THE amputation tools used by a surgeon on the battlefields of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) will appear at auction in October.
Lost for a century, they resurfaced alongside a major collection
of antique medical apparatus in a disused warehouse in New England
two decades ago.
On October 15-16, Grogan & Co. of Dedham,
Massachusetts will offer as a single lot the collection of 18th and
19th century surgeons' kits and a tourniquet belonging to three
members of a prominent family of Boston physicians.
Of key importance is the amputation set c.1775 with a label
reading Used during the Revolutionary War by Dr John
Warren and another in a fish skin case given to him by his
older brother, General Joseph Warren, a fellow doctor who died from
gunshot and bayonet wounds at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The Warren instruments, hailing from a time before the
importance of sterilisation was known to doctors, all show signs of
heavy use. Remarkably, adding to their 'time capsule' quality, the
remnants of layers of dried blood remain.
Dr John Warren became a prominent figure during the
Revolutionary War. A 22-year-old surgeon with Colonel Pickering's
Colonial Regiment in Salem, he was promoted by General George
Washington to senior surgeon of the Continental Army in Cambridge
after the British burned Charlestown. He tended to the wounded on
the battlefields of Long Island, Trenton and Princeton, seeing his
last field action at the Battle of Quaker Hill in Newport, Rhode
Island in 1778. He was discharged from the army two years later
when he founded the first Boston Medical School (his friend Paul
Revere engraved a diploma certificate), becoming the first
Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at Harvard Medical School in
A catheter set (by 19th century maker Charrière of Paris)
belonging to his son John Collins Warren (1788-1856) and a
Charrière surgical kit owned by the noted Boston surgeon Dr Henry
J. Bigelow (1818-1890) are also included in the lot.
A pioneer in ether anaesthesia, the papers of John Collins
Warren survive in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical
Society. An entry in his diary dated February 19, 1850 recalls the
loan of his father's Revolutionary War surgeon kits to Dr Bigelow,
a close family friend and colleague and a collector of medical
The whereabouts of the Bigelow collection remained a mystery
from the time of the death of his son Warren in 1926 until a large
cache of 18th and 19th century medical apparatus was unearthed in
an abandoned storage unit in the early 1990s. Two decades later,
these four surgeon sets will appear for sale with an estimate of
By Roland Arkell