Res ipsa loquitur.




This site is dedicated to items that are frequently  identified incorrectly as  medical antiques,  such as ink erasers as bloodletting lancets, misdated, such as post CW material as Civil War, and fakes, such as ginger jars made into leech jars.

The following observations are based upon over 20 years of experience in collecting  medical antiques, and they are meant to be used as a  guide to the sorts of suspect items that one may encounter.

Buy only when you have the assurance that  the seller offers a no-hassle money-back guarantee that the item is both authentic and described correctly.


A word of advice to the serious collector:  

Usually great antiques are relatively expensive, but they have and retain their value; problem antiques,  no matter the cost, are always a bad buy.



While the instruments are genuine in this picture, this medical cane was been put together recently.  Many similar fake canes seem to be coming out of England. fakes, cane with syringe and Maw scalpels, 2.jpg (55578 bytes)
This was said to be a physician's pharmacy thermometer cane, whatever that might be.  It is a modern fake.  

fakes, cane with thermometer.jpg (16804 bytes)


A pewter bottle with spurious Confederate hospital markings.   fakes, CS Army Hospital Richmond 1862 quinine canteen.jpg (39822 bytes)

A pewter canteen with bogus engraving indicating ownership by a well-known South Carolina Civil War surgeon.









Another fake Confederate medical item.  Several of these canteens have appeared recently.  Unless you are an expert in mid-nineteenth engraving and other marks, avoid any such items. fakes, CS Hosp. Dept iodine canteen.jpg (75671 bytes)

So-called medical chewed or pain bullets are mis-identified.   An easily swallowed bullet is the last thing that one would want to put in the mouth of any anxious patient.   To bite the bullet is not a medical phrase, rather it is an old military term referring to loading a muzzleloader. The tip of a  preloaded ball and powder paper cartridge was opened with the soldier's teeth, the powder and ball were then poured into the muzzle,  the paper cartridge, itself, came next as packing, lastly, all was tamped down with a ram rod.  In the heat of battle, it is possible that soldiers may have bitten the paper cartridge at the wrong end (bullet end) and this may have caused some of the marks.


mis id, chewed bullet.jpg (47800 bytes)

Nineteenth century ink erasers and quill sharpening knives are often sold as Civil War scalpels or bleeders.  A commonly seen maker is Rodgers, a Sheffield cutlery firm.  While Rodgers did make a veterinary fleam, I have never seen any surgical instruments from them.  Note also that handles identified as ivory are often made from a celluloid commonly called French ivory or ivorine, which was introduced in the 1870s

Another ink eraser offered as a Civil War period fleam/knife.  It was made by Miller Brothers Cutlery Co., Meridan, Connecticut.


mis id, ink earser, Rodgers.jpg (19624 bytes)



mis id, ink earser, Miller Bros.jpg (6677 bytes)

The Wostenholm catalogue of c. 1885 illustrates and describes various ink erasers and office (quill) knives.  Many cutlers made who such instruments were based in Sheffield.  

mis id, ink eraser, Wostenholm, title, 1885.jpg (90015 bytes)

mis id, ink eraser, Wostenholm, p. 2, 1885.jpg (68446 bytes)

mis id, ink eraser, Wostenholm, p. 3, 1885.jpg (51300 bytes)

A c. 1900 manicure knife offered as a Civil War scalpel.  


mis id, manicure knife called bloodletting knife.jpg (20615 bytes)






A nineteenth century photo of a railroad field hospital mis-described by the seller as a Civil War field hospital.  The scene is identified on the back as:  Surgical Ward Field Hospital N.P.R.R., Dr. R. H. Littlefield, Surgeon and Davidson's Views of the Pacific Northwest embracing Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.  mis id, Surgical Ward Field Hospital N.P.R.R., Dr. R. H. Littlefield, Surgeon, CW Hosp..jpg (76781 bytes)
A common hydrometer that was offered as a clinical thermometer made by Reynders of New York.  Note that the case with the Reynders trade label is not original to this hydrometer; the fit is not correct.  A maker attribution by the case alone, as in this example, can be problematic.  

mis id, hydrometer called thermometer, wrong case.jpg (29815 bytes)





A reproduction and over-the-top doctor's sign offered as an antique.  Signs of this fanciful type appear to be coming out of England.  Similar signs celebrate lawyers, accountants, etc.  

repro, dentist sign.jpg (39135 bytes)

