I was scanning the paper for today's curious news item when this advertisement caught my eye:
|From the second page of the New-York Daily Tribune,|
Tuesday, September 10, 1850
The print is a bit difficult to read, so I have typed up the advertisement:
Artificial Leeches- Alexandre's Artificial Leeches, approved by all the practitioners that have seen them. They possess over the natural leech the advantage of economy, cleanliness and facility of application, and deserve the especial attention of country physicians and farmers. An invoice just received and for sale by a5 1m* ALEXANDRE & CO. 23 Malden-Lane, N. Y.
After reading the ad, I was dying to know what these highly superior "artificial leeches" actually looked like. I found that they varied a great deal. Some were very small, seemingly innocuous items. For instance, the "Glass Leech" (invented in 1827 by Doctor Francis Fox) looked almost like an oddly-shaped glass bowl with metal rim.
|On the right are two glass leeches.*|
Some looked more like vacuum cleaners that suctioned blood instead of dirt.
|Here's a picture of a French artificial leech, known as a terabdella, or "large leech." *|
Regardless of what the artificial leeches looked like, I am sure that nineteenth century patients must have preferred them to their living counterparts. After all, in the words of Andrew H. Smith (inventor of one of the multitude of artificial leeches that were available in the 1800s):
"In the first place the appearance of the animal is repulsive and disgusting, and delicate and sensitive persons find it difficult to overcome their repugnance to contact with the cold and slimy reptile. This is especially the case when it is a question of their application about or within the mouth. Then again, their disposition to crawl into cavities or passages results sometimes in very annoying accidents. Another source of annoyance is that they are often unwilling to bite—the patience of all concerned being exhausted in fruitless efforts to induce them to take hold." *
"Then again, their disposition to crawl into cavities or passages results sometimes in very annoying accidents."
The most horrifying sentence ever written in the English language.
*Pictures and quote obtained from "The Project Gutenberg EBook of Bloodletting Instruments in the National Museum of History and Technology," a fascinating public domain EBook by Audrey Davis and Toby Appel.