How to date and identify an antique medical surgical amputation (bone) saw from the 17th or 18th Century (and not accidentally buy an antique carpenter’s saw for hundreds or even thousands of dollars)?

Let’s face it, a saw is a saw. To the layperson, a (nonelectric) saw has a wood handle and a metal part with teeth that cuts stuff.

If you work with wood, you know there are all sorts of fancy saws for delicate wood work and there are big saws that two people might use to saw through a log pulling back and forth.

I’ll let you in on a secret–sawing through bone is not all that different form sawing through wood.

Anyway, open the book Antique Medical Instruments by Kenneth Wilbur, M.D. Seventh Edition and turn to pages 127 to 129. Here is a nicely detailed and illustrated account of the different types of amputation saws from the dawn of time to present day.

Here are the bullet points:

  • Amputation saws from the 1500s and 1600s and 1700s tend to have ornate handles and be ornate in general. They are also quite long and heavy, roughly 24 inches long or 60 cm long. Why? the bigger the saw, the faster the amputation (in general). Saws were ornate becasue only wealthy physicians or royalty could afford an amputation and more effort was spent on creating a beautiful instrument (vs the 21st century where surgical instruments are cold, sterile, cheap, and disposable).
  • A lovely saw sold at auction for 3000 Euros (that’s $3,200 USD) yesterday. See image of saw and auction results below. Correct, these saws are rare and expensive, i don’t know if it is worth $3,200 but we can debate that another time.


Auction Result: A Rare South German Italian Surgical Amputation Tool Circa 1600 Auction Results

  • Below is another saw I purchased recently which is authentic. Note the hexagonal ebony handle, the ornate metal work, this is genuine.


In my next blog, I will try to point out some fakes out there and I am trying to prevent you from getting ripped off so keep stay posted!

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