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The ultimate grandpa gift—a set of Revolutionary War amputation kits—is up for auction

Two amputation kits up for auction.
RR Auction
What grandfather wouldn’t want these old amputation kits?
  • Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Is your pop-pop hard to shop for? We’ve got the ultimate gift for you.

Now through 6pm eastern time on July 12, you can bid in an auction for two amputation kits that belonged to none other than John Warren!

You may not know who this guy was, but your grandfather definitely does. Warren was an American surgeon during the Revolutionary War. Back then, each regiment was assigned one surgeon to take care of all its medical needs, like putting wine or hog lard on burns, trying to keep wounds open as long as possible, and packing onions (pdf) in them if they really had to be shut. The idea was that pus and swelling were part of healthy healing. (These were woefully wrong.)

They also did amputations! Back then, cutting off limbs was done was rough-and-tumble style. There was no anesthesia until 1846 (invented by Warren’s son, John Collins Warren), and usually amputations were conducted on the battlefield, so surgeons had to be speedy. They practiced by sawing off the limbs of cadavers. It’s unclear (pdf) if these amputations actually saved lives, but one French surgeon named Jacques Lisfranc reportedly could amputate a leg from the thigh down in 10 seconds, which is pretty impressive even if not medically sound.

Anyway, Warren was a great army surgeon—his signature procedure was a tricky amputation of the arm at the shoulder—and ended up running several military hospitals during the Revolutionary War. Afterward, he founded the Harvard Medical School in 1983. You and your grandfather can bond over the fact that you both definitely know what that is.

Should you win this auction, your grandfather would become the proud owner of two kits: The first contains two types of forceps, a saw with an extra blade, and a tourniquet, which was brand-new technology back then. The second kit has an amputation knife, a saw, surgical scissors, and more forceps, all of which “show signs of heavy use.” There’s also some original correspondence and labeling in there, to boot.

RR Auction
Contents of Warren’s first kit.
RR Auction
Contents of Warren’s second kit.

The total package is estimated to be worth $50,000. Current bids are at $14,272—a steal! Even at full value, these kits would cost about about the same as a modern leg amputation with all the bells and whistles we have today like “sterile operating rooms” and “follow up care.”

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