for medical librarians in answering reference questions both for the professional and consumer clients they serve. What the internet lacks in efficiency, comprehensiveness and reliability is made up in speed, cost effectiveness and relative currency. There are, however, some questions that still require refined searching or in-depth expertise that is not entirely available on the internet. The search for identification, use, value and historical context of antique medical instruments is one such field where the marriage of print and electronic sources provides the inquirer with the best of both worlds. This paper will review both print sources and internet websites that may be consulted on medical antiques.

Review Method:

Three search engines, Google (, Yahoo! Search (, and ( were selected based on total and relative size.(1) The same search strategy "+medical +antiques" was performed on each search engine. This was to insure that all results would have both of the words in the title, although not necessarily in that order or next to each other. The first 20 hits were examined for each search engine.
Duplication among results within a single search engine and between the search engines occurred. For example, Dr. Michael Echols site ( appeared 3 times in the first twenty hits within Google and and 2 times in No dead links or connection errors were encountered. Eliminating duplicates a core group of useful sites was found.
There is a small but growing list of excellent books on medical instruments and a number of journal articles that are rather more specific. The books listed in this paper were selected from title holdings of several large medical libraries, subject searches of antiquarian book sites online, current book sites online, catalogs of various publishers known for historical works and recommendations from some online antique medical instrument dealers. The journal article selections included for this paper were chosen from Medline and Histline searches and bibliographic citations in books and journal articles. Other sources that may be consulted for further information are early instrument catalogs, museums and curators, as well as history of medicine librarians.

Print Sources:

1. Bennion, Elisabeth. Antique Dental Instruments. London: Sotheby's, 1986. An essential book for identification of dental instruments, it is one of the few reliable sources available on the subject. Like Bennion's book on medical instruments, it is illustrated and includes a directory of dental instrument makers, a bibliography and an index.
2. Bennion, Elisabeth. Antique Medical Instruments. London, Sotheby Park Bernet, 1979. An absolutely essential book for the study and identification of antique medical instruments pre 1870, this book contains a most detailed directory of surgical instrument makers. It also includes information on spectacles, dental and veterinary instruments, and invalid feeding utensils. Illustrations are in both color and black and white; there is an extensive bibliography and a glossary.
3. Dammann, Gordon. Pictorial Encyclopedia of Civil War Medical Instruments and Equipment. (Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1983) Two volumes: volume 1 (100 pages) and volume 2 (96 pages), this book includes photographs, notes and a bibliography. There are some later printings that carry more recent dates.
4. Das, Kedarnath. Obstetric Forceps: Its History and Evolution. [Leeds, 1993] (San Francisco, CA: Norman Publishing, 1993)
5. Davis, Audrey B. Medicine and Its Technology; An Introduction to the History of Medical Instrumentation. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981) This monograph is primarily a bibliographic resource on medical instruments and collection.
6. Davis, Audrey B. and Appel, Toby. Bloodletting Instruments in the National Museum of History and Technology. (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979)
