For sale, Doctor Graham’s early nineteenth century rosewood and brass bound cased blood letting set.
The contents include six graduated glass cupping bowls complete with horse hair protection pads and a piece of organic sponge. The front has a brass spirit burner, a glass spirit bottle with stopper and an unnamed sixteen blade scarificator or scarifier.
The case is in the finest rosewood, the execution of which, in combination with the exquisite brass edging is a testament to the quality of the maker. It comes complete with its original blue velvet lined fitted interior and has a cartouche to the lid expertly engraved to a Dr Graham.
This piece was purchased some time ago in Edinburgh so the surname is not a helpful one in any attempt to attribute an exact owner but in 1822 a Dr Robert Graham published a six page tract in The Edinburgh Medical & Surgical Journal (Vol 18) on the subject of blood letting, entitled,
“A Case of General Dropsy (Oedema) in which copius Blood-letting was employed with success. By Robert Graham M.D., Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Professor of Botany in The University of Edinburgh, and one of the Physicians to The Royal Dispensary”.
Too long to reproduce in its entirety, the tract argues that the “common rule is, to be guided by the effect produced on the average of mankind; and when we reach to, or venture a little beyond this point, though our patient may be exactly as we found him in regards of every symptom, we rarely go much farther; we more frequently conclude that our treatment is inapplicable to the case, and change it for some other.”
Dr Graham’s promotion of excessive blood letting continues to be described using the case of an Irish labourer that was brought under his care. It is in itself a fascinating insight into the use a treatment largely used as a means of curing by reducing the human pulse to an acceptable rate. Horrific when compared to today’s standards but a commonly accepted practise two hundred years ago and actively promoted by those at the top tiers of the medical establishment.
The author, Doctor Robert Graham was an extremely accomplished Scottish practitioner, educated at The University of Edinburgh and trained at St Bartholomews Hospital in London, he returned to Scotland as a qualified surgeon and practised at Glasgow Royal Infirmary from 1812. He also lectured in Botany at the University of Glasgow and helped to create the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.
From 1820 to 1845, he was Professor of Botany and Medicine at Edinburgh University and served as both Physician to The Royal Infirmary and Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Gardens. He was an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and became President of the Royal college of Physicians of Edinburgh.
Please note, I have no provenance to categorically state that this box belonged to the same Dr Graham mentioned above but the age, the high quality of the box, the academic interest in blood letting and the vicinity of its purchase would in my mind certainly make Dr Robert Graham a very strong contender.
A luxurious early nineteenth century example, circa 1820.