Medical Practices in the 19th Century

The majority of the objects described on this website originated in the 19th century. They are sought by museums, medical historians and antique collectors. These one hundred years were remarkable for the introduction of the stethoscope, the discovery of anesthesia, asepsis, blood pressure measurement, X-rays and radioactivity. In addition numerous surgical innovations occurred, spurred on by the need for treatment of wounded soldiers during the Civil War. As we moved from less sophisticated to more refined methods of diagnosis and therapy there was a dramatic change in instrumentation. Before asepsis the beauty of an instrument was considered perhaps as much as its utility. Asepsis required clean stark designs that were practical and not necessarily attractive. There is a separate section that lists the pre-nineteenth century instruments here. Compare the beauty of these devices and those of the first half of the nineteenth century to the tools that came later. Attractive materials such as ivory, ebony and other woods were abandoned because of the need for asepsis.

During the years prior to 1600 medicine was active, but meaningful discoveries, except perhaps in Anatomy were lacking. The discovery of the circulation of the blood began to change this. Then in the 18th century blood pressure was discovered. But things did not begin to really move rapidly until the 19th century. The advances in these 100 years are remarkable. The pace kept up and quickened as we moved into the 20th century and accelerated even more with the dawn of the 21st century. A justification for stressing the 19th century and early 20th century comes from our familiarity with later medical practices and the value of choosing what to include from a perspective of time.