Treasures of the PI Nixon Library Blog

Treasures of the P.I. Nixon

Mystery Men

Your friends at the Briscoe library found a group photo with no identifcation on the back.  Help us identify the men in the photograph.   Contact Mellisa DeThorne at, if you have any information.

Steward of all things old and mysterious, Mellisa D.

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.)

Have any idea what these are?

Can you help us identify these tools? Because they are vaguely catheter-shaped, my best guess is a urethral dilator or sound, but I have not been able to confirm this.  Each probe is threaded as if they attach to a handle. They are each about six inches long, and there is no opening in the end. Please comment if you have a clue what these are used for!

(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.)

What is it?

The above tools, called trephines or trepans, were used to cut a circular hole in the skull. Practiced for tens of thousands of years, trepanation is believed to be the oldest surgical procedure practiced by humans (Frey, 2005). Early trepanations are thought to have been treatment for psychological disorders, epilepsy, and headaches (Frey, 2005).

The all-metal trephine pictured above is from after 1860, while the one with the ebony handle is from between 1860 and 1870.  Both have Galt-style blades, characterized by the angled grooves on the cutting crown. This style was meant to produce less bone dust than the older straight crown. During the 19th century, trephines were used to relieve pressure on the brain following cranial injuries (Bakay, 1985).


Bakay, L. (1985). The early history of craniotomy: From antiquity to the Napoleonic Era. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Frey, R. J. (2005). Trepanation. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Detroit: Gale.

(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.)

A P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library Closer Look: Micrographia

by Special Collections Librarian, Pennie Borchers

Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses With Observations and Inquiries Thereupon

Robert Hooke  (1635 – 1703)

Robert Hooke was one of the most penetrating and original minds of the 17th century.  A scholar at the Westminster School in England, Hooke read and absorbed Euclid’s first six books in a week and – in his spare time – invented thirty separate flying techniques.  He also explored the world of microscopy.

Early microscopes were primitive tools with a small field of view and images so distorted and dark that peering through their lenses for any length of time resulted in blurred vision.  Hooke, undeterred by such obstacles, examined a myriad of tiny objects – from needles and razors to moulds and fungi and, ultimately, the intricate structure of insects.  Nowhere is his artistic ability more apparent than in his depiction of the drone fly’s eye.  In drawings executed with astounding accuracy and beauty, each anatomic detail was revealed with precision, down to the cell itself, Hooke’s own discovery.

At the age of twenty-nine Robert Hooke produced his masterpiece, the Micrographia.

The National Library of Medicine has created a digitized copy of the Micrographia, which can be examined online at

The P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library owns the beautiful 1667 edition.  If you would like to have a close-up look at this amazing book, please contact Pennie Borchers, Special Collections Librarian:

Eye-to-eye with a grey drone fly

Plate of a grey drone fly head from the Micrographia

Plate of a grey drone fly head from the Micrographia

“I took a grey Drone-Fly…  I found this Fly to have the biggest clusters of eyes in proportion to his head of any small kind of Fly that I have yet seen…  The surface of each of these was shaped into a multitude of small Hemispheres, ranged over the whole surface of the eye in very lovely rows, between each of which were left long and regular trenches perfectly intire.  I was assured of this by the regularly reflected Image of Objects which I moved to and fro between the head and the light, and by examining the Cornea or outward skin after I had stript it off, and by looking both upon the inside and against the light…  Every one of these Hemispheres reflects as exact and perfect an Image of any Object from the surface as a small Ball of Quick-Silver of that bigness would do.  In each of these Hemispheres, I have been able to discover a Landscape of those things which lay before my window…”

From the Micrographia by Robert Hooke

UTHSCSA Yearbooks Collection

We are missing the following  yearbooks:

1974-1976, 1978-1980, 1983-1984, 1986-1990, 1993-1994, 2000-2002

If you have a copy, please consider donating to the University Archives.   If you have questions regarding this post, contact Mellisa DeThorne @ 567-2470 or  e-mail

A History of the Texas Medical Association 1853-1953

By: P.I. Nixon

A History of the Texas Medical Association 1853-1953 was written by Dr. PI Nixon.

“The combination of a competent, busy physician and a trained, excellent historian is infrequent. No one in Texas except Dr. Nixon had both the knowledge and the ability to write “the larger story””.

-Merton Minter

The Medical Story of Early Texas, 1946

Dr. Pat Ireland Nixon’s second book, The Medical Story of Early Texas, was published in 1946 with funds provided by John and Jamie Bennett.

A Century of Medicine, 1936

Due to the efforts of Dr. Pat Ireland Nixon, the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library has in its collection a growing assortment of unique medical books. First accumulated for the Bexar County Medical Society Library, these rare and old books were donated to the University of Texas Health Science Center in 1970. Among the records are books written by the library’s namesake, including A Century of Medicine in San Antonio.