7. Davis, Audrey B. and Dreyfuss, Mark S. The Finest Instruments Ever Made: A Bibliography of Medical, Dental, Optical and Pharmaceutical Trade Literature 1700-1939. (Arlington, MA: Medical History Publishing Associates, 1986) This bibliography is a history of technology in medicine; it is indexed.
8. Edmonson, James M. American Surgical Instruments - An Illustrated History of their Manufacture and a Directory of Instrument Makers to 1900. (San Francisco, CA: Norman Publishing, 1997) This scholarly work is advertised as the "most comprehensive and authoritative directory to date of surgical instrument makers in the United States pre 1900." There are 280 illustrations mainly in black and white, but with a section of color plates, all accompanied by detailed notes on maker and description. There is an extensive bibliography.
9. Edmonson, James M. Nineteenth Century Surgical Instruments; A Catalogue of the Gustav Weber Collection at the Howard Dittrick Museum of Historical Medicine. (Cleveland: Cleveland Health Science Library, 1986)
10. Hibbard, Bryan M. The Obstetrician's Armamentarium: Historic Obstetric Instruments and Their Inventors. (San Francisco, CA: Norman Publishing, 2000) With 350 pages and 500 illustrations of obstetric instruments from the earliest time to the 19th century, this book was not yet released at the time this paper was written.
11. Greenspan, Robert. Medicine: Perspectives in History and Art. (Alexandria, VA: Ponteverde Press, 2006) With 596 pages, this book is a history of medicine with copious illustrations of antique medical instruments.
12. Ricci, James Vincent. The Development of Gynaecological Surgery and Instruments. A comprehensive review of the evolution of surgery and surgical instruments for the treatment of female diseases from the Hippocratic age to the antiseptic period. (Philadelphia: Blakiston, 1949) This 594 page book with 236 plates was reissued by Norman Publishing in 1990.
13. Scientific Instrument Symposium. Nineteenth-century Scientific Instruments and Their Makers: Papers presented at the Fourth Scientific Instrument Symposium, Amsterdam, 23-26 October 1984. Edited by P.R. deClercq. (Leiden: Museum Boerhaave, 1985)
14. Snowden and Brother. An Illustrated Wholesale Catalogue of Surgical and Dental Instruments. [Philadelphia, 1860] bound with John Weiss and Son. Catalogue of Surgical Instruments, Apparatus, Appliances [London 1863] (San Francisco, CA: Norman Publishing, 1997) Of interest to American Civil War collectors, the companies represented by these two catalogues were the primary suppliers of surgical and other medical supplies for the war.
15. Tiemann, George. American Armamentarium Chirurgicum. [reprint] (San Francisco CA: Norman Publishing, 1989) This book is comprised of descriptions of all the instruments the company produced, illustrations of the instruments and the surgical procedures in which the instruments were used.
16. Thompson, Charles J.S. The History and Evolution of Surgical Instruments. (New York: Schuman, 1942) The original press run was limited to 1000 copies. A facsimile reprint edition was issued by Mansfield Centre in 1999.
17. White, Samuel S. The Samuel S. White Catalog of Dental Instruments and Equipment. [reprint 1876 edition] (San Francisco, CA: Norman Publishing, 1995) This is a reprint of 408 catalog pages of nineteenth century dental instruments and supplies.
18. Wilbur, Keith. Antique Medical Instruments. 4th ed. (Pennsylvania: Schiffer, 2000) A compilation of medical instruments from the physician's bag to the medical office, this book, like all of Wilbur's books, is hand drawn and hand lettered. The text is written calligraphically and the nearly 1500 illustrations are drawings.
19. Young, Anne Mortimer. Antique Medicine Chests, or Glyster, blister and purge. (London: Vernier Press, 1994) This unusual and scarce little book is a guide to the history of domestic medicine chests (the predecessors of bathroom cabinets) and their contents, including bottles and pharmaceutical paraphernalia with illustrations. This 77 page book is primarily British in orientation.

