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Leech jar, England, 1831-1859

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Leeches were stored in this jar in a pharmacy before being sold to physicians for bloodletting, once a popular therapy believed to cure a range of conditions. Leeches are a type of worm which have a front sucker that draws blood from the body. They were collected from river beds by women. Demand was so great that by the 1830s supplies were running short. Today, leeches are used to reduce swelling following reconstructive surgery. The jar was made by Samuel Alcock & Co, a pottery manufacturer based in Stoke-on-Trent, England.

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Glossary: leech jar

Jar for keeping leeches in with pierced cover

Glossary: leech

A type of worm that possesses suckers at both ends of its body. Formerly widely used for letting blood, the medicinal leech may now be used following microsurgery to encourage the growth of new capillaries. Leeches are found in tropical forests, grasslands and in water.

Glossary: bloodletting

Puncturing a vein in order to withdraw blood. A popular medical practice for over two thousand years. Bloodletting often involved withdrawing large quantities of blood in the belief that this would cure or prevent many illnesses and diseases. The practice has been abandoned for all but a few very specific conditions.