When is my collection of medical antiques “complete?”

So when is my collection of medical antiques “complete?”

The experienced collector with a large collection might answer: when you have a Heine Osteototome. This may be considered the Holy Graal of medical antiques as only 8 are known to exist per my mentor, Dr. Doug Arbittier.

As you can see from the articles below, the Heine osteotome was recognized as a mechanical chainsaw that was well before its time, arriving on the scene in the 1830s when all doctors where using bone saws and non-mechanized saws. They were extremely expensive, roughly $300 USD each vs $5 USD for a Standard Capital Saw in Tiemann’s catalog. Most doctors could not afford them, did not know how to use them, and they were not bought, hence their rarity,

Well, I finally got my hands on an unmarked Heine Osteome with Totrtosise Shell Handle in the original box, It needed some museum quality restoration work and the images I took this AM with my smart phone on a wooden desk chair but I was excited…the osteotome is a foot long, probably smaller.

To be honest, given the cost, I cannot say I feel as though my cup runneth over with joy–but it is nice to have!

Below are a few links which may be of value to you:

Below is an interesting article about the Heine Osteotome from:

Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research®

, Volume 474, Issue 5, pp 1108–1109

When Bernhard Heine (1800–1846) was just 10-years-old, his parents sent him to his uncle’s workshop in Würzburg, Germany to begin an apprenticeship as an orthopaedic technician. He was in good hands. His uncle, Johann G. Heine, is widely considered the founder of orthopaedics in Germany [3, 4, 9], having opened the Caroline Institute (Karolinen-Institut, named after the Bavarian Queen Caroline), the first orthopaedic institution in Germany, in 1816. Johann’s renowned workshop in Würzburg manufactured artificial limbs, wheelchairs, and other orthopaedic devices.

Like his uncle Johann, Bernhard Heine had a natural talent for crafting orthopaedic devices, but lacked a formal medical education. Instead, Bernhard Heine attended anatomical lectures and surgical demonstrations. At the age of 20, he traveled the world to further his medical education [9]. Upon his return, Heine practiced medicine and surgery, specializing in orthopaedic surgery. He designed and built many of his own instruments and appliances, but none as important or widely renowned as the chain osteotome, which he developed in 1830.

Heine’s design, similar to the modern chainsaw, cut through bone quickly, without the patient enduring blows from a hammer and chisel or jarring from a regular amputation saw—an important advancement at a time when anesthesia was rarely employed. Surgeons could perform resections and even craniotomies without leaving bone splinters or damaging surrounding tissue [5, 6]. The example held by the National Museum of Health and Medicine, however, illustrates the complexity of the instrument (Fig. 1). Several guards on the saw could be configured to minimize the cutting surface and prevent soft-tissue damage. A rod with a screw tip served as a pivot for craniotomies. The saw required considerable skill to use, and few could wield it as well as Heine.

Still, the invention brought great fame to Heine. In 1835, he was awarded the prestigious Monthyon Prize by the Académie Française. He then spent 6 months in Russia demonstrating the instrument as a guest of the Czar [4].

Osteotomes were manufactured in Germany by Bernard Heine and in France by Charriere et Fils. George Tiemann and Co. of New York, eager to demonstrate that they were a world-class producer of surgical instruments, manufactured this chain osteotome in the United States with a tortoise shell handle and gold plated parts [8]. It was displayed at the 1872 Exposition universelle de Lyon to demonstrate virtuosity in surgical instrument fabrication, and was awarded both the silver and bronze medal, which they proudly included on the title page of subsequent catalogs. The instrument was donated to the Army Medical Museum after the exposition, only to be borrowed for the 1876 Centennial Exposition [1, 2]. Tiemann subsequently marketed the osteotome for USD 300 in the 1872 catalog compared with USD 5 for a standard capital saw or USD 191 for a Buck’s general operating set [7].

Perhaps the importance of the chain osteotome was more symbolic than practical; it demonstrated that orthopaedic surgery was not only a medical specialty, but one that merited prestige.

Is a “rare” stethoscope or hearing aid/conversation tube?

As I peruse ebay, I came upon the “stethoscope” advertised below.

Flexible monaural stethoscopes were introduced around 1832. These were tubes of coiled spring covered with woven silk, usually 14 to 18 inches long, with a chest piece at one end and usually a very short, straight earpiece at the other.