Journal Articles:

1. Alexander, Leslie L. and Atkins, Nora M.L. Lincoln's last legacy: a narrative of the president's obscured autopsy instruments. Journal of the National Medical Association. 90(6):378-381, June 1998. This paper traces the history of the surgical instruments used at the autopsy of Abraham Lincoln from 1865 until their presentation to the National Museum of American History in 1983. Illustrations and references.
2. American surgical instrument industry, 1880-1916. The impact of European importation and asepsis. Proceedings of the Sixth Symposium of the European Association of Museums of History of Medical Sciences. Leiden, 1992.
3. Anon. Dissecting Instruments. Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 12:226, 1835; Anon. Cupping Instruments. Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 18:163, 1838; Anon. Surgical Instruments. Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 23:133, 1841; Anon. Cupping Apparatus. Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 26: 273, 1842. Under the heading "Medical Miscellany," each of these citations is a single paragraph description of one instrument, no picture, with purchasing information. The name of the inventor or manufacturer and his location are given.
4. Brodman, Estelle. The doctor's tools: from saddlebag to hospital. Caduceus 1(3): 1-37, Autumn 1985. This is a well-written overview of pioneer medicine in America, complete with illustrations of medical advertisements and photographs of early diagnostic and therapeutic instruments. The paper covers diseases encountered on the frontier and such treatment options as pharmaceuticals and bleeding. Various sectarian medical practices which achieved prominence in America in the 1800s are capsulized. A brief history of the theories of disease causation and the rise of the hospital as the site of primary medical care at the turn of the 20th century complete the article. Twelve references are included.
5. Burns, Dixon N. and Calache, Lisa D. An evaluation of some early obstetrical instruments. Caduceus 3(1):33-40, Spring 1987. This brief review of the development of obstetrics, including four illustrations of various groups of instruments is a good starting point for the uses of obstetrical tools.
6. Davis, Audrey B. Historical studies of medical instruments. History of Science 16: 107-133, 1978. Closely resembling a bibliographic essay, this paper reviews the sources using some specific examples from which a scholar might locate information about medical instruments. There are more than 70 reference notes.
7. Davis, Audrey B. and Glenner, Richard A. Collecting dental antiques. Bulletin of the History of Dentistry 39:11-16, April 1991. This paper describes the exhibit of several offices of American dentists and some dental items (in excess of 4500) held by the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Other organizations' collections of dental materials are briefly reviewed. The paper contains one photo and is lightly referenced.
8. Dittrick, Howard. The equipment, instruments and drugs of pioneer physicians of Ohio. Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly. 48: 198-210, 1939
9. Edmonson, James M. Learning from the artifact: surgical instruments as resources in the history of medicine and medical technology. Caduceus 9(2):87-98, Autumn 1993. A searching examination of clues yielded from the study and interpretation of artifacts, this paper looks at makers, forms, manufacturers' marks and patents. Illustrations are from the Dittrick Museum's Gustav Weber collection of surgical instruments. Notes and a selected bibliography are included.
10. Edmonson, James M. Asepsis and the transformation of surgical instruments. Transactions and Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 5th series. 13(1):75-91, Spring 1991. This paper reviews, citing specific examples, the evolution (some say revolution) of surgical instrument design that occurred with the introduction of antisepsis. Illustrations and notes accompany the article.
11. Edmonson, James M. Documentation of instruments and their makers. Watermark 16:63-65, Fall 1993. This is a short, informative outline of the process by which an instrument may be identified. There are no illustrations or references.
12. Edmonson, James M. Medical objects for the non-specialist: the interpretative challenge. Proceedings of the Second Symposium of the European Association of Museums of History of Medical Sciences. London, 1984. Pp. 117-119. An essay on the Dittrick Museum's display, description, evaluation and interpretation (meaning and function) of medical instruments, this paper has no references.
13. Goler, Robert I. Visual and artifactual materials in the history of early American Medicine. New York State Journal of Medicine. 87:14-22, 1987. This paper provides a general historical approach to the importance of material culture as evidence of past medical activities which broadly includes, but is not limited to, medical instruments. Other "materials" mentioned are pathological and anatomical specimens, medical account books, inventories, pharmaceuticals, bottles, medical textbooks, paintings and such mundane items as bedpans and false teeth. Illustrations and references are included.
14. Hagopian Ellen J. Mann, Christian. Galibert, Lou-Ann. Steichen, Felician M. The history of thoracic surgical instruments and instrumentation. Chest Surgery Clinics of North America. 10(1):9-43, Feb 2000.
15. Kirkup John R. The historical instrument collection at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Journal of Medical Biography 1(1): 52-8, Feb 1993.
16. Kirkup John R. The historical instrument collection: notes and queries. Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England 81(1 suppl):5-7, Jan 1999.
17. Kirkup, John R. From flint to stainless steel: observations on surgical instrument composition. Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England 75(5): 365-74, Sept 1993.
18. Kirkup John R. The history and evolution of surgical instruments. Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England I. Introduction. 63:279-285, 1981; II. Origins: function: carriage: manufacture. 64:125-132, 1982; III. Handles. 65:269-273, 1983; IV. Probes and their allies. 67:56-60, 1985; V. Needles and their penetrating derivatives. 68:29-33, 1986;VI. The surgical blade: from fingernail to ultrasound. 77:380-8, 1995;VII. Spring forceps (tweezers), hooks and simple retractors. 78:544-52, 1996;VIII. Catheters, hollow needles and other tubular instruments. 80:81-90, 1998; IX. Scissors and related pivot-controlled cutting instruments. 80:422-32, 1998; X. Clamps and related pivot-controlled forceps. 81:420-8, 1999. All of the papers in this continuing series are exquisitely written and very informative; illustrations amplify the text.
19. Miller, Genevieve. Eighteenth century cataract instruments. Bulletin of the Cleveland Medical Library. 25 (2): 343-45, April 1979.
20. Riall, Charles T. Surgical instrument makers. Journal of the Operating Room Research Institute. April 1983. Pp. 36-39.
21. Riall, Charles T. and Hilzinger F. Surgical and medical devices and their origins. Chapter XVIII. Surgical Instrument Manufacturers. Journal of the Operating Room Research Institute. 3(2): 34-9, February 1983.
22. Sachs, Michael. Auth, Marcus. Encke, Albrecht. Historical development of surgical instruments exemplified by hemostatic forceps. World Journal of Surgery. 22(5): 499-504, May 1998.
23. Wolverton, Nan. Instruments of intervention in early American medicine. The Magazine Antiques. CLVI (1): 98-101, July 1999.

