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1870-1900 US ARMY MEDICAL DEPARTMENT NEUROLOGICAL DIAGNOSIS  INSTRUMENT CHEST – TYPE USED BY POST HOSPITALS AS WELL AS FIELD HOSPITALS - GREAT DISPLAY PIECE:   This US Army Medical Department “Neurologic Diagnosis Case” includes features such as the style of construction, size, and the color of the original paint, which indicate this instrument chest is the type to have been used by US Army physicians and surgeons in post hospitals on frontier posts and on campaign in field hospitals during the late 19TH Century and first decade of the 20TH Century. 

The paint color on the case and the stenciled legend on the end “MED DEPT USA”, may help to date the case.  The earliest origins of the medical personnel and facilities were titled the “US Medical Department” by the Second Continental Congress in 1775, and that title continued until 1908 when Congress changed the name to the “US Army Medical Corps”, the title which continues today.  

The green paint on the exterior of the case is typical of the paint used on the majority of such cases and chests through the army during the last half of the 19TH Century including gun crates, ammunition crates, and the tool boxes used by the various articifers, farriers, and carpenters in the ranks.  At some point in the early 1900’s – prior to the 1908 department name change, and certainly prior to the First World War, the medical service had begun painting their various instrument, bandage and equipment boxes with the classic red paint with the red cross on white field painted on top of the background color.  So, the case with its early frontier army green paint may very well date to the late Indian Wars.   

Finally, the medical sciences had made considerable advances in treating head wounds in the post-Civil War years and by the 1870’s and 1880’s successful brain surgeries were being reported.  So, that this chest is identified as a “Diagnosis Case Neurologic” could well place it from the late Indian Wars.   

No doubt a relatively scarce survivor of the late Indian War - 1900 period, this chest is very solid and retains the original lid.  Measuring 13 ¼” long, 9” wide and 6 ¾” tall, the exterior of the chest retains the majority of the original green paint unique to the 19TH Century army.  All of the seams are tight, with no splits, cracks or other damage to the wood, and the workmanship in the construction of the chest is very well done.  The lid is securely attached with the original iron hinges.  The latch which secured the lid on the front face of the case is no longer present.  The original instrument dividers are present in the interior, and like the chest, are solid and full form.  The top and one end are stenciled in black paint with the legible legends described above. 

Adding to the history of this piece is a small paper tag attached to the folding brass handle attached to the top of the chest bearing the hand written notation which names a doctor, likely attached when this case was obtained from the doctor’s estate.  In addition, affixed to the ends and the back of the box are the remnants of paper luggage labels, again guessing but perhaps evidence that the doctor used this case as part of his personal luggage as he traveled to various assignments around the world.  The labels appear to be worded in French, suggesting the doctor traveled to France for some of his training – not uncommon in the day – or that he was assigned to France during World War One.  All this combines to suggest this case experienced an interesting.   

Not only an attractive display piece, this chest is also very utilitarian for the collector whether in your collection at home or on the road setting up a display.  The chest will hold all those loose pieces, display fixtures, and gun cleaning supplies and tools for maintaining your collection. 

These instrument chests were used in hard environments and are rarely found in collections.  This particular piece has survived in very nice condition from a very desirable and historic era.   (0920)  $350 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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