The art of medicine

On 01 March 2018, by Sophie Reyssat
Collection of stethoscopes, including the cedarwood screwed model invented by Laennec (first from the right), c. 1819-1826, France, 31.5 x 4.1 cm.
Estimate: €5,000

Claude is a cardiologist by profession; his wife Danielle is fascinated by pewter medical equipment and has built up a collection of over 200 pieces – despite the fragility of this material, easily deformed through use. For over forty years, the couple have been collecting pharmaceutical, medical and surgical objects, which as well as their scientific interest, tell the story of the daily lives of patients and doctors through the centuries. They include bowls to collect blood from bloodletting (Paris was the main production centre for many years), stethoscopes from various provenances in different materials (around thirty, all derived from the original cedarwood model invented by Laennec,  with one owned by Claude and estimated at €5,000) – and earthenware medicinal containers, representing a third of the collection, with a special mention for Italian albarelli (€1,500-5,000). There are also sets for amputation and trepanning (the latter practice goes back to Mesolithic times; sensitive souls, be warned!) and other well-sharpened operation equipment, this time from the 19th century. "About thirty surgical instruments were in use by the end of the 18th century; a century later, there were over eight hundred," says heritage curator Denis Roland. This revolution centred around Paris and one of the main protagonists, the manufacturer Frédéric Charrière, largely represented in the collection. One of the boxes, a model in mahogany and ebony (1900, €4,500), is marked with the illustrious name of Victor Segalen. A Navy doctor, this contemporary of Guillaume Apollinaire made a name through his writing. Medicine is decidedly a human science…

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