Internet Sources:

1. American Civil War Surgical Antiques: Research and Identification.
Dr. Michael Echols site offers a review of Civil War medical instruments that includes illustrations of instruments and shows how to locate the instrument maker marks. A list of known makers of Civil War instrument kits along with some photographs on identification of fakes is useful.

2. Advice on Collecting and Liquidation of a Medical Collection.
Dr. Michael Echols essay offers advice on purchasing medical items and getting a fair price when deciding to sell. Importance of record keeping, tracing provenance, following value at sales and auctions, and documenting through photographs are all essential activities in maintaining an antique collection.

3. Collect Medical Antiques: CollectingTips.
This summary of tips introduces the author, Dr. Robert Greenspan, and gives some personal background on his collecting adventure. His column is organized in an FAQ format with simple, straight-forward answers to the questions we all ask from time to time, i.e., How old is this medical instrument and what is it worth? Dr. Greenspan also mentions some common errors made by collectors and dealers.

4. Medical Antiques.Com
Douglas Arbittier, M.D. provides information on medical, surgical, dental, apothecary and bloodletting instruments in this "ongoing educational project" that includes both photos and articles. Features of the site include 1. Private collection photos and information, 2. Articles about medical antiques, 3. Dealer/seller services, 4. References on collection values, identification reference books, and 5. Links to museums and other websites.

5. American Artifacts: Scientific, Medical and Mechanical Antiques; Antique Medical Instruments
American Artifacts is a journal published in Taneytown, Maryland, that is devoted to a variety of antique instruments. The website main page presented 12 choices from farm and surveying instruments to U.S. Patents searching. By selecting antique medical instruments, an online catalog containing different devices and tools (with photographs) is presented. Two other useful and attractive features include a list of online articles from American Artifacts.

Catalogs, Shops and Dealers:

1. Alex Peck Medical Antiques: an Antique Medical, Surgical, and Dental Artifacts Resource Site
This is probably the best initial access point for those interested in medical antiques and collectibles. Alex Peck, with more than thirty years of experience, is recognized as one of the most knowledgeable dealers and historians in the field. The opening page includes address, phone and email contact information and nine clickable choices: Archives, Collecting Alerts, Reference Books, Sale Catalog, Recent Sale Additions, Antique Doctor’s Watches, Showcase, Links to Medical Museums and Wants. The opening page also includes an extensive list and description of items that are sought for purchase and a Medical Antiques Introduction series that is in development. "Archives " provides a group of high quality photographs of medical items and a detailed description of each including date, history, provenance if known, name of maker/manufacturer and owner and reference source. There were 8 pages the day this site was viewed. "Articles" contained 4 pages of outstanding examples of medical items; the first item is an 1850s Tiemann General Surgical Set shown together as a set, followed by a series of individual photographs of some of the components of the kit. "Collecting Alerts" (8 pages) offers a photographic array of incorrectly identified medical instruments, misdated antiques and outright fakes. Each item is described, its correct usage noted and date more accurately calculated. Fakes are revealed and the materials from which they were fashioned are properly identified, e.g. ink erasers offered as Civil War surgeon's knives. "Reference Books" lists 14 classic medical instrument books and catalogs which can be purchased through Alex Peck. "Sale Catalogs" is comprised of 30 pages of photographed and meticulously identified medical items for sale varying from busts, photographs, and books to microscopes, swords, pill rollers, watches, uniforms, surgical kits and even a cookie jar. None of the items are priced. "Wants" brings you back to the home or start page where the list of items sought for purchase resides.

2. Medical Antiques Online Contents
This site is largely dedicated to the history of the stethoscope. Nine selections including 1. Historic articles, 2. References (books), 3. Links, 4. Feedback, 5. 19th Century Photography of Doctors, 6. Looking to buy, 7. Antique Stethoscopes for sale, 8. Rare Medical Books for sale and 9. Medical Antiques for sale, comprise the website.

