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

Suzanne M. Shultz

Version 2.0 Published May 2002 Version 1.0 Published 2000

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


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.


Three search engines, Google, WiseNut, and Fast 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, Michael Echols appeared four times in the first twenty hits within Google and two times each in WiseNut and Fast. A few dead links or connection errors occurred. Eliminating both the duplicates and dead or inappropriate links, a core group of useful sites was found (Table 1).

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. 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.
12. 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)
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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. Echols, Michael. Civil War Instrument Makers, Identification, Fakes and Information.
Last updated 3/4/2002. This seven page review of Civil War medical instruments 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. Echols, Michael. Personal Notes on Collecting Medical Antiques; miscellaneous information to help new medical collectors.

Last updated 4/8/2002. This essay is a personal journey into medical collecting beginning with the spark of interest, progressing to reference sources, collection specialization, dating and condition of instruments. Ten pages.

3. Greenspan, Robert. CollectingTips.
Last updated ??. This six-page summary of tips introduces the author 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. Six pages.

4. Medical Antiques.Com
Douglas Arbittier, M.D., of Watertown, New York, and Michael Echols, D.D.S. of Ft. Myers, Florida, provide information on medical, surgical, dental, apothecary and bloodletting instruments in this "ongoing educational project" that includes both photos and articles. Features 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. Scientific and Medical Antiques
A depository of information regarding scientific and medical antiques, this site has three major options; 1. What's New, 2. Learn About, and 3. Buying and Selling. "What's new" is a potpourri of antique dealers, book dealers and museums. "Learning about" scientific and medical antiques includes books and periodicals for reference, organizations and on-line sources. "Buying and selling" is comprised of lists of dealers, upcoming shows and auctions, and a few cautions for the novice (or even the experienced) medical instrument shopper on collecting.

6. 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 about 16 different devices and tools (with photographs) is presented. Two other useful and attractive features include a list of online articles from American Artifacts and a schedule of upcoming antique scientific instrument shows (which was somewhat outdated).

Catalogs, Shops and Dealers:

1. Medical Antiques: an Antique Medical, Surgical and Dental Resource Site / Alex Peck Antique Scientifica
This is probably the best initial access point for those interested in medical antiques and collectibles. Alex Peck, with more than twenty 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 six clickable choices: Archives, Articles, Collecting Alerts, Reference Books, Sale Catalog and Wants. The opening page also includes an extensive list and description of items that are sought for purchase and a series on Medical Antiques Introduction that is under 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 28 pages the day this site was viewed. "Articles" contained 5 pages of outstanding examples of medical items; the first item is an 1850s Tiemann General Operating Set shown together as a set , followed by a series of individual photographs of some of the components of the kit. "Collecting Alerts" (five 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 ten classic medical instrument books and catalogs which can be purchased through Alex Peck. "Sale Catalogs" is comprised of 21 pages of photographed and meticulously identified medical items for sale varying from busts, photographs, and books to artificial eye and surgical kits. 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
Eight selections including 1. Historic speeches, essays and articles, 2. References (books), 3. Links (goes to the History of the Health Sciences Online Resources page), 4. Dealers, 5. Feedback, 6. Sale, 7. Looking to buy, and 8. Register in the Guestbook, comprise the website. At the time this page was accessed, it had not been updated since May 2001.

3. Medical Antiques, Ed Welch's Antiques: Maine Antique Dealer
Items are listed for sale in Medical, Dental, Mortuary, and Death and Dying categories. There are few items pictured or described. There is no currency date on the website but there is contact information by e-mail, phone or fax.

4. Stone Bridge Antiques: Medical Collectibles
Stone Bridge Antiques lists a small number of medical items with photographs, descriptions and price. Items vary in size and price from fleams to a complete Civil War vintage surgical amputation kit (sold) and antique physicians' office furniture. Although no date is apparent on the site (although the copyright date is current,) address and phone numbers as well as email rapidly connects to the dealer. The page also supplied links to other antique dealers.

5. Richard E. Cies Antiques
While there is no apparent date by which to time stamp the currency of this site, some of the items offered are at auction on eBay. There are five clickable choices beginning with Main or home which introduces Richard Cies, a dealer who specializes in medical antiques from Silver Springs, Florida. (He also carries 19th Century and early Americana antiques.) Information on booking Mr. Cies for lectures on such topics as "Civil War Medicine" or the "Development of Medicine in the 19th Century," for example, or for exhibits and demonstrations can be found under "Appear. " Under the "Historical Examples," Mr. Cies provides photographs and descriptions of 13 cased instrument kits of apparent excellent quality. The online catalog contains a variety of medical items, some of which are being offered on eBay. Each item is pictured, approximately dated and described in two or three short sentences. By clicking on the small photo, the individual items can be enlarged and more details, as well as price, appear. This site is both interesting and informative.

17. 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. Google, National Directory, and DMOZ Open directory project
These three directories appeared across the three search engines and are nearly identical in content. The order in which the sites are presented varies slightly but each has 43 entries, lists 3 organizations and includes a separate Slide Rule listing. Many of the sites listed above can be found here and some additional interesting ones.

2. Yahoo directory
The Yahoo directory contains the smallest list, 8 sites, but it includes those that have the broadest scope of medical antiques. It also has two unique listings that do not appear in the three directories named above.

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. Nineteen 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, as well as links to five other internet sites on Civil War artifacts and collectibles.

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, the On-line catalog included nine medical items with full description and a few pictures for inspection. 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.

Search Engine Showdown: The Users' Guide to Web Searching. Access date 4-9-2002

Table 1. Characteristics of the three search engines examined for this paper

Good hits
Unique hits
Dead hits
Off subject
More science than medicine