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NoahBriggs
01-13-2007, 08:19 PM
A companion of mine and I have gotten into a brawl with a seller on eBay over the items he is selling.

The seller is selling ink erasers as scalpels or vaccinators. This is a common error, as you can see by the pictures -
http://www.antiquescientifica.com/mis_id_ink_earser_Rodgers.jpg

http://www.antiquescientifica.com/mis_id_ink_earser_Miller_Bros.jpg

The items are small, have wooden or ivory handles and sharp blades. It's therefore easy for the uninformed to draw the conclusion the item is a scalpel of some kind. There are pictures of these items in some pocket kits in a few books on collecting medical items.

The ebay listing is item #130061693228 (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=130061693228&sspagename=ADME:B:AAQ:US:1)

The fleams are correctly identified; the two blades on either side are the current bone of contention.

My friend emailed the seller to inform him of his mistake. The seller's response to our comments (the all caps writing is his, and all original spellings have been left intact. My remarks in brackets):

SORRY SIR BUT YOU ARE MAKING A COMMON ERROR. THE ITEM IS ILLUSTRATED BY MANY MEDICAL TEXT BOOKS AS A FLEAM AND INDEED WAS CONTAINED IN MANY FIELD SURGICAL KITS. THE MIS IDENTIFICATION OF THIS ITEM OCCURRED IN THE EARLY 1900'S WHEN PHLEBOTOMY WAS NO LONGER PRACTICED AS A LEGITIMATE MEDICAL TREATMENT. UNSOLD INVENTORIES WERE THEN GIVEN A NEW PURPOSE AND THE FLEAM OFFERED AS AN INK ERASER AND IN SOME CASES A LETTER OPENER. CONSIDER, WHY WOULD IT BE NECESSARY TO MANUFACTURE AN IMPLEMENT WITH A CUTTING EDGE OF 2 1/8 INCH ON ONE SIDE AND ONE INCH ON THE OTHER SIDE WHEN ONLY THE VERY TIP OF ANY HOUSEHOLD OR POCKET KNIFE BE REQUIRED FOR THE INFREQUENT SCRAPING OF AN INKED LETTER. I HAVE POSSESSED THESE MADE IN THE 1850'S AND THEY NEVER APPEARED IN A CATALOGUE AS AN INK ERASURE UNTIL THE SEARS CATALOGUE OF 1912. [They show up in an 1897 Sears catalogue, page 363, in the stationery section. They also appear in the Montgomery Ward Catalogue 1895, again in the stationery section.] THE IDENTICAL ITEM APPEARS TWICE ON PAGE 63 OF THE PICTORIAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CIVIL WAR MEDICAL EQUIPMENT BY DR. GORDON DAMMAN VOL. 11. IT APPEARS TWICE, ONCE AS PART OF A SURGEONSFIELD KIT ALONG WITH OTHER INSTRUMENTS. IT IS ALSO SHOWN IN ANTIQUE MEDICAL INSTRUMENTS BY C. KEITH WILBUR, M.D. AS PART OF THE AUTHORS PERSONAL COLLECTION. THERE IS NO QUESTION AS TO IT'S ORIGINAL PURPOSE WHICH IS NOT TO SAY THAT YOU COULDN'T SHARPEN A PENCIL WITH IT IF YOU SO DESIRED [seller's name deleted for privacy]
My analysis to the fellow who asked about it:
"He cites Dammam. Gordy Dammam does show an ink scraper with one of the pocket kits. This is frequently touted as "evidence". It is indeed in Wilbur's book as well. Just 'cause it's there does not mean it originally came with the kit. It may have been placed there later on either accidentally misidentified or deliberately as a supplemental instrument.

"I rummaged through my copy of the 1889 catalogue of George Teimann surgical instruments. This is the source us medical geeks use to identify surgical instruments of the period. If the double-bladed scalpel was so useful, you would think a physician would have patented the design and got the instrument named after him, certainly by 1889.

"Nothing of the sort.

"Also, it appears Mr. Phlebotomy has not driven a scalpel before. A while back I took my original scalpel from my kit to practice incisions and the different types of sutures. I used an old raw chicken. The scalpels are small and single edged for a reason. You are working in confined areas which have sensitive yet important things, like blood vessels, nerves and the occasional internal organ. If you use a "double-bladed scalpel" (improvised or not) then you will inadvertantly cut something which you do not want to cut. Not only does that mean additional time on the table for Goof-Up repairs, but it also violates the basic principle of the Hippocratic Oath - Primum Non Nocere, or, First Do No Harm.

"There is even one scalpel, called a hernia knife, which not only has a rounded tip, but on a blade four to five cm long, only 1.5 to 2cm on the blade are an actual cutting area! It's obviously designed for a specific task and to reduce the probability of accidental damage.

