Bloodletting in the 19th century

Bloodletting for therapeutic purposes was at the height of popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries (Davis & Appel, 1979). Though many styles of tools have been used to extract blood (care for a leech?), above are two examples held by UT Health Science Center Historical and Special Collections – a scarificator and a spring lancet.

The brass scarificator has 13 blades and dates between 1833 and 1855. The label inside its box says “Geo. Tiemann & Co.; Manufacturers of Surgical Instruments & Every Description of Cutlery; No. 63 Chatham St.; New York.” The scarificator is cocked by pulling the lever. Then a button releases the blades. Scarificators were developed as an accessory for cupping, the suction of blood from small cuts using glass cups. The procedure went something like this: the cups are heated and applied to the skin to create suction; the cup is quickly removed so the scarificator can be applied, creating in this case, 13 quarter-inch deep cuts; the cup is reapplied, pulling and collecting blood from the cuts (Davis & Appel, 1979). After about 1780, cupping sets were being exhausted by valves and syringes rather than heat.

While scarificators and cups were used to draw blood from capillaries, the lancet was a tool for venesection. This style of brass spring lancet pictured above was made during the 1800s. The blade was used much like a fleam or thumb lancet to puncture a vein. An internal ratchet and spring mechanism allows the blade to be cocked and then released.


Davis, A. & Appel, T. (1979). Bloodletting instruments in the National Museum of History and Technology. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

(UT Health Science Center Historical and Special Collections has initiated a project to identify items in a collection of medical artifacts. If you have further information about the items highlighted, please comment.)