When it comes to antique silver, there remains a multitude of specialist collecting fields, each with their own special nuances and quirks. Perhaps one of the most interesting is the area of medical related silver.
Silver has known antiseptic qualities and so specialist medical and scientific instruments were crafted of this precious metal. Quite often I am presented with an item that does not look of this world and people ask me – what is it?!
This area of small silver covers objects such as thermometers, spectacles and specimen jars, to ear trumpets used as hearing aids, probes, catheters and even tonsillectomy surgical knives.
Recently, I was presented with a very rare and unusual item of silver and at first was taken aback and had to think for a moment, what on earth is this? I knew it had a medical purpose and probably dated to the mid-nineteenth century.The mystery item consists of a slender curved tube, with a flat bottom covered with a sliding pierced filter, there is also a clip on one side.
I knew I had seen an object like this in a book only once before and had never had one in my hands, so it was an exciting moment. After some thought I was able to put my finger on the mystery item’s purpose - it is called a sick siphon!
Used by the ill and infirm, the siphon (also referred to as a cobbler's tube)
acted as a straw, where the clip would hook on to the side of a cup or beaker. The patient would then drink a clear soup through the tube with the other end straining the broth. This particular sick siphon was fully hall-marked for London 1847, although it is quite common for them to be unmarked.