Medical Artifacts Collection
About This Collection
The Medical Artifacts Collection consists of instruments and equipment related to the history of health care in Virginia over the last 150 years. The collection, a group of over 6,000 objects, contains representative instruments from nineteenth-century medical practice including lancets, amputation sets, medicine chests, stethoscopes, obstetrical forceps, microscopes and dental forceps. Over half of the collection dates from the period 1910 through 1950 and includes surgical, diagnostic and dental instruments, nursing uniforms and pins, furnishings from a country doctor's office, therapeutic devices, and memorabilia associated with former Medical College of Virginia health practitioners.
Many artifacts from the collection are on display in the Peter N. Pastore History of Medicine Exhibit Hall at Tompkins-McCaw Library, as well as in other exhibit cases throughout the building. To view samples from the collection that are available online see the Medical Artifacts Collection in the VCU Libraries Digital Collections.
Highlights From The Collection
Silver Lithotrite, 1878 (82.739)
This silver lithotrite was owned by Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire (1835-1900), a Virginia physician who served as Chief Surgeon to Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson during the Civil War. Dr. McGuire was also the founder of the University College of Medicine and St. Luke Hospital in Richmond. Used in bladder operations, the lithotrite was presented to Dr. McGuire in Scotland by Sir Henry Thompson and was manufactured by the Weiss Company of London, England. The lithotrite was one of the first objects donated to the medical artifact collection at the Medical College of Virginia.
Pocket Surgical Kit, 1864 (91.14.6)
Owned by Dr. Nelson R. Barnes, this pocket surgical kit was purchased while he was serving as a surgeon for the 184th New York Volunteers in 1864. Manufactured by the New York firm of Shepard & Dudley, it is typical of field kits used during the Civil War, containing basic surgical equipment including a scalpel, lancet, tenaculum, bistoury, and catheter. Dr. Barnes name and unit are lettered in gold on the back of the kit. It was purchased from a private collector with monies made available through the MCV Artifact Fund.
Medicine Chest, c.1810-1830 (83.102)
Like most nineteenth century doctors who compounded their own prescriptions, Virginia physician Dr. James Watson, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in 1826, used this medicine case as part of his daily practice. In addition to glass medicine bottles, the case also holds a small apothecary scale and a brass spatula. The medicine case passed through four generations of the Watson family before being donated to the collection in 1932.
Tonsil Snare, 1942 (83.1)
Serving in North Africa during World War II, Dr. J. Warren Montague had to perform an unanticipated and immediate tonsillectomy with none of the proper equipment. An Air Force Sergeant used available materials to make this tonsil snare for that operation. The finger pieces were carved from the aluminum propeller of a downed French plane, while the other parts were made from a drill rod, part of a typewriter, and a bicycle spoke. Dr. Montague continued to use the snare in both North Africa and southern France, removing the tonsils of approximately 300 U.S. servicemen throughout the course of the war.
Dentures, c.1830 (92.9.1)
In addition to medical artifacts, there is an extensive number of objects related to dentistry within the collection. These dentures, mounted on a dental articulator, were made in Richmond, Virginia sometime around 1830 for a wealthy flour merchant named Henry Moncure. The dentures were kept by the MCV School of Dentistry as part of their own archives before transferring them to TML Special Collections & Archives.