Blizard’s Quicksilver Burette

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A rare ophthalmic instrument made to introduce mercury as an irrigating agent into obstructed lacrimal or nasolacrimal ducts in the treatment of fistula lachrymalis.

This instrument was first accounted for and depicted in a 1780 publication called A New Method of Treating the Fistula Lachrymalis by the English surgeon William Blizard.

“I was induced to think, that if a fluid, of a great degree of specific gravity, as quicksilver, could be passed through one of the puncta, so as to fill the sac and duct, and press upon the obstructed part, it might be reasonably expected to remove the obstruction in the first and simple stage of the disease. Mr. M.B., a radler in Mark-Lane, had been troubled with a flux of tears and mucous down the cheek from the puncta of the right eye-lids, about seven months. The usual means had been employed, without success by his surgeon, who approved of the suggested experiment, and the patient agreed to have it tried. Messrs Nairne and Blunt provided an instrument for the purpose. It consists of a fine steel pipe, a little curved, cemented in a glass tube about 6 inches long. At the top of the tube is a wooden funnel; and at the bottom of this is a valve, which may be elevated by a silken string that is conveyed through a hole in the brim of the funnel, and hangs down the side of the tube. The steel pipe was passed into the inferior punctum, without pain or difficulty. The quicksilver was then poured into the funnel, and let down the tube by pulling the string of the valve. When the quicksilver regurgitated out of the superior punctum, the instrument was withdrawn. The quicksilver lay in the sac and duct, without exciting pain, about thirty hours, when it passed into the nose, and the patient caught some of it in his hand (Blizard, 1870, p.5-7).”

The initial construction of this device was primitive in build; this example being an obvious improvement to the original design. The funneled burette is composed of glass and is fully intact. At the distal end is a valve-regulated spout where the curved steel pipes are connected. The interior case is lined with velvet and the exterior covered in beautiful sharkskin. The case latches shut with the use of two hooked clasps.


Blizard, W. (1780). A new method of treating the fistula lachrymalis (pp. 5-7). London.

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