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PRE – CIVIL WAR SURGEON’S OPERATING INSTRUMENT CASE – VERY NICE SET – ALL MAJOR INSTRUMENTS PRESENT:  This early 1850’s Surgeon’s Operating Instrument Case has survived in very good condition, with all of the original major, significant instruments surviving intact in the finely made case.   

Produced by Weiss of London, England, this set can be dated to the early 1850’s through the maker’s address label on the inside of the case lid, and by the design features of the bone saw and amputation knife blades.  The presence of the vertical “key hole” style slots in the saw blade identify the blade as the “improved” design, incorporating these larger slots which facilitated the removal of the bone dust with each stroke of the blade, which in turn kept the cut cleaned out during the surgery.  This improved design appeared in the early years of the 1850’s and by the mid-decade had been copied by other manufacturers.  The heavier handles and rounded, blunt tips of the amputation knife blades also serve to date this set to the early 1850’s, as by the later 1850’s that design had given way to lighter, smaller handles and a pointed blade.  For those collectors wishing to acquire a set that pre-dates the Civil War and thus represents the sort of set that would have been possessed by civilian surgeons who accompanied the early volunteer units, or found themselves caught up in the war in such urban battlefields such as Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, or Richmond, this beautiful case of instruments dates from the proper time period.   

The walnut case measures 14” long, 6 ¼” wide and 3 ¼” deep.  The lid is secured with a center-front inlet locking latch and the original key is present with the set and the lock functions properly.  In addition, there are two brass thumb pressure latches – one on each side of the front of the case – and both function properly so that the lid is secure when it is closed.  The edges and corners are all reinforced with non-ferrous metal tabs nicely inlet into the wood – perhaps nickel, now with an aged patina.  The bottom of the case is covered with green felt that is intact, though faded and showing the expected wear.  The interior of the case is lined in red velvet, which though showing the imprint of the instruments is still intact and clean.   

The maker’s label is present and fully intact on the inside lining of the case lid, indicating this set was manufactured by Weiss.  According to Antique Medical Instruments by Elizabeth Bannon, Weiss was established at 33 Strand in London in 1811, and that by 1863 he had moved to 62 Strand. 

The case features an upper tray that is fitted with two brass loop handles so that it can be lifted away to expose the instruments stored in the lower section.  The saw was apparently intended to lie on top of the upper tray, as there are professionally executed inlets for the rear spur on the saw’s handle on the right side of the case lid and the upper tray, and for the rounded tip of the saw blade on the left side of the case lid. 

Upper Tray Contents: 

* The saw measures 13” long and is fitted with a black gutta-percha handle.  The reinforcing spine along the back of the blade is marked on one side, “33 STRAND LONDON”, and the other side is marked “WEISS’s IMPROV’D SAW”.  The blade is overall bright with no pitting and the teeth are all intact.  The rear spur of the handle is chipped as shown in the photographs below.   

* All four of the original amputation knives are present, measure from 12” to 8” in overall length, and each is marked on the blade “WEISS 33 STRAND”.  The blades are still quite sharp and are overall very bright with only minor points of discoloration.  The handles are gutta-percha handles are all fully intact with no damage and all feature the same checkered pattern.  There is also a metacarpal saw, 7 ½” long, that appears to be of the same pattern as the knives, having the same gutta-percha handle, but the blade is marked “S. MAW & SON”.  There is also a fine wire pick or probe with a curved end, 5” long, and fitted with a black gutta-percha handle.   

* The forceps are 8” long, and are stamped “WEISS” on the pivot.  The handles are integral to the tool and the metal surface is heavily checkered to provide the grip.  The overall metal finish is bright with no significant wear or aging.  

* The two tourniquets appear to be unused.  The banding fabric is like new with no evidence of wear or staining, and the brass screw mechanisms are bright and function properly.  The thumb piece on each screw is marked “WEISS 33 STRAND”.  Below the tourniquets in the same compartment are two rolls of bandaging material.  

* In addition, there is a spool of cotton cord and beneath it in the same compartment a flat of suture thread.  Adjacent to the thread there is an oval compartment covered by lid fitted with an ivory knob that looks to have been used for needles.   

Lower Tray Contents: 

* Two trephine cutters, with brass shanks and steel cutting blades, are complete with all the cutting teeth and the limiting bayonet inside each cylindrical cutter.   Both are in overall very good condition with some evidence of edge on the cutting blades.  The gutta-percha handle is full form with no chips or cracks.  

* The same handle fits the extractor key.  The extractor key is 5” long and in very good condition with all the parts functioning properly, including the catch that allows the extractor jaw to be repositioned.  There are two extra extractor jaws in this set.  

* The trocar is 4 ½” long, fitted with a full form gutta-percha handle, and shows no evidence of wear or aging, complete with the sliding shield.   

* A probe or retractor, 7” long, marked “WEISS 33 STRAND” with wood handles. 

* Two smaller scalpels, 6” long, one marked “GRAHAM”, and the other marked “LAUNDY”, both with wood handles.  

* Two catheters, both approximately 13” long.  One is silver is complete with the internal probe and fully functional.  The other is a scarce soft leather “French” or “gum-elastic” catheter with an ivory top and wire insert.  Due to the material, these French catheters did not survive well through time and were susceptible to hardening and cracking when exposed to extremes of temperature in storage.  Though certainly showing signs of age, this catheter is intact and full length with no breaks or cracks, still retains the aperture at the end and the wire insert and still retains a certain amount of flexibility.  These soft catheters were employed when it was necessary to leave a catheter in place for a longer period after surgery.  

* A set of short, broad bladed tweezers or forceps.   

* Two small wooden handled probes. 

* A small ivory handled bristle brush. 

While there are some voids in the instrument trays, and it is apparent that some of the smaller instruments are missing, overall this is a fairly complete set and all of the significant original pieces which bear the maker’s name are present and intact.  This cased set will be a dramatic center piece for a medical display.   SOLD

NOTE:  A special note of thanks is due to Dr. Michael Echols, owner of American Civil War Medical & Surgical Antiques for his time and assistance in identifying and properly dating this surgeon’s set.  Dr. Echol’s web site is well worth visiting - - even if your primary interest field is not medical antiques – if nothing else, it will make you appreciate modern medicine.




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