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April 20, 1984

William Pitcairn (1711-1791) and the Gold-Headed Cane

Author Affiliations

St Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center New York

JAMA. 1984;251(15):1952. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340390016011

To the Editor.—  Robert A. Kyle, MD, and Marc A. Shampo, PhD,1 published a note on William Pitcairn, English physician and botanist, with an illustration of a British Virgin Islands stamp showing Pitcairnia angustifolia. I would like to add that William Pitcairn is probably best known to doctors of medicine as one of the six prominent physicians who possessed the famous Gold-Headed Cane, a symbol of medical leadership, which was eventually bequeathed to the Royal College of Physicians in London. It was first carried by John Radcliffe (1652-1714),2 and its vicissitudes from 1689 to 1825 were described in the famous book by William Macmichael, MD,3 the initial edition appearing in 1827 and the seventh in 1953.The Gold-Headed Cane was, as mentioned, originally held by John Radcliffe. It was given to Richard Mead and then to Anthony Askew, William Pitcairn, David Pitcairn, and Matthew Baillie, successively. The