Norway Historical Society photo


What could these cute little round bottom bowls be? I’m glad you asked and when I tell you, you won’t want to use them as cereal bowls or candy dishes. These are bleeding bowls from the 1800’s. The spring lancet, for “breathing the vein” is from the same period. The process of bleeding as a treatment is believed to pre-date the Egyptian period.

Initially it was thought that illness was the result of an imbalance of the humors, not funny humors but fluids. An individual’s health or temperament was believed to be the result of blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Most issues or imbalances required the removal of amounts of one or more of these humors through bleeding, purging or vomiting. Still with me?

There were no antibiotics or unpronounceable drugs to treat common ailments ranging from headaches, fever, anemia all the way to maddness. But several community members provided care. When a physician was not available, the local barber could be counted on to help. Bleeding was also a common veterinary practice.

The early lancet was generally a straight handle with a sharpened wood, stone or steel blade. Next came the slightly more sophistocated fleam which was usually an assortment of steel blades attached together looking like a primitive pocket knife. The spring lancet was an improvement with the blade controlled by a spring and trigger.

The earliest bowls for catching the blood were stone or pottery. In the 18th century they were more likely tin or pewter. Often the inside of the bowl had concentric rings which could accurately measure the amount taken from the patient.

While this treatment seems just a bit barbaric, we need to remember that opium and cocaine were available at the apothecary shop along with medicines containing mercury. Tough choice! Bleeding was a popular treatment at the time of George Washington and it is thought that the practice contributed to his death. We have to wonder what people will think of some of our medical treatments a hundred and fifty years from now.

The pictured collection items were used locally by two well known physicians. The smaller, child bleeding bowl was used by Dr. Bial F. Bradbury who practiced medicine in Norway from the 1880s until his death in 1927. The large bowl was the property of Dr. Asa Danforth who arrived here in 1821 and provided care to the area for more than sixty years. Dr. Danforth often rode out on horseback to treat his patients in rural areas.

How are you feeling? Humors in balance? I hope so since barbers no longer offer services in blood letting and leeches are not easy to find.

These are among the interesting artifacts in the collection of the Norway Museum and Historical Society. Although we must be closed to the public at this time, we look forward to welcoming you when we can reopen. To view some of our past programs visit us at




Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: