Ask a Curator – Artificial arms

As a warm up for Ask a Curator day tomorrow, I thought I would give you an in-depth look at one of our objects that has been generating a lot of comments on Twitter.

Artificial arm, 1850-1910 (A602817, Science Museum, London)

You may remember a post by my colleague, Stewart, on Arms, legs and ex-Servicemen showing our 20th century collection of prosthetic limbs. The history of artificial limbs is inseparable from the history of amputations and closely linked to warfare. 

This artificial arm was made for someone who had their left arm amputated above the elbow. Many people have commented on how sinister and robotic the arm looks. This is probably because you can see all of the joints in each of the fingers and the wrist. Unlike some modern prosthetics no attempt has been made to replicate the appearance of a hand, just its function - each of the fingers have some movement, the wrist and elbow rotate and move up and down.

A great deal of craftsmanship has gone into the arm. By the beginning of the 1800s, specialist prosthetic makers took over the jobs of making them from carpenters, blacksmiths and armour makers. Some prosthetic limb makers originating in the 1850s such as Hanger and Chas A. Blatchford are still in business today.

Aritfical arm by Chas A Blatchford, 1943 (1999-547, Science Museum, London)

If you want to see the sinister looking arm, it is on display at Medicine Man at the Wellcome Trust. There are also a number on display in our Science and Art of Medicine gallery.

And feel free to ask for more details on Twitter using the #askacurator hashtag, or by posting a question in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Ask a Curator – Artificial arms

  1. Pingback: Stories from the stores » Lets blog about conservation!

  2. Geoff

    Dear Selina

    I am doing a history MA on artificial limbs making — focus on 18th C
    I am interested in any limbs from this era that you may have in your collections
    Regards
    Geoff

    Reply
  3. Selina

    Hi Geoff,

    Why not take a look at our Collections Online http://collectionsonline.nmsi.ac.uk to search our database. We have a large collection of 19th and 20th century limbs, some of which you can see here on our history of medicine website: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/objects.

    There are a couple of limbs on display in the Science and Art of Medicine gallery at the museum on the 5th floor. These are reputedly 16th century.
    You could also try some American Civil War museums in the US. I hope this helps with your research.

    Reply

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