The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Post-Mortem and Dissection Set

About This Item


Post-Mortem and Dissection Set


Medical History, 19th Cent.


This surgical set contains heavy-duty instruments for taking bodies apart after death. The knives cut flesh, the forceps snipped small bones, the large saw cut through bones, and the steel mallet and chisel broke into the skull. The oddly shaped pair of scissors is an enterotome, used for opening up the digestive tract. The instrument with the rounded, curved handle is a rachitome, designed to separate the vertebrae of the spine.

Dissecting actual bodies, for study and for post-mortem examinations to determine causes of death, has long been an important part of medical practice. Even the most accurate anatomical illustrations or photographs cannot fully convey the complexity of the human body or depict precisely how its parts, large and small, are interconnected in three dimensions. By dissecting, medical students are not only going through a rite of passage and learning anatomy. They are also training their brains, eyes, and hands to work in harmony.

The set, passed down through generations of physicians in the Leavitt family of Philadelphia, may resemble Civil War instrument sets, but it dates from after the war. Its manufacturer, Shepard and Dudley of New York City, did not begin making medical instruments until 1870.


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


Frederick H. Leavitt, MD, 1975, Donor






19th Century

Original Format

Steel instruments in velvet-lined wood case


“Post-Mortem and Dissection Set,” The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library, accessed September 20, 2021,