Kit for 19th-century healthcare cuts set to go under hammer


A GRUESOME 19th-century Irish surgeon’s amputation set has unexpectedly turned up in an auction saleroom. The brass-bound mahogany box, lined with funereal-purple velvet, contains two handsaws, five surgical steel knives in various sizes and a brass-mounted clamp strap.

In the era prior to general anaesthesia, surgical amputation was inevitably grim and, understandably, involved restraint of the patient. The mortality rate was high and the chance of a successful outcome required the surgeon to work at great speed with the sharpest possible tools.

This ultimate toolkit for healthcare cuts is to go under the hammer at a Mealy’s “fine and decorative arts” sale next week, on Tuesday, October 17th.

Auctioneer George Mealy said the amputation set was “quite rare and they only turn up once in a blue moon”. Victorian surgical instruments were, he explained, much sought-after by specialist collectors who are “mainly medical people”.

Despite being over 130 years old, the ebony-handled saws and knives are in remarkably good condition and the highly polished steel blades are still razor-sharp. Due to their potential lethality, the implements will be made available for close inspection on a “request-only” basis during next weekend’s auction viewing – in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny – with no children under 12 admitted.

The amputation set was made by a Dublin company, Thompson and O’Neill of 7, Henry Street, who advertised as “razor and surgical instrument makers and cutlers to Her Majesty and the Lord Lieutenant”. A brass cartouche on the lid of the box is inscribed with the name “Dr Jackman” and is dated 1881.

The grisly heirloom, being sold by a member of a medical family “going back generations”, has a pre-auction estimate of €300- €400. The auctioneer also expects medical collectors will be interested in another 19th-century lot: a mahogany-cased “brass enema and stomach pump” with a pair of “ivory nozzles that were used to insert into the patient’s body”. The estimate is €180-€250.