The object is a folding straight razor. The handle is made from tortoise-shell and inscribed Dr Heberden July 10th 1774. The steel blade is inscribed PALMER followed by CAST. The maker may have been John Palmer (d.1789) a cutler and razor maker working in St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

William Heberden (1710-1801) was an English physician who practised in London. He wrote an early textbook on diseases entitled Commentaries on the History and Cure of Diseases. He is considered the “father of rheumatology” and described abnormal swellings on fingers which became known as Heberden’s nodes. Although there is a chapter on the Bath Waters in his book, he generally thought they were little better than ordinary water and in some cases made people worse; any benefit from a trip to Bath was more likely due to spending time relaxing and escaping from the worries of ordinary life.

How Dr Heberden’s razors (there were originally a pair) came into the possession of Bath’s Mineral Water Hospital is a mystery. The second razor was given to the Heberden Society Library, London in 1966.

Engraving of William Heberden, now in the Wellcome Collection