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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Anesthesia, Instrumentation, and Nursing

Every surgeon knows he is a member of a team. More than anything, a successful surgical result is achieved when there is a concerted effort. The team in the operating room consists of surgeons, anesthesiologists, and a skilled and dedicated group of nurses and assistants. Advancements in anesthesia during the 1800s, even with all its controversy, helped to pave the way for the progress made in plastic surgery today, which was in turn made possible by the unwavering help and support of nurses and medical professionals. Instrumentation and technology also evolved and played a large role in the implementation of surgical procedures. The surgeons of the 16th century may not immediately recognize the operating rooms of today, but they would certainly appreciate them.

A Statement of the Claims of Charles T. Jackson, M.D., to the Discovery of the Applicability of Sulphuric Ether to the Prevention of Pain in Surgical Operations.

Martin Gay. Boston: David Clapp, 1847.

Martin Gay was a 19th-century physician with a background in chemistry and mineralogy. The truth mattered very much to Gay, and he felt the need to opine on the great ether controversy that was swirling around the surgical and medical world in the mid-19th century. He wanted to defend Charles Jackson and his discovery of sulfuric ether. Two men claimed to have discovered ether and etherization for anesthesia: Jackson and William T. G. Morton. Gay defends Jackson as the person who invented it in this thesis.

A Defense of Jackson’s Claims to the Discovery of Etherization.

Joseph and Henry Lord. Boston: Littell’s Living Age, 1848.

Joseph Lord and Henry Lord were noted 19th-century Boston attorneys who penned this treatise giving support to Charles Jackson as the true discoverer of ether. There was a great debate over who deserved the credit for discovering ether anesthesia. Joseph and Henry Lord’s defense of Jackson’s claim was first published as an article in the periodical Littell’s Living Age under the title “The Ether Discovery.” This separate edition contains an appendix that was not included in the periodical version. The two Lords collected testimony showing that Jackson, rather than his rival Warren T. G. Morton, was the true discoverer of ether anesthesia.


John Collins Warren. Boston: William D. Ticknor and Co., 1848.

John Collins Warren was a 19th-century American surgeon and founder of the New England Journal of Medicine. He was the third president of the American Medical Association and the first dean of Harvard Medical School. Warren was involved not once but twice in the earliest history of anesthesia. The first incident was a failed demonstration of nitrous oxide by dentist Horace Wells on January 20, 1845. Not willing to accept that failure, on October 16, 1846, Warren agreed to perform a public demonstration of a surgical operation again on a patient using anesthesia, this time under ether anesthesia administered by Wells’s colleague and competitor, William T. G. Morton. The operation lasted about ten minutes and the patient was seemingly unconscious for its duration. Warren’s personal journal for this day records, “Did an interesting operation at the Hospital this morning, while the patient was under the influence of Dr. Morton’s preparation to prevent pain. The substance employed was sulphuric ether.” Warren was quick to see the remarkable advantages offered by ether in surgical procedures, and he then championed the cause of etherization through this work and other publications.

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A Manual of Etherization.

Charles Jackson. Boston: J. B. Mansfield, 1861.

Charles Jackson was not only a noted physician but an active geologist and chemist. He had first used sulfuric ether on himself following an accidental inhalation of chlorine gas. He realized that insensibility could be achieved and be useful for anesthesia. Unfortunately, William T. G. Morton also laid claim to its discovery, and Jackson spent most of the remainder of his life attempting to earn that credit. In this manual, Jackson writes with a view to both the surgeon and the soldier about the effects of anesthetic agents.

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Local Anesthesia in General Medicine and Surgery.

James Corning. New York: Appleton and Co., 1886.

James Corning was an American neurologist known mainly for his early experiments on neuraxial blockade. When the American Civil War began in 1861, Corning’s family moved to Stuttgart, Germany. Corning experimented with regional anesthesia. Like the ether controversy that was swirling around in the mid-19th century, so, too, was there controversy about who was the first to describe local anesthesia. In 1884 Karl Koller described the anesthetic properties of cocaine. In 1898 August Bier performed surgery under spinal anesthesia. Following the publication of Bier’s experiments, a controversy developed about whether Corning or Bier had performed the first successful spinal anesthetic. In this book, Corning avoids the controversy as he discusses local anesthesia and pain.

