Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Pocket Surgical Kit

     We received an exciting donation recently of a collection of pocket surgical kits.  These small leather kits were carried by surgeons during the Civil War and contained the instruments they were most likely to need out in the field.  These instruments are smaller than the ones found in the surgical or amputation kits.  Many of these instruments were also designed to be folded into their handle when not in use, to make for a more compact kit.  There are several sizes of pocket kits, depending on the types and number of instruments they contained.  Let’s take a closer look at one kit and its contents.

This pocket kit was made by George Tiemann & Co. The exterior of the case is leather and the interior is lined with purple velvet and cloth. The flaps you see on the sides fold in to protect the instruments when the case is closed. You can see that the top flap of the kit is now detached, but the instruments are in very good condition.

     The George Tiemann company, located in New York City, was a major supplier of surgical kits and instruments to the Union army during the Civil War.  His company is still in business today.  According to their website, they have been suppliers of “fine surgical instruments” since 1826. 

In addition to having loops for storing instruments, this kit also has a pocket where the surgeon could keep his needles and suture materials.

This is a double-bladed gum lancet and tenaculum with a tortoise shell handle. The small metal buttons slide to the side to lock the blades in place. As you might suspect, a gum lancet was a dental tool used for making incisions. The tenaculum, the sharp hook, was a type of probe generally used for grasping and holding blood vessels.

This double-bladed instrument is probably recognizable as two scalpels, used for making incisions.

This odd-looking little instrument is a comb and lancet, used for blood-letting and vaccinations. During the Civil War, doctors would vaccinate soldiers against smallpox using scabs from a person who had been infected with the disease. The lancet or the comb would have been used to make little incisions in the arm in order to insert small bits of the scabs. 

This metal instrument is a grooved director. It was used for directing another surgical instrument, such as a scalpel, to an area that was not in the surgeon’s direct view.

Metal olive-tipped artery forceps enabled the surgeon to grip an artery. A ligature with an overhand knot could be slipped down the forceps to the artery. A small metal slide allows the forceps to be locked closed.

     I am still cataloging and documenting this kit and the rest of the collection, but I’m looking forward to putting them on display in the future!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.


  1. wow nice ... scalers used for tooth you can easily remove the tooth ...

    dental instruments

    1. If you think the scalers are bad, you should see the tooth keys they used for pulling teeth back then! I've got a photo of some in an earlier post:

  2. Hello, really very Nice post and thanks for posting and one of the fine innovations in the use of Surgical Equipments,hope to see more post and very useful.

    thank you