"The only double-bladed cutting instrument I have seen is a catlin knife. It's used to make the initial incision when you are cutting the flesh in preparation for an amputation."

We sent to him an article which discusses the controversy. It's a July 1985 newsletter of the Medical Collectors Association. Page 7ff. specifically addresses the confusion of ink erasers with medical instruments, and includes copies of pages from an 1885 Wostonholme cutlery catalogue that illustrate ink erasers (http://www.case.edu/affil/MeMA/MCA/1-10/1985July.pdf):

My friend wrote the seller:
"The debate seems to have been going on a while. The discussion on the Medical Antiques (http://www.medicalantiques.com) website seems to support the steel eraser thesis, while the Alex Peck Medical Collecting (http://www.antiquescientifica.com/alerts.htm) website specifically warns that "Nineteenth Century ink erasers and quill sharpening knives are frequently sold as Civil War Scalpels or bleeders."

The Early Office Museum website (http://www.officemuseum.com/Pens.htm) offered the closest to us winning our argument by showing a scraper in the box dated to the 1840s. Scroll to the bottom under Accessories.

I searched online for catalogues of the 1850s. Nothing, so far. We are going to ask the seller if he will list any manufacturer names on his "scalpels". If the names can be tracked down as stationer manufacturers then we might have won.

More to follow . . .

hanktrent
01-13-2007, 08:44 PM
If he's going to go to Damman Vol II p. 63, he might as well quote the whole thing.


Since the publishing of Volume I of the Pictorial Encyclopedia of Civil War Medical Instruments and Equipment, much controversy has arisen over the photo of the pocket kit (Illustration 40) and the photo of the venesection knives (Illustration 63). They are reproduced again in this volume.

It has been pointed out that there were devices with the same configuration as the knives that were shown; however, they were used as ink erasers. Conversely, many devices that looked like ink erasers were used as scalpels or venesection devices. Consider the roll-up kit as proof. This kit had the instruments in place and the uotline of each instrument pressed into the leather holder. THey were not substituted at a later date.

Next, consider the medical notes of Surgeon Harrison of the 68th Ohio. He attended Jefferson Medical College in 1856-57. His class notes from Dr. Pancoast's lecture show a drawing of a "scalpel." The notes state that fine scalpels can be fashioned from inexpensive "document changers."


My opinion on the subject is that some doctors probably used ink erasers as scalpels. Of course, calling something an antique scalpel is going to make it sell for more than an ink eraser. But unless one has proof that a particular ink eraser was used as a scalpel rather than an ink eraser, or that it was made by a medical instrument company, it's just an ink eraser. Claiming that every antique ink eraser was a scalpel is like claiming every old piece of rope is a noose or every old scrap of cotton is a Civil War bandage. Yeah, it could have been used as that, and it'd be cool if it was, but...

Hank Trent
hanktrent@voyager.net

Marc
01-15-2007, 09:58 AM
Ah yes.....the old ink eraser debate. I think Hank sums it up best. Years ago on ebay you could find genuine items from the 19th century and purchase without much problems. Now.....I have not looked at e-bay in quite a while since the prices on bidding have gone to the moon on anything listed as civil war. In years past I found the best medical buys not listed as civil war items but just medical antiques. As always let the buyer beware.

vmescher
01-16-2007, 12:57 PM
A companion of mine and I have gotten into a brawl with a seller on eBay over the items he is selling.

The seller is selling ink erasers as scalpels or vaccinators. This is a common error, as you can see by the pictures -
http://www.antiquescientifica.com/mis_id_ink_earser_Rodgers.jpg

http://www.antiquescientifica.com/mis_id_ink_earser_Miller_Bros.jpg


I searched online for catalogues of the 1850s. Nothing, so far. We are going to ask the seller if he will list any manufacturer names on his "scalpels". If the names can be tracked down as stationer manufacturers then we might have won.

More to follow . . .

Noah,

I had done research on erasers when I wrote the article on pencils and have several various ones in my collection.

You might want to check out the patents for erasers. The following numbers might help.
46,032
32,288
57,004
23,196
56,455
49,558
58,684
49,559
58,684

There might be more but these are ones that I had in my files that I could get to quickly.

NoahBriggs
01-16-2007, 01:40 PM
Thank you, Virginia!

cwmed
01-21-2007, 10:39 PM
Dear Gents,

First of I would like to thank Noah for bringing this long debated subject up. They are in fact ink scrapers and not scaples or lancets and I hate it when good Museums have them listed as such. Every time you look up "civil war medical" on e-bay at least two mabey three appear. However, I just got of the phone with Ed Archer and we both agree that rarly if ever they were used as a medical divice.

Your Fellow Enthusiest,

Luke A. Castleberry