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Akiurgische Abbildungen, oder, Darstellung der blutigen chirurgischen Operationen . . . [Surgical illustrations, or, Representation of bloody surgical operations].

Ernst Blasius. Berlin: Verlag von Friedrich August Herbig, 1833.

Ernst Carl Friedrich Blasius was a 19th-century German surgeon. After several years of military medical service, he relocated to the University of Halle, where he rose to the rank of full professor. He made numerous contributions to surgery. In this atlas, he generously depicts and illustrates surgical instruments and discusses surgical technology and technique with a heavy emphasis on plastic and reconstructive surgery.

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Silver Sutures in Surgery.

James Sims. New York: Samuel S. and William Wood, 1858.

James Marion Sims was a 19th-century American surgeon, known as the father of modern gynecology. He developed a surgical treatment for vesico-vaginal fistulas in the early 19th century. These fistulas were a relatively common condition, in which a woman's urine leaked into her vaginal cavity from her bladder; in the 1800s, many regarded the fistulas as untreatable. After years of effort to repair the fistulas with different techniques and procedures, Sims developed an improved surgical operation. He also popularized the use of silver metal sutures to treat and cure women who had these vesico-vaginal fistulas. Sims's surgical cure for vesico-vaginal fistulas eased both the social stigma and physical discomfort of many affected women. Current treatments of vesico-vaginal fistulas have evolved since the 19th century, yet some of the basic principles utilized by Sims have been incorporated into today’s surgeries.

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Catalogue général illustré d’instruments de chirurgie [General illustrated catalogue of surgical instruments].

Gembloux. Paris: Auguste Legros, 1905.

Gembloux is a municipality in Belgium. Around 1875, Louis-Joseph Mathieu had established a workshop in Paris for the manufacture of surgical instruments that quickly expanded. Around 1880, he returned to Namur to hire a worker and was unsuccessful. He then went to Gembloux and hired Dieudonné Simal. They began to be known for their surgical instruments for the eyes, nose, throat, and ears. Simal later hired his brother-in-law, Guibert Legros, and Legros’s brother, Auguste, to come and work with them. This catalogue details and illustrates some of the great instruments manufactured in Gembloux for use in plastic surgery.

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Instruments for Oral and Plastic Surgery.

Mueller. Chicago: Mueller and Co., 1928.

In 1893, Vinzenz Mueller brought his knowledge of German instrument craftsmanship to the United States and established a tradition that has carried through to today. His successor, William Merz, established the V. Mueller name as one synonymous with innovation and collaboration. In 1951, Leonard Snowden and George Pencer introduced the revolutionary tungsten carbide insert to the jaws of surgical instruments to make them stronger and longer lasting. Over the decades surgical instruments have become more sophisticated and more advanced. Despite so many innovations, there are still instruments today that have barely evolved. This catalogue shows instruments for the practitioners of plastic surgery and oral surgery, including maxillofacial surgery.

Notes on Nursing.

Florence Nightingale. Boston: William Carter, 1860.

Florence Nightingale is recognized as the founder of modern nursing. She practiced nursing in the 19th century and came to prominence during the Crimean War, where she took care of wounded soldiers. She is credited for turning nursing care into a profession with the founding of her nursing school at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. This was the first secular nursing school in the world. Nightingale was also a prodigious and versatile writer. During her lifetime, she wrote much about nursing and medical knowledge. Those books were written in lay terms and simple English so many could understand. Even though Nightingale published this book to be used at her nursing school in England, it was meant for anyone wanting to take care of and nurse others. She discusses areas of nursing still relevant today, such as cleanliness, bedding, lighting, ventilation, and warming. Any surgeon today will tell you about the invaluable contributions nurses make to the success of a surgery. In 1907 she received the Order of Merit from the Queen of England.