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Cupping instruments in leather case, London, England, 1801-1900

Cupping often involves bloodletting – a practice once carried out to treat a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. Heated cups were placed on the skin to draw the blood to the surface. Dry cupping was a process of stimulating the skin through suction but one where the skin remains unbroken. Wet cupping was when the skin was then cut – usually by a scarificator – to remove blood. This set would have been used for both dry and wet cupping. It contains a scarificator with room for twelve blades, a number of spare blades, two cupping glasses and a spirit lamp, which would have heated alcohol or liquid fuel to warm the cups. The leather case is embossed with the name “T. Keen” who may well have been the original owner.

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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: 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.