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Pewter box for transporting leeches, United Kingdom, 1801-1900

Specific types of leech were used in bloodletting and this special box would have been used to transport them to where they were needed. Leeches were such a popular treatment that by 1830 demand was outstripping the supply. They are a type of worm with suckers at both ends of the body, although only the frontal sucker, which has teeth, is used to feed. Once attached to a living body, they feed on its blood. Leeches normally live in freshwater and collecting them from river beds was traditionally a female occupation. This box is made of pewter and has air holes in one end. The word “LEECHES” is engraved on the side. Few leech boxes have survived.

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Glossary: leech box

Box for containing and/or transporting leeches.

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.