Ivory Scale Axillary Thermometer by Cary, Circa 1800

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An early clinical thermometer by William Cary (1759-1815), London, who trained under Ramsden and was a leading scientific instrument maker during the reign of George III.

Cary’s thermometer was used by Scottish physician James Currie in his work on cold water treatment of fevers. In 1797 Currie noticed that immersion in cold water could act as a central nervous system stimulant and wrote ‘Medical Reports on the Effects of Water, Cold and Warm, as a Remedy in Fevers and Febrile Diseases’.  This publication promoted and influenced the common use of cold water affusion for the treatment of fever in Europe. His work contains the first systematic record in English of clinical observations with the thermometer. He is the same James Currie well known for his anthology and biography of Robert Burns.

Gradations of the Fahrenheit scale are demarcated on the inside of a semicircular carved ivory sleeve. The shaft is bent for easier viewing of the temperature with the thermometer placed in the armpit, allowing the physician to read the scale while standing behind the patient. The distal end is secured with a short piece of green silk cord. It is housed in a hinged leather fitted case which is silk lined and closes with two brass catches. A similar example can be seen in the Wellcome Museum London.

 

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