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Cupping set, London, England, 1831-1870

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A number of instruments could be used for bloodletting, some of which are shown here. The scarificator, which was first developed in the 1600s, has twelve blades that cut into the skin when a trigger is released. The cupping glasses, of which three out of four are shown here, were used to draw blood from the skin. This was done after use of the scarificator and was known as wet cupping. In dry cupping, the vacuum produced as heated cups cool draws liquid from the tissues. The syringe could be attached to the individual cups to further encourage the flow of blood. A stopcock can also be seen. It fits between the syringe and the cupping glass to regulate blood flow. The set was manufactured by surgical instrument makers Walter and Co.

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    Glossary: cupping set

    Set of instruments to practice cupping. The purpose of cupping was to draw what was considered to be bad matter in the blood toward selected places in the body at the surface of the skin, away from vital organs.

    Glossary: cupping

    The application of a heated cup to the skin, creating a slight vacuum , which causes swelling of the tissues beneath and an increase in the flow of blood to the area. This was thought to draw out harmful excess blood from diseased organs nearby and so promote healing.

    Glossary: syringe

    An instrument used for injecting or withdrawing fluids. The open end of the syringe may be fitted with a hypodermic needle for injection into the bloodstream.

    Glossary: scarificator

    A surgical instrument with several spring-operated lancets, used to break the skin.

    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.