Pravaz-Béhier Hypodermic Syringe

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Presented is an early example of a French hypodermic syringe for the injection of morphine, atropine, and several other medications in the treatment of neuralgia and various affections.

The depicted instrument is composed of glass and silver. The glass is enclosed within a fenestrated metal encasement. Measurement markings are engraved in the metal. The threaded piston is advanced by twisting the butterfly key. The plunger and cannula gaskets are made of leather. Two cannulae of varied sizes are present. This set is missing the larger cannula trocar. Cleaning wire is stored in the case lid. A small piece of paper glued to the bottom of the case appears to say Dr. J(?) Hamand.

This syringe was illustrated in Mathieu’s 1862 and 1867 Catalogue des Instruments de Chirurgie. 

In 1859, French physician Louis-Jules Béhier modified Pravaz’s aneurysmal syringe to be used for subcutaneous injection in the treatment of neuralgia (Béhier, 1859, p. 50). Béhier’s reconstructed Pravaz syringe was fabricated by the Parisian surgical instrument maker, Louis Mathieu. Béhier popularized the name Pravaz, which would later be used to describe the hypodermic syringe in both French and English surgical instrument catalogs throughout the 19th century.

“To carry out the subcutaneous injections, Mr. Béhier made me (Mathieu) modify the small Pravaz (Charrière) syringe as follows: the two metallic parts (silver) which are placed at the two ends of the small crystal pump body. These two rods are intended to give more solidity to the instrument. There is a scale (on the metal rod) indicating the quantity of liquid injected. I also made the trocars infinitely more capillary; cannula A is intended to penetrate into the trocar cannula when the punch (obturator) is withdrawn therefrom, so as to bring the liquid into the tissues at the first turn of the piston key. This instrument is easy to operate and to keep clean. Each half-turn of the piston provides a drop of liquid. Price: 22 fr. – In a morocco box with two trocars and various sizes (Mathieu, 1862, p.73).”

Béhier described two methods of subcutaneous injection:

  1. Insertion of trocar-and-cannula through the skin, removal of trocar, attachment of syringe to cannula, and injection (Howard-Jones, 1947, p. 216).
  2. Insertion as above, withdrawal of trocar, and insertion through original cannula of finer cannula attached to syringe. The second technique has the advantage, says Béhier, that air is not introduced into the tissues (Howard-Jones, 1947, p. 216).


Béhier, L. (1859). Méthode endermique: Injections médicamenteuses sous-cutanées. Bulletin Général De Thérapeutique Médicale Et Chirurgicale, 57, 49-64.

Howard-Jones, N. (1947, Spring). A critical study of the origins and early development of hypodermic medication. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 2, 201-249.

Mathieu, L. (1862). Catalogue des instruments de chirurgie de L. Mathieu [Pamphlet]. Paris: L. Mathieu.

  • From the Lusignan syringe collection
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