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Medical Mystery

On the storage shelves of the Medical Historical Library, among the antique syringes, the dolls with anatomically correct goiters, and a scrap of gray mosaic labeled “Fragment of the house of the surgeon of Pompeii,” there is a box the size of a pack of cards. On its hinged lid is the inscription Chasse a l'hippopotame et au crocrodile and a reproduction, in bas-relief, of a 1615 Peter Paul Rubens painting. Inside the box are two small white pills; nobody knows what they are.

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“It’s a calling-card case, mid- to late nineteenth century,” says David Barquist, acting curator of the Art Gallery’s American decorative arts collection. Barquist believes it was molded from gutta-percha, a tropical resin first used in Europe in the 1840s.

The faux-wood box is part of the medical instruments collection, a repository of all sorts of stuff, some priceless, some not, donated to the medical school by alumni and faculty. Yale’s libraries don’t have the staff to catalogue every item; in the case of this box, says librarian Toby Appel, “we don’t know where it came from.  the end


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