Collectability is little more than an indication of desirability. The list below gives an idea of which features make an antique more attractive, and these hold true not just in relation to medical, but to virtually all classes of antique:
- Provenance. Recorded history of ownership or documentation of manufacture. Presence of a known signature or mark or date.
- Age. 19th century pieces are relatively common but the availability of pieces falls exponentially with each prior century.
- Rarity independant of age. Unique, bespoke, not many made, not many survived.
- Interest. Look for pieces which illustrate a historical turning point such as a manufacturing process which has since moved on.
- Craftsmanship and quality of build with fine construction material (ebony, ivory, gold, silver, silk etc)
- Condition. Un-restored pristine and complete examples in original casing (patina and signs of aging are good)
- Size. Small to medium sized pieces are more attractive to collectors. Large heavy objects tend to be more the remit of museums.
- Je ne sais quoi. Art and science are not mutually exclusive. If a piece is visually striking and talks to you, or grabs you by the lapels and shouts – then listen to it.
The picture shows a gold plated convoluted ear trumpet invented by Wright and “FECIT” (made by) Baugh. Leonard Humphries Baugh was a London goldsmith and jeweller working at 199 Strand who is described at this address in court records of the 1830s. At this early period ear trumpets were not made by mass manufacture but were crafted by goldsmiths and as such were considered works of art, as reflected in the use of the term fecit. It has an ivory ear piece and is made from thick gold plated brass. Electroplating was not in use then, instead they coated pieces one at a time with a mercury gold amalgum and subsequently burnt off the mercury in an oven, a labour intensive and time consuming process. This beautifully constructed and rare piece in near perfect condition ticks all of the 8 boxes and makes it a good example of the sort of criteria you should be looking for.