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, Antiques & Collecting publications, and various TV programs

Evaluating Leather Pocket Surgery Cases or Kits

By Dr. Michael Echols

Snowden & Brother catalog pre-Civil War pocket cases

Tiemann catalog post-Civil War pocket cases

Gemrig catalog post-Civil War pocket cases

Caution: Evaluating pocket surgical cases or kits is very, very difficult because there is no absolute description of the instruments that will be found in the leather container.  Without good photos, it is almost impossible to communicate and to evaluate a kit.  The contents vary greatly from maker to maker and within any given maker.   It's almost as if the makers produced them to order, but we have evidence of specifications from the catalog lists and drawings seen below.  That said, there is a very precise description of pocket surgical sets by the Surgeon General's Office in the Revised 1862 list of instruments as shown in Part III, Volume II, Chapter XIV.--The Medical Staff and Materia Chirugica" 

Unlike a wood cased set, there is no form into which the instruments fit in a leather case.  The leather cases did not hold up well given its use and deterioration over 145 year since they were made.  It is rare to find an original leather case with all it's original instruments, but they do exist.  Most however, are in poor condition and contain a complement of instruments that do not necessarily relate well to the originals.  For these reasons, always view the contents of leather pocket surgical kits with skepticism.

During the Civil War, remember that most of the doctors who volunteered for service during the War were not 'surgeons', at least not surgeons the way we think of them today.  These small personal surgery kits were all they need for the minor procedures they normally did day-to-day.  The vast  majority of the doctors had never done an amputation and at this point in medical history, there was hardly ever invasive surgery done except in major medical centers like New York or Philadelphia. 

Instrument maker catalogs:

The Snowden & Brother/Weiss Catalog, which pre-dates the Civil War, contains instruments that would or could have been used during the Civil War.  To the best of my knowledge, there are no catalogs depicting the exact instruments found in leather pocket cases or kits during the Civil War.  The instruments specified in the 1862 Surgeon General's Revised list of instruments is as close as we can come to detailing what is supposed to be in a military pocket surgical kit or cased set.

Snowden & Brother's 1860 catalog was from before the War.   After the War, the1870's Gemrig Catalog or the 1880's Tiemann Catalog show examples of instruments which may have been developed or used during the War.  The only specifications during the War are found in the 1862  Revised Surgeon General's office specifications for the Union Army and those are listed below on this page for pocket surgical kits.   Due to the different variations in cases or kits from both Tiemann and Snowden, it can be extremely difficulty to differentiate between the various names of the kits.

Snowden and Brother 1860 Catalog: 

Click on images to enlarge

Below: Tiemann & Co. (c. 1880's) Catalog, (not all these kits would have existed during the Civil War)

Click on images to enlarge

Tiemann pocket surgical instruments patent marked for 1864

Below: Instruments typically found in Civil War era pocket surgical cases by Gemrig (c. 1872) Catalog.  These instruments are closer to the type and specifications used during the War.


Below: Instruments typically found in Civil War era pocket surgical cases (c. 1880's)

The variation of instruments found in a typical Civil War pocket surgical case is great.  It all depended on who specified the case and who was the maker.  Here is a list of instruments from the post-Civil War, c. 1880's, Tiemann & Co. catalog to show the types of instruments one could expect to find in a given leather pocket surgical case or kit.  Be very careful about claiming these instruments were in a Civil War issued kit as this catalog was not published until 1889, but many of the instruments may have been carried over from during the War.

Army specified contents of a pocket case during the Civil War in the 1862 Revised list:

The Pocket Case contained: 1 scalpel, 3 bistouries, 1 tenotome, 1 gum lancet, 2 thumb lancets, 1 razor (small), 1 artery forceps, 1 dressing forceps, 1 artery needle, 6 surgeon's needles, 1 exploring needle, 1 tenaculum, 1 scissors, 1 director, 3 probes, 1 caustic holder, 1 silver catheter (compound), 6 yards suture wire (iron), oz. ligature silk, 1/8 oz. wax, 1 Russia leather case.

Source:  "The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. (1861-65.)  Part III, Volume II, Chapter XIV.--The Medical Staff and Materia Chirugica"  A list of what was found in various surgical sets during the Civil War:

Examples of pocket surgical kits:

Hernstein & Son Civil War Leather Pocket Surgery Kit

Kolbe' Civil War Era Pocket Surgical Set

Tiemann pocket surgical kit of Dr. John Coover

Schivley Civil War pocket surgical kit

Tiemann pocket surgical instruments patent marked for 1864


Drawings from Bourgery & Jacob

Shown in the diagram above, are various hand-knife positions for use of folding and fixed scalpels.

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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 Arbittier Museum of Medical History Tour:   1 | 2 | 3


Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016