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Open instrument case lined with red velvet containing a variety of surgical instruments made of metal with wooden handles. Two of the instruments have metal hole saws with wooden handles.

Set of instruments for cranial trephination (cutting a hole in the skull), late 1700s

Surgical Instrument Collection

This extensive collection contains around 10,000 historical surgical and dental instruments. These include instrument sets dating from the 17th century, a large number of instruments from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and instruments from the present day.

The collection contains instruments used, modified or donated by a number of famous surgeons including: Benjamin Brodie, William Fergusson and William Macewen. Among the most important are the instruments and scientific apparatus of Joseph Lister (1827-1912). They include some of Lister's prototype carbolic sprays and samples of the catgut ligatures which he developed, as well as his microscope and glass vessels used in his experiments on fermentation.

Objects in this collection have museum identification numbers with the prefix RCSIC.

Resources to learn more about the instrument collection:

  • The Evolution of Surgical Instruments: An Illustrated History from Ancient Times to the Twentieth Century by John Kirkup, 2006
  • Antique Medical Instruments by Elisabeth Bennion, 1979

Automatic carbolic acid steam producer, designed and used by Joseph Lister, c.1878

Instruments and case belonging to John Hunter
RCSIC/X 7.25

Set of Murphy's anastomosis buttons

Wooden stethoscopes
RCSIC/O 3.2 and RCSIC/O 5.1


Explore the Royal College of Surgeons of England collections catalogue