Leeches Jar

We have a replica leeches jar in our History of Medicine Collection. 

Leeches have been used in medicine since ancient times. During the 19th century, when bloodletting was very popular, leeches were used by physicians on a massive scale. It was believed that weakening the body through the reduction of blood flow treated a variety of disorders, especially fevers and inflammatory diseases. Medicinal leeches were used along with such surgical instruments as lancets and fleams to drain blood.

Jars like these were used by pharmacists to show their supply of medicinal leeches. Holes were cut into the lid to allow for air, and the pharmacist stocked the jar with leeches intended for sale that day. The elaborate decoration of the jars demonstrated the high value leeches held. They were sold in great numbers to members of the medical profession and the public.

Leeches are still occasionally used in modern medicine in reattachment surgery and skin grafts.   

Printer's Tray

We have an original wooden printer's tray in our History of Medicine Collection.

The invention of printing meant that medical textbooks, with accurate sketches of the human body, could now be produced more cheaply and this helped ideas to spread rapidly.   

Modern, factory-produced "movable type" was available in the late nineteenth century. Movable type uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document, usually on paper. The world's first movable type printing technology for printing was made of porcelain and was invented around 1040 AD in China by Bi Sheng (990–1051).

The movable items were held in the printing shop in a job case, which was a drawer about two inches high, three feet wide, and about two feet deep, with many small compartments for the "sorts" (various letters). Traditionally, the capital letters were stored in a separate drawer, or case, placed above the case holding the other letters (this is why the capital letters are called "uppercase" characters, and the small ones are "lower case").

Movable type was much faster for documents with letters than the earlier woodblock printing. 

Listen to Dr David Rundle, historian of the Middle Ages and Renaissance across Europe at the University of Oxford, talk about the invention of the printing press and movable type here:



19th Century Microscope

We have a 19th Century Microscope in our History of Medicine Collection.

Objects resembling lenses date back to the 5th century BC. The earliest known use of simple microscopes were the widespread use of lenses in eyeglasses in the 13th century.

The earliest known examples of compound microscopes lens near the specimen with an eyepiece to view a real image appeared in Europe around 1620.  

In the 1660s, naturalists in Italy, the Netherlands and England began using them to study biology. Italian scientist Marcello Malpighi began an analysis of the lungs. Robert Hooke's Micrographia was published, with beautiful illustrations.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek achieved up to 300 times magnification using a simple single lens microscope, by putting a very small glass ball lens between the holes in two metal plates fastened together. He helped popularise the use of microscopes to view biological structures, and in 1676, reported the discovery of micro-organisms.

Listen to Dr Allan Chapman, science historian at the University of Oxford, talk about the microscope here:

Botanical Microscope Slides

We have six "Flatters and Garnett Ltd" botanical microscope slides in our History of Medicine Collection.

Abraham Flatters and Charles Garnett established their company in 1901 to supply microscopical equipment. Flatters & Garnett Ltd expanded its business during the 1920s, increasing their range. In 1932, the firm bought a large Victorian house on Wynnstay Grove in Fallowfield where it moved its microslide, specimen, photographic and chemical departments.

In 1950, the company introduced the Mikrops industrial projector. This replaced the microscope for routine examination in many laboratories. Due to financial problems, the company went into liquidation in 1967.