Flexible stethoscopes are often confused with conversation tubes, which looked the same, but were much longer than stethoscopes.

While I do collect antique hearing devices, I may inquire into this one but not for $450.

I happen to know the seller who is a very nice guy but I am 99% on this one with my source being



Crossing the line from medical antique collector to antiquarian medical book collector

My bid of 800 Euros failed to be the win bid for a 5th edition John Scultetus “Armamentrium Chirurgicum” which sold for 1100 Euros.

Dr. Scultetus, actually Schultes or Schultheiss (Born October 1th, 1595 in Ulm, Died December 1645 in Stuttgart ) was a German doctor and author of a book for surgery and their instruments entitled “Armamentarium-Chirurgicum” in 1655.

Now as any smart collector of any collectible will tell you, having a copy of the original trade catalog of whatever it is you collect (in my case medical and surgical antiques) is of high value so you can identify instruments which you wish to collect or have obtained.

Realistically, “Armamentarium-Chirurgicum” by George Tiemann and Co. 1879 is the “bible” of antique medical catalogs to own for most American collectors.

The fact of the matter: finding medical and surgical antiques from the 1600s to 1700s is rare. They just did not make that many at the time. The United States’ doctor or barber or surgeon, in the latter 18th century, had no fine instrument makers from whom to buy medical or surgical equipment, this all came over from Europe and the good medical or surgial or apothecary items were–and still are–rare and expensive.

My collection of medical antiques is based mostly on items from the 1800s and 1900s–medicine’s golden era–not that I do not want some older items (and I have a few), but they are rarely found and mostly in museums if they are of any quality. Moreover, differentiating surgica antiques like a medical bone saw vs a carpeter’s saw from the 1600s or 1700s takes a keen eye and knowledge as only the finest of surgical items of that period were marked by an instrument maker.

The above historical context is not meant to educate, anyone reading this–are you out there, who knows, Google Analytics says you are–should know the above if they are an experienced collector of medical antiques.

My point is that I have run out of items that I “need” for my collection and am branching out into antiquarian medical books–a very expensive proposition and one I really cannot afford. Antiquarian book collectors have way deeper pockets than us medical antique collectors. I would guesstimate tht qulaity antiquarin first edition medical books cost 10 to 100 times more than the instruments they depict. Crazy, right?!

So why did I bid on the antiquarian book? Good question. I do not read German. I can get modern reproductions of the book for under one hundred USD. Antiquaran books, like any investment, are far from guaranteed to increase in value; in fact, I read some articles stating the stock market offered better long time returns than antiquarian books in the big picture.

To answer my ow question, I like the idea of owning the original work by the author who created or documented use of the original medical or surgical antique. A bad idea since even if I could afford it, it would only sit on my shelf, I could not “play with it” as these books should be handled very delicately–in fact, that is why book collectors keep a “reading copy” to thumb through and a “rare copy” which sits on their sheves, untouched, except for the advised dusting every 3 months.

So have I changed my mind about wanting antiquarian medical books now that I have spewed iut the above. Heck no! I am a collector and suffer from the pathology hat once he idea is seeded, it is almost never quenched until the item is obtained. Time to start putting more coins in the piggy bank.

A gem in the rough of

I can count on one hand the number of times in the last 10 years I have gotten a “steal” on ebay. Seems like the rare time these days I find something good, the esniperrs are all over it.

Well, an antique book dealer friend of mine came upon the Antique Civil War Medical Book – Treatise on Fever by Robert Lyons and it was marked USA HOSPITAL DEPARTMENT on the cover! He bought it for $49!

The seller had no idea of this books value nor did he mention it in the title. Miracles do happen. The books is worth well over $1000.

How to identify a real vs fake antique surgical amputation bone saw part 2?

When buying an antique surgical amputation saw–and I am not asking what you are planning on doing with it, that is your business–keep an eye out for fakes. When I say fake, I do not mean “reproduction” although these too may exist, I have seen a few. I really mean that most saws of the 1600s and 1700s where made for carpentry and you can buy these on ebay for a few dollars. These same saws are often falsely advertised (maybe by an ignorant seller, who knows) for about $600-$1200 USD.

