May 22, 2014 - Sale 2351

Sale 2351 - Lot 23

Price Realized: $ 50,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 20,000 - $ 30,000
SURPRISED THAT SO FEW KNOW AND USE HIS INVENTION: FLEXIBLE CATHETER FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN. Autograph Letter Signed, "BFranklin," to James Russell ("Mr. Russel"), introducing the son of his neighbor, Mr. Shippen, relating the circumstances of his invention of the flexible catheter and explaining its construction, expressing surprise that the flexible catheter is not more widely known and used in Europe since a surgeon told him at the time he first conceived it that such a device had previously been available in France. 2 pages, 4to, with integral blank; few small holes at fold intersections with minor loss to text (not affecting signature), closed partial separations at folds. London, 17 September 1760

Additional Details

". . . It is not long since I heard a Thing mention'd by Dr. [William] Heberden of this City, which I thought a little extraordinary, viz., that Surgeons had not generally the Knowledge or Use of a flexible Catheter to give Relief in a Suppression of Urine; --that a Lady in the Country who had labour'd some Days under that terrible Disorder had that Day been reliev'd by a Surgeon from the City with such an Instrument . . . the Lady's Surgeon in the Country not being able to introduce the common Catheter & knowing nothing of the flexible one; . . . Dr. Pringle tells me there is but one Hand in Town that makes of them. If they have not yet reach'd you, I will if you desire it, get one made and send it to you.
". . . Some years since a Friend of mine had frequent occasion for the Use of a Catheter, but complain'd of the Pain occasion'd by its Stiffness in the introducing of it. I then contriv'd to make one for him in the following Manner. I took a strait Brass Wire, somewhat less than a common Catheter, but a little longer. Round this I wound a fine Silver Wire very close, so as to cover the Brass Wire from End to End, and then taking out that Wire, I had a fine flexible Silver Pipe. To one End of this, I solder'd a short Piece like the fore End of a common Catheter, and to the other another Piece of fix'd Silver Pipe to hold it by. --The whole I advis'd to be cover'd by a small Gut of a Fowl; and that it might be the more easily introduc'd, a stiff large Silver Wire was to be us'd in the Pipe for Part of its Length . . . . But on my afterwards mentioning it to a Surgeon, . . . he told me he had seen one of the same Sort, that was bought from France some Years before, and so I was not to be consider'd as the Inventor. I wonder therefore, that it should not by this Time be generally known. . . ."
In a letter to his brother, written on December 8, 1752, Franklin wrote that he had constructed a flexible catheter for his brother's use. The 1752 letter is published in Bigelow's Complete Works of Benjamin Franklin, accompanied by a note attributing the invention in 1720 of a similar flexible catheter to Roncalus. The present 1760 letter does not appear in either Bigelow's book, or in Yale University's Papers of Benjamin Franklin.
James Russell, Sr. (d. 1773) was a surgeon-apothecary who became Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh in 1764, a position he held until his death.