ANTIQUE VETERINARY INSTRUMENTS & ARTIFACTS

Old veterinary instruments and artifacts can be found in any number of places from vintage barns, antique shops and flea markets, to older veterinary practices.

Those who find these items may wonder what they were used for by early practitioners and what to do with them. In general, they are of value and should be collected and/or preserved.

The American Veterinary Medical History Society does not have storage space to properly house and collect them, but can provide helpful advice.

HOW TO IDENTIFY VETERINARY INSTRUMENTS

Listed below are links to some late 19th and early 20th century American veterinary instrument catalogs that can be downloaded and consulted for identifying and describing their use. Keep in mind that some of the best instruments were made in German and sold through distributors in the United States.

It is also important to attach a label to each item for identification purposes. Include source, location, price paid, and date acquired. Manila labels with wire "strings" are sturdy especially for large metal items.

CLEANING VETERINARY INSTRUMENTS

Often veterinary instruments have not been stored in ideal environmental conditions and thus may have rusted, corroded, or deteriorated. Not all instruments should be thoroughly cleaned to remove important natural patina and evidence of age. Steel items that have severely rusted can be very lightly touched up with OOO steel wool, and then wiped with a thin coat of wax or oil for protection. Leather bags or straps which are made of tanned animal skin can be dusted. Then, try to slow the deterioration process of the leather. Heavy oiling is not recommended, but a very light coating of oil or wax may be appropriate in some instances. 

Items can be stored in acid-free boxes obtainable from archival supply companies.

WHAT TO DO WITH VETERINARY INSTRUMENTS

Some possibilities include:

  • Display the instruments with descriptive labels in a shadow box or display case in the client waiting area of your veterinary practice.

  • Start a personal collection of veterinary instruments and artifacts for display at home or in the clinic office or staff area.

  • Donate the items to a veterinary museum. (See AVMHS's list of museums with veterinary collections.)

  • Donate them to your local historical society with provenance if known.

  • Give them to collector friend or colleague.

  • Offer them for sale through a veterinary or medical collectibles auction.

  • Sell them to an antiques dealer who specializes in medical and scientific instruments and equipment. 

  • Post them for sale on eBay.

VIDEO PRESENTATIONS

Antique Veterinary Instruments / John M. King

(1:49:54 hr:min;sec medium and high resolution video)

In this video presentation, John M. King, DVM. PhD (1927-2016), professor emeritus of veterinary pathology, at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, provides a guided tour of the more than 20 wall-mounted display boxes containing an array of antique tools used in the early days of veterinary medicine (many from the Civil War era). Dr. King assembled this landmark collection over several decades from donations given mostly by senior veterinarians in New York State. These boxes had been on public display at the College, but are presently in storage due to recent building construction.

VETERINARY INSTRUMENT & SUPPLY CATALOGS  

Catalog of Veterinary Surgical Instruments, 5th ed. / Manufactured by Sharp & Smith (Chicago, IL) (1890)

Catalogue of Veterinary Instruments / Chas. Truax, Greene & Co. (Chicago, IL) (1894)

Catalogue ... Veterinary Instruments, 6th ed. / issued by American Veterinary Supply, Co. (Kansas City, MO) (1919)

Catalog of Veterinary Instruments, 20th ed. vol. 1 / issued by Sharp & Smith (Chicago, IL) (1929)