American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

Surgical Set collection from 1860 to 1865 - Civilian and Military

Civil War:  Medicine, Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

 Dr. Michael Echols  &  Dr. Doug Arbittier


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American Civil War Surgical Antiques

Research and Identification

Civil War Era Surgical Sets, Surgeon's Images

Civil War Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

Established 1995    .     Dr. Michael Echols Collection


As seen in:  Warman's Civil War Collectibles, Antique Week, Northeast Antiques, and various TV programs, Antiques & Collecting publications

 Unlocking a 'stuck' surgical case lock with a skeleton key

by Dr. Michael Echols

It is not unusual to have difficulty unlocking a 100 year old surgical set case.  The trick is lubrication and knowing how they work.


Lid prongs  (On left, prongs upside down.  On right, prongs descending into latch)



Lock in frame  (On left, holes which prongs enter.  On right the typical skeleton key

Typically there is a set  (or a single) of vertical prongs on the lid that engage the lock in the case frame.  If the box is locked and you have the key, here is how you open and close as case:

To lock:

1. Insert the key, with the 'skeleton leg' down.

2.Turn clockwise until a firm resistance is felt; the case is then locked.

3. To remove the key, turn counterclockwise so the filigree key end is at the nearest vertical position, then pull it out.

To unlock:

1. Insert the key with the skeleton leg down.

2. Turn the key counterclockwise until a firm resistance is felt, the case is then locked.

3. To remove the key, turn clockwise, so the filigree key end is at the nearest vertical position, and pull it out.

Is you suspect the locking mechanism is sticky, first try powdered graphite, which you can get in a tube from a hardware store.  If that fails, then use WD-40, and spray a very, very light amount of WD-40 to the key hole and turn the case upside down to allow some of the oil to drain into the lock parts in the lid.  Always use the minimum amount of oil necessary to do the job.  You don't want to ruin the velvet liner in the case, but you don't want to break the lock or wood either.

Under no circumstances should you attempt to pry open the case.  If in doubt, take the case to a locksmith and ask them to open it for you, which they WILL be able to do without harming the wood.  Otherwise you may seriously decrease the value of the set and you absolutely cannot fix it if you do.

Military latches are pretty easy.  Again try moving the sliding latch from side to side first, if it's too hard to move, don't force it.  Add a tiny spray of WD-40 first, then with your fingers, try to slide the latches from side to side.   They vary in which direction is open and which is locked.  If still unable, use a wood stick or piece of wood dowel and tap the sliding latch to the opposite side.  CAREFULLY!

Military sliding latches, two types from different makers

Also, see surgery case locks for variations on locks


Medical Antiques Index

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques Index

Contact Dr. Arbittier or Dr. Echols



Civil War Medical Collections 


Direct links to all medical & Civil War collections on this site                         

American Surgical Sets:

Pre-Civil War:  1 | 2  -   Post-Civil War:  3  -  Civil War 1861-1865:  4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   INDEX

Medical Text-Books:

1 | 1a | 2 | 2a | 3 | 3a | 4 | 4a | 5 | 5a | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 9a | 10 | 11 | 12    INDEX

Surgeon General's Office Library printed catalogues: 1840 | 1864 | 1865
Medical Lecture Cards: 1 | 2 | 34 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21    INDEX

Medical Faculty and Authors:


Navy Surgeon Exams:

1863 Navy Surgeon Applicant Exams with Biographies   INDEX ONE | INDEX TWO

Surgeon CDVs, Images:

Army: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8    INDEX

Navy: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   

Hosp Dep't Bottles, Tins, 

U.S. Army Pannier:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

Please request permission before commercial use or publication of any content or photos on this site and credit any use with:  "American Civil War Surgical Antiques"   All content and all original photography on this Web Site is copyrighted 1995 - 2015 and may not be used on any other web site or in commercial print without the expressed e-mail permission from Dr. Arbittier:  Contact   All rights reserved. 


Students doing reports or projects are welcome to use the content of this site without permission, but credits would be appreciated.


Please note: information on this site may not be normally referenced as this is an active and long-term educational research project.  Personal notes may not be properly cited for publication.  Various articles are digitally reproduced under the 'fair-use act' of the copyright laws and are intended for educational purposes only.  Many citations are from Google digital 'books' and can be traced backwards via a search of a unique string in the citation.


 Arbittier Museum of Medical History Tour:   1 | 2 | 3


Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016