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

H. Hernstein & Son Civil War Military Major Surgery Set

U. S. A. Staff Surgeon's Capital Operating Set

This absolutely pristine capital bone surgery set, which is marked U.S. Army Hospital Department, was found at an estate sale in Pennsylvania.  The set, which is in almost unused condition, and is 100% complete, was found sitting on a lamp table, covered by a piece of cloth, with a lamp sitting on top of the case.   No other history is known about the set or its owners but the set has never been in any other hands than the original owners or family.  The set was obtained at auction 2-12-2006 in New York state after being removed from the family house in Pennsylvania.

Hermann Hernstein surgical instruments, N.Y.:

1843: 3 Chambers

1844: Elizabeth cor. Hester

1845-48: 7 Hague

1850: no listing

1851-52: 68 Duane

1853-54: 81 Duane

1855-57: 81 Duane and 393 Broadway

1858: 81 Duane, 131 Mercer, and 393 Broadway 1859-61: 131 Mercer and 393 Broadway

Hermann Hernstein & Son (Hermann and Albert L. Hernstein) 1862-65: 131 Mercer and 393 Broadway


Hermann Hernstein & Son & Co. 1865: 2 Liberty and 393 Broadway


Hermann Hernstein & Co. 1866-67: 2 Liberty and 393 Broadway

The set by NY. maker, H. Hernstein & Son, (1861-1864) is in a brass bound mahogany case, with bilateral military latches, which measures 17 x 7.75 x 3.75 in.  The brass plate (escutcheon) on the top is engraved "U. S. A. Hosp. Dept.".  The three tiered set has over 36 instruments, four of which are marked "U. S. A. Hosp. Dep't." The oil-dyed blue velvet lined set contains instruments for major bone surgery, but no instrument for bullet removal or trocar for bladder relief.  Based on other similar sets in this and other collections, it can be assumed this was a specialty set intended to be used in a military hospital for bone surgery and resection by a senior medical officer. 

Interesting features: angled brass cover to hold amputation knives in place, which is usually associated with later sets; blue velvet lining instead of the typical red interior seen in many Civil War sets, but blue was common in Tiemann and Hernstein sets made immediately prior to the Civil War.  Unlike sets from some makers, there are no re-enforcing screws in the top of the case, but there are brass corner brackets.  The most important fact is this set is a window into the way it left the factory and was given to a surgeon.

According to Edmonson's research, toward the end of the War, Hernstein was in possession of a number of surgery sets made for the military.  It is not known for sure if these sets were sold on the civilian market or released to the military.  The fact this set is engraved for the U. S. Army Hospital Department would suggest it was in the possession of the Army Hospital Department, but apparently was only used sparingly.  The only real evidence of use is indentations on the chisel mallet, which would definitely indicate use at some point.   But more than likely this set was a late hospital arrival and saw little use.

There are several photos of the tourniquet because the tourniquet with both strap and brass frame is in unused condition as it came from the factory.  It's interesting how it is wrapped and pined.  The tourniquet is marked 'Hernstein'.   This is just one example of many in this set which allows us to see how these military sets left the factory.  Another example is found in the needle compartment which appears untouched as the needles are still tied together with a piece of silver wire, the bone wax is still wrapped in tissue, and all needles are still coated with an oil.

This set is perhaps in the best condition and the most complete large military set to ever be found.  Extensive analysis of this set will help you understand the importance of this 'factory fresh' Civil War Union purchased military set.

Click on photos to enlarge

Mahogany, brass bound case with original varnish and name plate.  The red cloth bottom cover is still in place

Set with removable tray in front

"U. S. Army Hospital Department" engraved and varnished brass plate embedded in the top


No screws in the top and brass corners

Military style sliding latch

Bilateral military latches, no key

Partition removed

All three tiers with tray removed

Partition in place on initial opening

Partition cover for upper tray

Partition and tray removed


Hernstein logo and embossed eagle on the partition


Removable tray


Retaining brass plate over knives



     Cover removed from needle box


Contents of needle box: silver wire used for stabilizing a bone resection, bone wax to stop bleeding, silk thread, suture needles, heavy suture screw-on-tips for Mott's ivory aneurism handle, original packing paper.  The needles and heavy suture set were tied through the eyes with soft wire at the factory.

See an article on suture needles and suturing

Scalpels, tenaculum, aneurism needles on a wire tie with ivory handled Mott's aneurism suture set

Set of Liston's amputation knives, including catlin, and metacarpal saw

Contents of removable tray



Hernstein and Son maker mark


German silver muscle or tissue retractors with 'Hernstein and Son' mark


Extremely unusual bone drill with locking mechanism on the shaft.  The custom ebonized wood handle is one of three in this set. 

See an article on bone drills similar to this one by Wyeth and Smith

Osteotome bone drills for un-united and oblique fractures, for passing silver sutures, clearing out carious cavities and letting out pus. (Tiemann, page 109)


There are three types of heavy bone ronguers shown and one bone holding forceps

All these heavy duty forceps and ronguers are in the lower part of the case.  Note the U.S.A Hosp. Dept. markings only found on military issued instruments


Bone chain saw with detach handles


Painted brass bone brush, and other cranial surgery (trepanning) instruments: Hey saw, raspatory, elevator

Contents of upper tray, including olive forceps, trephine, elevator, raspatory, scalpel, spare saw blade, Hey saw, scissors, and chisels

Turn buckle to tighten saw blade Open frame saw and spare blade Knurled nut to hold saw blade

Chisel mallet showing use dents

Chisel mallet


Oive Artery forceps

Straight scissor


Pinned end of strap is factory fresh

'Hernstein' marked Petit's spiral tourniquet, note wrapping technique.   Very rare to see any tourniquet which has not been opened


The Galt trephine cutting blade is blued

Two Galt type trephines, note the larger one is blued and the smaller one is not.  There are two custom handles

Note the IIVX marking on the shaft

Read an analysis of another Civil War set with unusual history and how it was determined


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

American Surgical Sets:

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Medical Text-Books:

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American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques