Copper Sulphate Pencil in Container

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Object detail

Copper sulphate pencil consists of two parts, the applicator device with copper sulphate head can be inserted into the other piece for both use and storage. The tip has been broken. The second piece is hollow at one end and cylindrical, and tapers to a point at the other end. Both stored in cylindrical cardboard case, with orange sticker on outside
CH classification SCIENCES General copper pencil
Production date
Production place
L189 x Dia.15 mm
Media/Materials description
Indeterminate (Woods), Card/Cardboard (Paper), Copper (Metals - Non-Ferrous)
<sticker orange in colour with black writing on box > COPPER PENCIL \ W. MARTINDALE, MANUFACTURING CHEMIST, \ 10 NEW CAVENDISH STREET, \ PORTLAND PLACE, LONDON, W.
<on sticker> [emblem with a black bird over a ball] TRADE \ MARK
History and use
Copper sulphate pencils were used in the treatment of eye infections such as trachoma or granular conjunctivitis in the nineteenth century. The pencil tip would be applied directly to the contaminated area for a short time to cauterise, or burn and seal, the infection. However, treatment with copper sulphate chemically burnt not only the infection but the surrounding skin, causing pain and inflammation.

Silver nitrate pencils were also used by doctors in the nineteenth century to treat conjunctivitis and other infections. Silver nitrate generally required less application time than the copper sulphate and caused less irritation. Nowadays, eye drops or ointments are used for the majority of eye infections and can be administered by the patient.

This object is part of the Marks collection, donated to the Queensland Museum by Dr E.N. Marks. It was most likely part of the doctor’s medical kit. The Marks were a prominent Brisbane family who made significant contributions to the fields of science and medicine.

Uploaded to the Web 27 May 2011.
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