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Six lancets in a tortoiseshell case, England, 1701-1900

These six double-edged lancets were used in bloodletting – a practice once commonly carried out to treat a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. Each lancet has a protective tortoiseshell guard and once unfolded the blade lengths range from 35 mm to 50 mm. The lancets were made by a number of makers, including Evans, Savigny and Carsberg, all surgical instrument makers working in the 1700s and 1800s in England. The depth of the cut for bloodletting depended on the skill and experience of the user. The case is made of tortoiseshell and is marked with the letters “W H”. These are the initials of W Hutchins, whose name is also scratched on two of the tortoiseshell guards.

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Glossary: lancets

A surgical instrument of various forms, commonly sharp-pointed and two-edged. The lancet is used in venesection (the act of opening a vein for bloodletting), and in opening abscesses.

Glossary: bloodletting

Puncturing a vein in order to withdraw blood. A popular medical practice for over two thousand years. Bloodletting often involved withdrawing large quantities of blood in the belief that this would cure or prevent many illnesses and diseases. The practice has been abandoned for all but a few very specific conditions.