American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

Surgical Set collection from 1860 to 1865 - Civilian and Military

Civil War:  Medicine, Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

 Dr. Michael Echols  &  Dr. Doug Arbittier


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American Civil War Surgical Antiques

Research and Identification

Civil War Era Surgical Sets, Surgeon's Images

Civil War Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

Established 1995    .     Dr. Michael Echols Collection


As seen in:  Warman's Civil War Collectibles, Antique Week, Northeast Antiques, and various TV programs, Antiques & Collecting publications

Fake Civil War Surgical Antiques

By Dr. Michael Echols

Published 7/1/2008 Northeast Antiques Magazine   

Faking It
Civil War Surgical Sets

Dr. Michael Echols

Buying or even selling a "real" Civil War surgical set is difficult at best. There are precious few references or "experts" to help with identification and much of what is sold publicly as "Civil War" is not. Some of the problem is unintentional or based on long-held inaccuracies among auction houses and antique dealers. The rest is pure and simple fraud.

Putting It to the Test

To be a true Civil War surgical antique, the first test is quite simple: the set or instruments must have existed prior to or were made during the Civil War years. If the maker did not exist until after the Civil War, it is safe to assume the set is not Civil War. If the maker was a designated supplier to the U.S. Army Medical Department during the War, you can make the assumption that their production during the War is "Civil War," especially if it is marked "U. S. Army Medical or Hospital Department" or some abbreviation thereof. Maker verification can be ascertained from Edmonson's excellent reference book, American Surgical Instruments: An Illustrated History.

The second test is provenance. If the set existed prior to or during the Civil War, who owned it and how are you going to prove it was owned by an Army surgeon or a civilian contract surgeon? Odds are you cannot prove anything for 100 percent certain, but some sets were kept by families and they have copious letters, photos, etc. which may serve the purpose. Of course you also need to prove the surgeon who owned the set was present during the War, as either Army or civilian. If the set is a marked military set with sliding latches and a brass plate showing Army markings, there is no doubt about its use. But a word of caution: there are fake engraved brass plates showing up with Army markings.


For pre-War sets, knowing the approximate creation date is very important because an amputation set from 1840 isn't likely to have been used in the 1860s. Contrary to popular opinion, the doctors who were non-Union Army surgeons were not the ones doing the cutting on the frontline or in the rear hospitals. It would have been the most experienced full surgeons who did the actual cutting and not a bandage changer from Boston who just graduated from medical school. Experienced surgeons would have wanted the most up-to-date instruments available and not some set brought over from England or France after the War of 1812. For Confederate medical sets, the field is wide open and since there were no Confederate designated contract suppliers, CSA sets are almost impossible to designate as "Civil War" unless there is extensive provenance. There are no CSA military issued sets; only Union Army sets are so marked.

Now that we have the basic guidelines about the sets, let's discuss individual instruments. Unless you have extensive experience with identification of instruments, the odds of spotting replacement instruments in existing sets is limited to noticing if they do not exactly fit in the slots of the case (they should fit perfectly) and there should only be one makers' name on all the instruments in 99 percent of the cases. As soon as you see multiple maker names and lots of missing parts, walk on by.

Faked surgical sets come in two general forms: misdirection about the actual dates of manufacture (perhaps unintentional and done out of ignorance) or outright fraud with the intention of selling something that bears no relationship to the truth. As with all antiques, your best defense is knowledge.

About the author: Dr. Michael Echols is a collector of American surgical antiques, not a dealer. His collection and extensive information about Civil War surgical sets is available on his website.


Medical Antiques Index

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques Index

Contact Dr. Arbittier or Dr. Echols



Civil War Medical Collections 


Direct links to all medical & Civil War collections on this site                         

American Surgical Sets:

Pre-Civil War:  1 | 2  -   Post-Civil War:  3  -  Civil War 1861-1865:  4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   INDEX

Medical Text-Books:

1 | 1a | 2 | 2a | 3 | 3a | 4 | 4a | 5 | 5a | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 9a | 10 | 11 | 12    INDEX

Surgeon General's Office Library printed catalogues: 1840 | 1864 | 1865
Medical Lecture Cards: 1 | 2 | 34 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21    INDEX

Medical Faculty and Authors:


Navy Surgeon Exams:

1863 Navy Surgeon Applicant Exams with Biographies   INDEX ONE | INDEX TWO

Surgeon CDVs, Images:

Army: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8    INDEX

Navy: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   

Hosp Dep't Bottles, Tins, 

U.S. Army Pannier:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

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Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016