Great Collections: May 2019

Great Collections: May 2019

Natan Schleider Gallery, LLC
Purveyor, Restorer, and Collector of Fine Medical Antiques
Dr. Natan Schleider, a family practitioner and addiction specialist in New York City, has been a collector most of his life, starting, as most young collectors do, with baseball cards and comics. Over time with changing interests, Dr. Schleider became a collector in search of a collection, shifting his interest first to rotary telephones and then, in line with his profession, antique medical collectibles, which got its start with a gift, as he shares with our publisher, Maxine Carter-Lome.
How would you describe your collection?
Broad assembly of the best items I can find/afford from most of the major antique medical collectible categories – antique apothecary bottles, surgical tools, diagnostic instruments, antiquarian books, medical textbooks … really anything related to medicine.
How many items are currently in your collection?
Between 250-400 objects, with the oldest dating back to 1589.

 
What was the impetus for starting this collection?
When I started my house-call-based practice in 2005, a family member made me a gift of a 1920s doctor bag that belonged to their family doctor. That really piqued my interest so I started collecting doctor bags. Turns out that doctor bags from the 20th century are extremely common and not very valuable. They’re not really desirable among serious collectors so I donated all my bags to charity and dove into more serious antique collecting.
Where do you look for items for your collection?
Anywhere from eBay to multiple online auction sites. The better items, though, come from fellow collectors. I’ve only been collecting for the last 10 years but some of these guys have been collecting for decades! At this stage, some look to streamline and de-bulk their collections.
Where do you keep your collection?
My entire office is a living display of my collection. It’s set up as an early-20th century doctor’s office, with the glass cabinets, antique jars, and restored medical furniture like metal IV stands and stools that swivel, all easily cleaned to keep white and sterile … all there on display for the patients to look at. I’d say 95 percent of my patients think it’s pretty neat.
Where is the money in this collectible category?
Interestingly, medical books from the 1700s or older can bring in bigger money than the instruments themselves. I find that ironic. Also, age does not necessarily equate to value.
What are some of the more interesting items you have found?
I’d say one of the more rare items in my collection is a Heine Osteome. This may be considered the Holy Grail of medical antiques as only a handful are known to exist. It’s a hand-controlled, mechanical chainsaw. I single it out because A, it’s rare and B, the doctor that created it had the foresight that cutting into bone could be done faster and cleaner than a bone saw. Ultimately it was either too expensive or didn’t catch on (most doctors tend to be conservative when it comes to trying something new, which is why some hospitals still use beepers), so only a few are known to exist which makes it a gem.
New pre-Civil War medical items also interest me. What we see and what makes them particularly desirable are two parallel groups of collectors going after the same items: Civil War collectors and antique medical collectors who want some militaria items in their collection. There are only about 200-400 amputation kits made by the Union Army for the medical corps that are known to exist. The ones of value to collectors are the ones engraved as such: “U.S.A. Hosp. Dept.”
 
I know that in addition to collecting antique medical memorabilia you also do repair and restoration work on items.
The pure collector wants their items untouched and original. I understand that but from my viewpoint, if you have something that’s showing its age; coming apart, needing some attention, cleaning up … you are not damaging the integrity of the antique, rather you are preserving it.
You have chosen to create an online gallery for your collection. Was it to sell or showcase?
First for its educational value. Second, I have pride in my collection so I wanted to display it. Third, [the website] established me as a resource for those people who may have a collection of their own or know of a family member who has a collection, and they’re looking for some idea of what the collection is worth, and perhaps to sell to me. Over time it has transformed into an educational medium for the public.
Would you sell your prized collection?
I’m from New York, the financial capital of the world, so everything’s for sale.
What are you looking for next?
I just started collecting microscopes, which are their own genre. The smart collector will know when they’re keeping their eye on the horizon of their collection to keep it streamlined. My goal is to maintain a collection that is rather well delineated between collecting and hoarding.
Where does the collection go next?
Right now it is stipulated in my will that the collection will go to my daughter and ideally stay together.
 
What advice can you offer a fellow collector?
The best advice and the advice I’ve been given is if you want to get into serious medical collecting at the highest end of collecting, and at least break even or make some money, buy the very best you can, when you can.
To see Dr. Schleider’s collection and learn more about antique medical collectibles, visit his website at antiquemedicalinstruments.com.

Great Collections: May 2019