published Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Antique medical treasures lure collectors from far, wide to family's estate sale

Mike Zohn, left, and Evan Michelson look at a skeleton at an estate sale of William Campbell’s medical antiques Saturday on Chestnut Street. They are dealers from New York and specialize in medical equipment.
Mike Zohn, left, and Evan Michelson look at a skeleton at an estate sale of William Campbell’s medical antiques Saturday on Chestnut Street. They are dealers from New York and specialize in medical equipment.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Don Campbell looked at the room Saturday morning, at the outdated stethoscopes and microscopes and the 100-year-old X-ray machine, and he couldn't believe it was there, all of it.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Don Campbell looked at the room Saturday morning, at the outdated stethoscopes and microscopes and the 100-year-old X-ray machine, and he couldn't believe it was there, all of it.

Sure, he had seen many of the items before. His brother Dr. William Campbell loved to display the latest addition to his collection of antique medical equipment. But then the next weekend would come, and Bill would attend yet another flea market, and here he would come lugging his newest artifact. And just like that, Don said, that other old trinket was condemned to a life in the dust and shadows -- maybe in William's basement, maybe in a storage building.

William died Dec. 10 at age 84, leaving behind a wife, a son, three siblings and a collection of medical scientific history spanning more than six centuries. On Saturday, the pieces sat with price tags strung on them in two warehouse rooms at 1500 Chestnut St.

Blair's Estate Sales hosted the show, opening the doors at 8 a.m. and welcoming a line of about 80 people waiting for the coolest and oldest hospital supplies. Autopsy kits from the Civil War sat on a table. One of the walls supported 17 bookshelves featuring titles like "Practical Examination of Urine" and "Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of New York, 1861."

Two skeletons were on display. Don pointed to one of them and said William bought it when he was 10 years old. He always liked collecting hospital stuff.

"That's all brother Bill thought about," he said.

Blair's employees started spreading the word about the sale a month ago, and the event drew collectors from across the country.

Barbara and Paul Farner came from near Harrisburg, Pa. They like antiques, she said. Plus, Barbara used to be a nurse.

"To see it in this quantity is absolutely amazing," said Barbara Farner, 59. "It's like going to a museum. Actually, I don't think a museum would have this much stuff."

The Farners arrived at the warehouse at 2 a.m. Saturday and slept in their Honda Odyssey. When Blair's employees started handing out tickets for a place in line at 5:30 a.m., the Farners were fourth.

Also in line were Evan Michelson and Mike Zohn, owners of a Manhattan shop called Obscura Antiques & Oddities, and stars of a Discovery Channel reality show called "Oddities."

Zohn said they came looking for any evidence of why people used to be scared to go to the doctor. Both were amazed by Campbell's collection.

"Most hoarders hoard crap," Michelson said. "This guy hoarded really nice stuff."

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