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Mechanical leech, Europe, 1850-1900

Bloodletting was a practice once carried out to treat a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. Baron Charles Louis Heurteloup (1793-1864) invented this device to replicate the blood-sucking action of leeches. As leeches were in great demand, this device may also have been an attempt to provide an alternative to the real thing. Heurteloup’s invention contains a small scarificator to pierce the skin and a suction pump to draw out the blood. The pump could hold a fluid ounce of blood, which is equivalent to 28.4 ml.

Object number:

A600124

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Glossary:

Glossary: scarificator

A surgical instrument with several spring-operated lancets, used to break the skin.

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.

Glossary: mechanical leech

A mechanical device that promotes the flow of blood through surgical wounds. It was used to replicated the effects of having a real leech attached to the body but without the risk of infection.