Summary

Alternative Name(s): Prosthesis, Artificial Arm, Artificial Limb

Wooden prosthetic arm with flexible fingers. In wooden box with accessories: socket, knife and fork. Slot on hand allows the knife or fork to be slotted in. Likely to have been made by J. Gillingham in Britain circa 1914-1916.

A retired 90-year-old prosthetics maker informed the curator that 'after 1916 the quality of prostheses deteriorated because of the demand', which the curator took to mean that 1916 was a likely latest date for this example. It may therefore have been made for a wounded World War I soldier, although further provenance is unknown.

James Gillingham was a cobbler from Chard, England. He first made an artificial limb for a gamekeeper who had his arm amputated at the shoulder in 1863. The arm was a success, and Gillingham went on to mould leather arms with attachments for thousands of people, establishing a substantial business. By 1910 he had assisted over 15,000 patients, documenting many of them in his studio. (The Science Museum in London holds a collection of his photographs.) During World War I many disabled ex-servicemen received artificial limbs made in Chard. After Gillingham died in 1924, his son Sidney and grandson Geoffrey continued with the business until 1950, when it was sold. The company closed in the 1960s.

Physical Description

Hand made of blonde wood with individual finger-joints. Hand has exquisitely jointed finger and thumb sections. Leather socket fits on stump of forearm. Forearm to wrist section is hardened leather, black painted.

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