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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Robert Liston, M.D & Thomas Mutter, M.D.

Robert Liston, M.D., Surgeon

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1827

Robert Liston (1794 - 1847) was a pioneering Scottish surgeon. He was likely the best surgeon of his day, noted for his skill and his speed in an era prior to anesthetics. He was able to complete operations in a matter of seconds, at a time when speed was essential to reduce pain and improve the odds of survival of a patient; he is said to have been able to perform the removal of a limb in an amputation in roughly 30 seconds.

There are stories of occasions when his operations went wrong due to the speed at which he attempted them. The two most notable examples of this were when he amputated a man's testicles along with his leg by mistake and another operation where the patient died of infection, he cut off the fingers of his assistant (who also died due to infection) and slashed the coat of a spectator who died of fright. Robert Liston is the only surgeon in known history to have performed an operation with a 300% mortality rate. There is, however, apparently no precise source for these stories, so they might well just be regarded as urban legends.

Liston received his education at Edinburgh University and in 1818 became a surgeon in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He became Professor of Clinical Surgery at University College, London in 1835, and in December of 1846, he carried out the first public operation using ether anesthetic in the UK. He invented locking forceps, and the Liston Splint, used to stabilize dislocations and fractures of the femur.  Source: Wikipedia

Dr. Liston invented a number of surgical techniques used today. In fact, many of the instruments in his surgical sets were named after him. Dr. Liston was a large man who cut a broad figure in the operating room and was proud of his reputation as a fast surgeon, a reputation that was well respected in this preanesthetic era for obvious reasons. Legends of his operating techniques are numerous, including the carved notches Dr. Liston made on his amputation knife following each procedure. He would hold a major artery with his large left hand while making one great cutting pass with the right. With the knife held in his teeth, he would then suture the limb, the whole procedure lasting only a few minutes.   Source:  Dr. Robert Greenspan's medical collecting website.

Mutter, Thomas Dent, physician, born in Richmond, Virginia, 9 March, 1811; died in Charleston, South Carolina, 16 March, 1859. He was graduated at Hampden Sidney and at the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1831. He then went to Paris and on his return settled in Philadelphia. In 1841-'56 he was professor of surgery in Jefferson medical college. He wrote an account of the Salt Sulphur Springs of Virginia, an essay on "Club Foot," contributed various professional papers to periodicals, and published an edition of Robert Liston's "Lecture on the Operations of Surgery," with additions (Philadelphia, 1846).

(The personal edited research notes of Michael Echols, the source of which may or may not be completely documented)

Medical Antiques Index

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques Index

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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