The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Ear Bones 2

About This Item


Ear Bones 2


Ear, Inner
Auditory Ossicles


These small, fragile bones, mounted on elegant black bases, look like butterflies or deep-sea creatures. But they are actually the bones of the inner ear, prepared with great skill by a pioneer in otology (the study of the anatomy and physiology of the ear).

Hungarian-born physician Adam Politzer (1835–1920) studied medicine and practiced in Vienna, Austria. He soon became famous for his research on the neurology of hearing and his innovative treatments for ear conditions. Politzer also invented tools and techniques for removing and preserving the delicate structure of the inner ear, a very difficult task because of the hardness of the surrounding bone.

He showed 44 mounted ear specimens at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, greatly impressing the general public and the medical community. The College of Physicians purchased the award-winning collection for $800.00, but later had to certify that the fee was for the case and mounting only, not the specimens themselves. Politzer was trying to defend himself from accusations of selling body parts for profit, since he had obtained many of his ear specimens from deceased patients at a home for the elderly poor in Vienna.

The Politzer Collection shows many pathological conditions of the ear, including necrosis (tissue death) and perforations of the tympanic membranes (eardrums). But it also gives visitors a chance to see the remarkable anatomy usually hidden deep within the skull, behind the tympanic membrane: the auditory ossicles, tiny, linked bones that transmit vibrations to the oval window; the snail-shaped cochleas that translate those vibrations into nerve impulses sent to the brain; and the semicircular canals, fluid-filled tubes that help maintain balance.


Digitized by the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia








19th Century

Original Format

Human inner ear, wood base


“Ear Bones 2,” The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library, accessed May 18, 2021,