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Hooper's Ether Inhaler 1846

This is an extremely important early medical apparatus; I have prepared an extended article on its historical background and provenance.

The Hooper's Ether Inhaler offered here for sale seemed to me at first sight very odd. There were several 'problems'. First the box in which it is fitted is typically Georgian in style - larger, but similar to microscope boxes of the late eighteenth century - certainly not dating from the late 1840s. Secondly the contents fitted very awkwardly. The flexible tube was too long to fit properly and the mounting of the brass valve assembly on the front was very odd to say the least. Thirdly there was no fitted space for the mouthpiece or other small parts - they simply sat loosely on the lower shelf. Finally it was obvious that the box had been very crudely adapted to fit the items inside in the first place. The shelves had been roughly cut out to hold the flexible tube and part of the door had been gouged out to enable it to shut with the valve assembly in place with no attempt made to finish off the cuts neatly. The historic record specifically states in several contemporary accounts that the first Hooper was made from a modified Nooth's Apparatus. Nooth's Apparatus was invented in the 1770s for the production of soda water (see illustration). In the 1790s Schweppes opened their first factory in London for the commercial manufacture of soda water and Nooth's Apparatuses became effectively redundant.

By the late 1840s Nooth's Apparatuses were fifty years old or more and any surviving examples would of course be in Georgian carrying cases. Once this fact is realised all the problems listed above make sense. I attach a photo showing the stripped down Hooper in its case. Note the 'spare space' at the top of the box. When the contents were in their original form as a Nooth's apparatus this space would have been taken up with a small glass reservoir to hold some water that was required to produce the pressure below for soda water to form, the carbon dioxide being made by the interaction of acid and marble. I attach a further image where I have drawn in the missing parts which convert the Hooper back to its original state as a Nooth's Apparatus. The modifications to turn it into a Hooper's Ether Inhaler explain why everything is so cramped and why there is space left to fit the extra parts. Finally the unfinished nature of the woodwork modifications needs an explanation; Victorian workmanship was never thus in England.

Returning to the historical record James Robinson was a man on a mission. He made his first prototype ether inhaler the day after reading Dr Bigalow's letter and used it on Miss Lonsdale the following day. He modified the apparatus and had his mark II ready for trials five days later and modified it again for further trials four days later - producing his mark III, the Hooper on 28 December 1846. During this time he was also writing daily to the medical press giving not only results of operations that he participated in, but also reports from other surgeons and answering questions on ethics and practical problems. In this same period Robinson demonstrated anaesthesia in several different London hospitals to large audiences of surgeons and doctors. He was a man in a hurry. Getting the modified apparatus 'into the field' as quickly as possible was his priority and the niceties of finishing off the woodwork were irrelevant to him compared to developing and demonstrating the first truly practical anaesthetic apparatus before anyone else. Hours, even minutes saved were important. The crudely finished woodwork modifications bear elegant historic testimony to this frenetic period as surely as any written record. One other feature points to this apparatus being the first prototype Hooper. The mouthpiece is made of wood with a rim of leather. (Incidentally it must have been turned using an elliptical chuck on an ornamental turning lathe). One of the first subsequent improvements made to the Hooper and recorded in early January 1847 was to make the mouthpiece flexible - to fit different faces - the elliptical wood mouthpiece was replaced by a flexible leather mouthpiece.


This Hooper was owned by Sir Frederic William Hewitt anaesthetist to King Edward VII, the most famous anaesthetist in Britain and probably the world before he died - thence bought by Early Technology from his grandson. I attach a copy of his photograph from his obituary in The Lancet.

I believe there are two Morton glass inhalers (single glass flasks with two necks) preserved in institutions in the US that just pre-date this Hooper's Apparatus. It is certainly the earliest anaesthetic apparatus outside the US and I am equally certain nothing as early (or earlier) pertaining to anaesthetics has ever been offered for sale previously on the open market. This is a unique opportunity to acquire one of the most important medical artefacts ever to be offered for sale. In fact it is difficult to think of a more important medical artefact that could be offered for sale!


Case near perfect, original key, door slightly warped. Hooper glassware perfect, inhaling tube still flexible, most original lacquer present on the brass valve assembly. Valves in good working order. Wood mouthpiece plus leather edging perfect. Size of case: Height excluding handle 17.75" (45.0 cm) width 9.9" (25.2 cm) depth 10.9" (27.7 cm) Other photos or larger images emailed on request to serious enquiries. Questions answered by email. Transport and insurance at cost to be arranged with buyer.


Hooper's Ether Inhaler 1846

Hooper's Ether Inhaler 1846

Hooper's Ether Inhaler 1846 - case

Nooth's Apparatus for making soda water

Hooper stripped to original Nooth parts

Hooper 'remade' as Nooth's Apparatus

Hooper's Ether Inhaler 1846 - wood mouth-piece & valve assembly

Illustrated London News 9 January 1847