What Is It? July 2016

whatisit_july2016We had several correct answers for our July What Is It? Ann Moore of Georgetown, Colorado pointed out that this “3-bladed medical bladed fleam was used on humans or animals. Rarely did the bleeding process have any therapeutic value. Being bled contributed to the death of George Washington. This has a horn handle.” Fred Clark of Colorado Springs, Colorado points out that “this is a fleam, a sharp pointed instrument used for phlebotomy (blood letting) on livestock. A similar instrument is used on people and is called a lancet. It was used supposedly to make people well again. It is hard to believe people thought this to be accurate and possible. Since I am a knife collector this was an easy quiz to answer. Keep up the good work.” Ronald Moreschini, D.D.S., Pueblo, Colorado explains that “this instrument was used in George Washington’s time to bleed patients, to get rid of the “bad blood” that was making them ill. During George Washington’s terminal illness, he was bled many times. This treatment is no longer used. This early tool eventually evolved into a beautifully made spring loaded automatic model, where the blade or blades were “cocked” back into a flat surface that was held against an arm or leg, then a trigger mechanism was released, allowing the spring loaded blades to instantly slice through the tissues causing profuse bleeding that was caught in a bowl. (It was believed that a fast moving blade would be less painful than a slow moving blade.)” Jack HT Chang, MD, Pediatric Physician, says, “Peg, Had to drop you a note as this is right up my alley. Most people are going to guess this is a lancet for bloodletting in people. Actually, it’s a fleam which is a bloodletting instrument but to be used on large animals. The fleam is accompanied by a fleam stick which is a mallet used to strike the fleam into usually the jugular vein of say a horse. You wanted to do this fast and get the heck out of the way. For people, one used a lancet which is a short double edged blade-like instrument. The fleam like blade can be used on people, of course, but the blades are quite a bit smaller.”

Our July What Is It in our source is described as a Civil War medical knife. The sharp, triangular projections, also known as fleams, were used by surgeons to open veins when leeching. The deliberate bleeding of a patient still was accepted practice at the time.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our July What Is It contest. You have added so much to our information. You have all won a year’s subscription to The Mountain States Collector. Congratulations!

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