Remember that in the 1600s and 1700s there was no United States of America and no surgical instrument makers on the continent. Surgeons needed to get their instruments from Europe, usually the United Kingdom.

So there are two main things to look for to confirm you are buying a true antique surgical amputation saw (and this probably holds true for buying many antique surgical instruments of this time period:

1. Look for an item that is ornate in it’s handle and body.
2. Look for a maker’s mark that you can confirm by checking your medical antiques books (Edmonson and Bennion).

Below is an example of saws falsely advertised on


How to date and identify an antique medical surgical amputation (bone) saw from the 17th or 18th Century (and not accidentally buy an antique carpenter’s saw for hundreds or even thousands of dollars)?

Let’s face it, a saw is a saw. To the layperson, a (nonelectric) saw has a wood handle and a metal part with teeth that cuts stuff.

If you work with wood, you know there are all sorts of fancy saws for delicate wood work and there are big saws that two people might use to saw through a log pulling back and forth.

I’ll let you in on a secret–sawing through bone is not all that different form sawing through wood.

Anyway, open the book Antique Medical Instruments by Kenneth Wilbur, M.D. Seventh Edition and turn to pages 127 to 129. Here is a nicely detailed and illustrated account of the different types of amputation saws from the dawn of time to present day.

Here are the bullet points:

  • Amputation saws from the 1500s and 1600s and 1700s tend to have ornate handles and be ornate in general. They are also quite long and heavy, roughly 24 inches long or 60 cm long. Why? the bigger the saw, the faster the amputation (in general). Saws were ornate becasue only wealthy physicians or royalty could afford an amputation and more effort was spent on creating a beautiful instrument (vs the 21st century where surgical instruments are cold, sterile, cheap, and disposable).
  • A lovely saw sold at auction for 3000 Euros (that’s $3,200 USD) yesterday. See image of saw and auction results below. Correct, these saws are rare and expensive, i don’t know if it is worth $3,200 but we can debate that another time.


Auction Result: A Rare South German Italian Surgical Amputation Tool Circa 1600 Auction Results

  • Below is another saw I purchased recently which is authentic. Note the hexagonal ebony handle, the ornate metal work, this is genuine.


In my next blog, I will try to point out some fakes out there and I am trying to prevent you from getting ripped off so keep stay posted!

A Medical Antique Collector’s Dilemma: What to do with spare items bought at auction when you’ve won a large lot at auction?

Feeling a bit of a sore throat coming on, I locked myself in my apartment determined to get rifdof some inventory. Once you start collecting just about anything, the line between collecting and hoarding gets blurred, if not, demolished. My step dad is a hoarder although he would say he fills his home with nostalgia. I have no desire to have piles of items to the ceiling and a narrow walkway between them.

Don’t get the wrong idea, while I would like to say I have a minimalist home and office, it is quickly being overtaken by piles of antique medical books bought in huge lots at auction–I am talking 75 to 100 books from the 1800s and 1900s which I “stole” at auction for $200 USD only to discover that it would cost me $600 USD to have them shipped to me in NYC. I bought this lot as I am trying to complete a set of the well known Civil War Medical Book series Medical and Surgical History of the Rebellion. These books can retail new for $300 to $600 each and I noted 3 of them in this book lot.

I put the desired books on my shelves and was left with a bedroom full of antique medical books of all different subjects but all pertaining to medicine, surgery, history of famous UK hospitals, etc. I had no idea what they were worth if anything.

I went to work checking,,, and These are the best sites in my opinion to get an idea of retail antique book value. Most of the books were of little value, that is, retailed for $20 to $50 meaning that if I wanted to quickly get them out of the apartment, I needed to donate them to charity or sell them. Having the time and wanting to learn a bit, I decided on the latter.

Long story short, I researched each title and have them listed on A few of the books are “worth” $250-500 retail–we’ll see if I can get close to that. Most of the books are not worth much so I bundled these into lots, took the best photos I could with my smart phone in my kitchen where lighting is the best, and now have them posted on ebay. I already have 3 bids so I have a guaranteed 100 dollars coming back to me, not gonna make me rich but not bad work for a lazy day in sweat pants. I will keep you posted on how the sales go. This is not “my first rodeo” in trying to at least break even on antique medical purchases–and let me say for the record, if you have broken even and collect medical antiques and antique books, you are ahead of the curve in my experience.