3. Medical Antiques, Ed Welch's Antiques: Winslow, Maine
This site specializes in antique spectacles and optical equipment. Items are pictured with code numbers and described in more detail when clicked. Topics include 18th and 19th century spectacles; Civil War and military spectacles; Windsor, round, solid gold, horn rim and designer glasses; “The Matrix” and “Harry Potter” glasses. There is no currency date on the website but there is contact information by address, e-mail, phone or fax.

4. Vintage Medical Antiques: Ed Welch Antiques, LLC
Items are listed for sale in Medical, Dental, Mortuary, Optical and Scientific Antiques and Instruments. There are pictures and descriptions but no prices. Good contact information (address, e-mail, phone and fax) is given.

5. Gilai Collectibles .html
The medical antiques portion of Gilai Collectibles is only a part of a larger online business. Dr. Gilai (“world renowned cane collector”) has been in business nearly 50 years. Contact information for the company which is located in Jerusalem includes phone and fax numbers. On the day this sire was accessed for review, there were 4 pages each of Diagnostic Instruments and Dental Instruments, as well as 8 pages of Therapeutic Instruments. Many of the items were marked as sold. A strength of the site is the size and clarity of the item photos and the precise, detailed descriptions. Prices are included. Secure Online Buying is provided and the site includes a “Help Desk” that details purchasing and sales policies and shipping information.

6. Phisick Medical Antiques
Phisick, “A Collection of Antique Medical and Surgical Instruments,” is the project of Dr. Laurie Slater. The site is intended to be primarily educational but items can be purchased. There are photos of instruments in medicine, surgery, bloodletting, obstetrics and gynecology, ophthalmology, dentistry, pharmacy and quackery. Thumbnail or introductory photos of each item can be opened to view close-up and more detailed pictures e.g. a postmortem kit is pictured in its entirety and then specific items within the kit may be viewed. Photos are quite good and the descriptions are detailed. The links page includes comprehensive lists of collectors and dealers, museums, places to view medical images, general history of medicine as well as topical sites, history libraries, auction houses and organizations and universities with a strong interest in history of medicine.


1. eBay
"The World's Online Marketplace," eBay is an online auction for almost everything imaginable. By going to the index and selecting "Medical," one can view a very large number of items. These vary in age from the 1700s to relatively recent (at the time this site was reviewed for inclusion), and in type from medical instruments, cabinets and furniture to medical books, prints and cards. There is a world of information available to the user with the patience to sift through pages of offerings. The same caution in evaluating, selecting and purchasing items should apply as if these items were being sold at a flea market or estate sale.
1. DMOZ Open directory project
There were 78 links in the open directory project on the day this site was accessed for review. The order in which the sites are presented varies: 3 organizations, 34 listings for slide rules, and 41 listings for antique medical and scientific sites are presented. Medical antiques sites are accompanied by a short annotation describing the subject area., for example, Ars Machina - Buys and sells antique brass microscopes and telescopes. Credit Cards accepted. Many of the sites listed above can be found here and some additional interesting ones.
American Civil War:
1. Gunsight Antiques - Civil War Era Antiques
Gunsight Antiques provides a broad range of CivilWar related items for purchase, including scientific and medical instruments. Forty-three items were available when this site was accessed for review. The owners of the site cater to museums, historical societies and private collectors who focus on Civil War materials. Information on ordering, mailing and e-mail addresses are included.

2. The Horse Soldier
A family business located in Gettysburg, The Horse Soldier specializes in military antiques from the Revolutionary War to World War I with a primary interest in Civil War items. These include medical instruments. On the date of review about 2 dozen medical items with full description and a few pictures for inspection were listed. These items all included prices. A "Soldier Genealogical Research Service" is offered at this sight for those who would like to know more about their ancestors or about the original owner of an object of military memorabilia.


A review of useful print and electronic sources for identification of antique medical and dental instruments is presented. Because the internet constantly changes, this list of sites is by no means inclusive; it is rather like a snapshot of a moving picture. However, it does provide a starting point. The print sources should be readily obtainable from most large medical libraries.


1. Recommended Search Engines. Access date 12/5/2008.


Copyright Priory Lodge Education Limited 2008

First Published December 2008

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