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Smellie-type obstetrical forceps, United Kingdom, 1740-1760

Science Museum, London


Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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Credit: Smellie-type obstetrical forceps, United Kingdom, 1740-1760. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

About this work


William Smellie (1697-1763) was a Scottish man-midwife who invented these forceps and helped develop obstetrics. The steel blades are covered with leather. They were greased with hog’s lard so the obstetrical forceps could be inserted into the body easily. Obstetrical forceps gripped a baby’s head during difficult labours to help delivery. The leather also prevented the alarming sound of metal clacking together. Smellie suggested changing the leather after use to prevent venereal diseases spreading. Ignoring this advice meant they were impossible to clean properly and the leather became a haven for germs. Puerperal fever, a form of septicaemia, was an often fatal infection contracted by birthing women, so using these forceps was potentially dangerous. maker: Unknown maker Place made: United Kingdom


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