Category Archives: collections

From London’s Science Museum

London’s Science Museum hosts a lovely virtual collection of objects related to medical history.  The object above is described as a “pair of artificial arms for a child, Roehampton, England, 1964, noting that the arts were somehow “gas powered” (?).  The chid for whom these arms were designed is understood to be a victim of his mother’s prenatal use of Thalidomide, a drug used to assist with sleep and combat morning sickness throughout the 1950s and up until 1962, when it was associated with thousands of infants born with deformed and diminished limbs. The limbs of this “jacket” were controlled by “by the child’s own short limbs or shoulders touching against sensitive valves on the inner surface of the ‘jacket’.”  It’s also noted that most prosthetics of this sort were undoubtedly uncomfortable and usually discarded once the child reached teenage years.

Below are some other orthotics from the same site.  Only the tip of the iceberg of what’s offered.

Child’s mechanical spinal support, England, 1940-1960

Child’s mechanical spine and head support, England, 1940-1960

Finger splint, England, 1960-1980

Leg and ankle splint, England, 1940-1960

Wrist and hand splint, England, 1960-1980



Specimens from the Musée Dupuytren

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I shot these a while back while visiting the Musée Dupuytren at the University of Paris medical school and thought I’d share them here. The museum itself is somewhat hard to find (some medical students queried nearby had no idea it existed) and is entered through a series of cluttered academic offices.  I was happy to get any pictures at all as photographers normally require written permission, however, the accidental jostling of a rather persistent cough caused my shutter to be repeatedly depressed resulting in these sometimes fuzzy pictures.  The museum contains hundreds of preserved specimens, wax moulages representing various pathologies, and — apparently — a demon-goat and the hand of a deceased peacenik.

Reserve Your Copy: Empire of Death



(photos from Empire de la Mort.)

Usually we try to reign in our morbid interests right at the point where life ends and death begins, but in this case, we make an exception for  our friend artist, photographer, writer Paul Koudounaris. After years of travel and photography, Koudounaris has produced the exquisitely illustrated and painstakingly researched The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses now available  for pre-order from Amazon.   Here is the description from the site:

From bone fetishism in the ancient world to the painted skulls of Salzburg: an unusual and compelling work of cultural history.

It is sometimes said that death is the last taboo, but it was not always so. For centuries, religious establishments constructed decorated ossuaries and charnel houses that stand as masterpieces of art created from human bone. These unique structures have been pushed into the footnotes of history; they were part of a dialogue with death that is now silent.

The sites in this specially photographed and brilliantly original study range from the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Palermo, where the living would visit mummified or skeletal remains and lovingly dress them; to the Paris catacombs; to fantastic bone-encrusted creations in Austria, Cambodia, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Peru, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and elsewhere.

Paul Koudounaris photographed more than seventy sites for this book. He analyzes the role of these remarkable memorials within the cultures that created them, as well as the mythology and folklore that developed around them, and skillfully traces a remarkable human endeavor. 250 full-color and 50 black-and-white photographs.

Koudounaris has also launched the supplemental site Empire de la Mort where a rich foretaste of the publication’s wonders are available.

BEWARE! Poison Gas!

Won’t someone please start selling reproductions of these swell WWII poison gas posters? Don’t know if they are available at the gift shop at the Texas Military Forces Museum in Austin where they currently hang, but thank God, they are least available  online via the Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health & Medicine.


Called “Hun Stuff” by the allies against whom it was employed during WWI, mustard gas was banned by the Geneva Convention in 1925 but nonetheless continued to be employed outside Europe during the ’20s and ’30s  (by Italy vs. Libya, France vs. Morocco, Japan vs. China) and was famously a tool of extermination used by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds in 1988. Its coincidental effect of suppressing blood cell formation later led to to its use in development of the first chemotherapy drug, mustine.


Lewisite is related to arsenic and was created by US military scientists trying for a follow up to mustard gas, though it wasnt’ developed in time to see action in WWII.  In the 1920s, it aquired the name “Dew of Death”


Chloropicrin was also first used first by the Germans in WWI.  Today it is used used as a fumigant to exterminate vermin and animals as large as rabbits.  It not on causes extreme tearing but also acutal liquification of the cornea.


Phosphene was by the Germans during WWII and by the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War.  Previously it had been used used extensively in dye manufacturing and today is used in the production of  polycarbonate eyeglass lenses.

Medical Fantasy Art from the Wellcome Museum

While poking around Sutured Infection’s Tumblr, we found these lovely medical themed paintings by Richard Tennant Cooper commissioned in 1912 by the Henry Wellcome for his museum of medical history.


Richard Tennant Cooper – “A giant claw pierces the breast of a sleeping naked woman, another naked woman swoops down and stabs the claw with a knife ; symbolising science’s fight against cancer.”, c. 1910

V0017053 An unconscious naked man lying on a table being attacke

Richard Tennant Cooper: “An unconscious naked man lying on a table being attacked by little demons armed with surgical instruments; symbolising the effect of chloroform on the human body.”, 1912

V0017232 Syphilis. Gouache by Richard Tennant Cooper, 1912.

Richard Tennant Cooper: “Syphilis”, 1912

A Good Eye for a Sutured Infection

We created a Tumblr account recently and have been really digging the vintage medical scenes shared by Sutured Infection. Here’s a sample of what we’re crushing out on. We think you’ll understand.


Some days your nerve feel numbered.



A hand exerciser.


Equipment for studying the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.


Herbert List: “Instructive View into the Ribcage”, 1944


Electroretinogram: modern apparatus devised to measure the electric potential of the retina.



“Operating table developed by Dr. E.L. Doyen, called “Doyen’s Bed”, ancestor of all modern operating tables…”


And this is the afore-mentioend Dr. Doyen doing what he does best – tricky surgeries.  In this case separating two “Hindoo twins” in 1902.


Health for Sale at Philly Museum of Art



The exhibition “Health for Sale” currently at the Philadelphia Museum illustrates the story of commercial medicine through an intriguing collection of posters hawking nostrums, panaceas and health advice in a time before the FDA meddled in such things.There’s more than 50 pieces featuring alabaster skinned beauties seeking anemia cures, virile men donning electro-galvanic belts, families posed in health-giving underwear, bears swigging cough syrup, the spectral figure of Tuberculosis knocking at the door on Christmas Eve. It’s closing in July, so get there soon. And while there, you must of course drop in at the Mütter Museum. Thanks to Abraham Schroeder for alerting us to the to the show.

When You Care Enough to Give Testicles

And speaking of von Hagens yesterday, we came upon this…..


“Why, yes, that is a plastinated bull testicle hanging from my neck!”

It’s not often enough you are able to utter that sentence, is it? But if you and your credit card can take a moment to swing by world-famous Gunther von “The Plastinator” Hagens’ online giftshop, your chances of accepting plastinated bull testicle compliments would be greatly increased.  If you buy one, of course.

Or if the bull testicle piece is a bit minimalist for you, perhaps these more ornate pig slice earrings would be to your liking? Not quite sure what part of the pig they are, but they don’t look much like bacon.


Still not flamboyant enough?  Not to worry!  There are countless other choices representing varying degrees baroque grotesquery in Gunther’s Consumerworld pleasure palace.

Unfortunately, the plastinated cross-sectional “Sex Act” piece below is sold.  It’s a shame too because it would have made quite a striking coffee table.