Another problem sign for the medical collector is this nineteenth century fraternal all-seeing eye that was offered as an eye doctor's trade sign.  Think eye as on the one-dollar bill.    

mis id, fraternal order eye called doctor sign.jpg (22043 bytes)






A small mallet with horn head that was described as an early to mid-nineteenth century reflex hammer.  It is not a reflex hammer, but it is a dental  mallet that was used to hammer rubber and acrylic dentures out of the stone beds of the cuvettes. This type of mallet was in general use until c. 1970.   mis id, mid 19th c. horn reflex hammer.jpg (17576 bytes)


A reproduction microscope offered as an antique made by Philip Carpenter, London, c. 1826-1833.  This replica instrument was made and sold, initially, as a decorator piece.  

repro, Philip Carpenter, London circa 1826-1833.jpg (58957 bytes)








A child's microscope, commonly called a boy's microscope,  made in France and ubiquitous in the later part of the nineteenth century, but offered as a rare Civil War medical corps microscope. mis id, CW medical corps miscroscope.jpg (37959 bytes)
Here are some mid-nineteenth century autopsy instruments by Matthews, London, which were described by the seller as military field surgeon's amputation instruments.  Note the costotome (rib shears).  The use of the term field surgeon is carelessly bandied about...usually as an attempt to hype an item as being  from the American Civil War.  

mis id, autopsy instruments called field surgeon's for amputating.jpg (46429 bytes)




This group of bone-handled instruments was called a pre-Civil War field surgeon's set.  These are certainly not surgical instruments.  The ink eraser, the second piece from the right, is marked FABER and GERMANY. Faber was and is a German maker of writing instruments. Generally, any instrument that is marked with the country of origin will date to post-1890.  

mis_id_pe-cw_field_surgeons_set.jpg (9457 bytes)







This outfit was described as a Civil War amputation set wooden case.  The carved wooden case is a medical fantasy and the ether tin dates to post 1900.  A pocket knife was put forward as the amputating instrument. fakes, Civil War Amputation Set Wooden Case.jpg (80444 bytes)
A common c. 1880s medical student's dissecting set offered as a Civil War bullet extracting set.  While there are specialized bullet extracting instruments (none seen here), there is no such thing as a bullet extracting set.  

mis id, dissecting set called a CW bullet extracting set.jpg (26344 bytes)





This is an item mistakenly called a Civil War field medical kit.  It is a canvas minor veterinary surgery wallet from post 1900.  The top instrument was used for cleaning the hooves of horses.  A manicure nail cutter is also present and may be an add-on. mis id, CW medical kit.jpg (82411 bytes)
This medicine case was described as a Civil War doctor's medical kit.  The snap closure, which first appear on medical cases in 1890s, and the leatherette material of the case tells otherwise.  Also, the style of printed lettering on the bottles is a post Civil War style.   

mis id, CW docs medical case.jpg (66753 bytes)









Numerous examples of this sort of chair are in the market.  They are usually called birthing chairs.  I suspect that they are made for the South American tourist market . mis_id_birthing_chair.jpg (61564 bytes)

This is a rather common late nineteenth to early twentieth century butcher's combination saw knife.  Unfortunately, this saw has made it into Francis Lord's Civil War Collector's Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, p. 122, where it is described as a  Civil War amputation saw/knife.  One point to keep in mind when it comes to saws is that a capital amputation saw blade of the tenon type must have a spine to keep the blade rigid.  A blade that wants to buckle presents problems.  Also, the quality of the saw is not up to the level of surgical saws.  Some of these saws will be marked US.  These marks mean that the saw was government property and, for example, to be used by a butcher in the army.

This close-up of the saw knife shows faint US marks.

The Disston hardware company was a major maker of the saw knife.  It last appeared in their catalogues in 1914 and was considered by them to be in the butcher saw family.  The catalogue page here shows the saw knife listed between a dehorning saw and a paint scraper.


mis id, Diston saw-knife.jpg (37248 bytes)




mis id, Diston saw-knife, detail of US marks.jpg (72701 bytes)




mis id, Disston saw catalogue 1914, detail.jpg (64307 bytes)



This is a butcher's saw that was offered as an old surgery saw.  The saw does not have a spine and the quality is poor.  (Note the description of the previous saw.)  

mis id, butcher's saw described as surgery saw.jpg (12803 bytes)




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