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Capital amputation saws, so-called due to the fact that a person's life was at stake when they were used, have an ancient lineage.  Here is a selection of bow-framed saws that span 250 years of the history of surgery.  

The first saw to the left dates to c. 1600, and it most likely was made in France.  It is 22 inches long.  Note the wide blade which is common to early saws and compensates for the relatively low state of then current metallurgy.  The center saw dates to c. 1760 and is probably French make.  The quality of the materials is high and the workmanship is exquisite.  The pistol grip ebony handle is typical for the third quarter of the eighteenth century.  On the far right is a saw made at the time of the American Civil War (1860s) by Gemrig of Philadelphia.  It is a very sturdy saw and the handle is steel with checked-ebony scales attached.  

Early surgical instruments appear to have been made for giants and the gradual decrease in size is clear when comparing these saws side-by-side.




A dramatic comparison of capital amputation saws is made here with two instruments from the New York maker George Tiemann.  The larger saw, a further variation on the bow saw, is 18 inches long and dates to the 1830s.  It dwarfs the rather diminutive c. 1855 tenon-bladed saw that fits within its frame!  The smaller saw is known as Parker's saw, and was named after the well-known New York surgeon Willard Parker (1800-1884).  Both saws have ivory handles, the smaller as scales over steel.




A surgeon stands ready with his amputation saw.  See Archives, p. 34, for more details about this antique surgical photograph.


For more information on this very rare c. 1600 English amputation saw, please click here.


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