A Medallion With Heart

There are more things than books in the Library, and some of our most unusual items in the collection are stored in a tray in the Rare Book Room. The same tray has some of our unique, prehistoric materials as well as a small assortment of commemorative medallions and buttons. One medallion recently caught my eye, a rectangular bronze piece labeled J-B A CHAUVEAU:

J.-B. A. Chauveau, by Paul Richer, unknown date. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Ellen B. Wells.

Some quick Googling revealed this to be Jean-Baptise Auguste Chauveau (1827-1917), a French veterinarian and professor. An interesting scene adorns the verso of the medallion:

J.-B. A. Chauveau, by Paul Richer, unknown date. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Ellen B. Wells.

Initially, the scene reminded me of the how horses were used in antitoxin production. Upon further review, however, this appears to be a completely separate instance of horses paving the way for human medical progress.

Chauveau was an important figure in cardiology, wading into a decades-long debate on cardiac motion and the relation of that motion to the sounds of the heartbeat. in 1859, he teamed up with scientist and inventor Etienne-Jules Marey to invent a new way to study the subject using cardiac catheters. The collaboration was successful, with Chauveau and Marey clarifying the observation of the cardiac cycle and pioneering cardiac catheterization in the process.

Auguste Chauveau (1827-1917) and assistants performing heart catheterisation on a horse. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Horses were used to study the new method of catheterization, for several reasons. First, Chauveau wanted to use an animal with a similar circulatory system to human beings, and horses were considered more anatomically close to humans than frogs or other research animals. Second, because the horse’s heart beats slower than a human heart, it was easier to make precise observations. The experiment with the horse was a resounding success, with Chauveau successfully inserting a catheter into the horse’s heart and studying the rhythm of its motion.

Etienne-Jules Marey, surrounded by his many inventions. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Chauveau moved on to other projects in the 1860s, and made significant contributions to understanding germ theory and tuberculosis. In his later life, he rose to Preisdent of the French Academy of Science and President of the French Academy of Medicine. His research on muscular metabolism contributed to the discovery that muscles metabolized glucose.

Marey went on to pioneer physical instrumentation, aviation, and cinematography. In 1882 he invented the chronophotographic gun, an instrument capable of taking 12 consecutive frames a second. His inventions made it possible to photograph animals and insects in their most rapid motions, blending photography and the study of physiology.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail 


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