Apothecary shops became a recognized part of most communities during the eighteenth century as manufacturers began to produce medications for national distribution. These shops required ways to attract customers and equipment to prepare these new products.
Italian tin-glazed earthenware jar, or albarello, containing theriac (ca. 1641)
Drug jars were used to store pharmaceuticals for thousands of years. Shapes varied, and the popular albarello jars date back to the eleventh century when they were common in the Middle East, remaining popular in Europe into the eighteenth century. The term meant “little tree” and this jar was cylindrical in shape with inner curving sides and an open top that was covered with parchment. In the fourteenth century, containers began to be made with a mixture of tin, lead, and potash though porcelain was very popular in the manufacture of drug jars, particularly in France at the end of the eighteenth century. Theriac was an ancient magical curative that contained up to one hundred ingredients.
Genoese medicine chest of governor Vincenzo Giustiniani (ca. 1565)
There were many ways for medications to be stored at home throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and cabinets ranged from small portable cases to large ornate medicine chests. The latter came in many shapes and were used to hold liquids and powders in labeled bottles and canisters. There was often a “secret” compartment in the rear to hold poisons while drawers in the front held all the necessary accessories, including a mortar and pestle, graduated cylinder, medicine spoon, and scales.
early items used in the manufacture of pills and suppositories (late nineteenth century)
(left): marble and brass pill machine; (top right): Stoke’s suppository machine # 3 by Whitall and Tatum, (middle): pill silverer (The formed pills were coated with mucilage such as acacia and syrup and then shaken in the pill silverer with gold or silver leaf.), (middle bottom): pill rounder, (right): pill tile by Wedgewood with a vaginal and rectal suppository brass molds, (bottom right): brass urethral suppository mold
early nineteenth century earthenware Janus
Janus was a Roman god and guardian of doorways that often could be found hanging outside the apothecary shop, its two faces used to demonstrate the “before and after” beneficial effects of the powders, lotions, and ointments inside. Incidentally, Janus was also the god of “beginnings”, marking the start of an endeavor, and was the genesis of the name for the first month of the year, January.
standing show globes
Apothecary show globes have been associated with the pharmacy trade for centuries, and they appear to have originated in the British Isles, but their purpose remains open to much speculation. Some believe that alchemists of the sixteenth century placed strangely colored liquids in glass containers to lend an air of mystery and magic in order to attract customers. Others speculate that the red color warned passersby of plague or other diseases inside the city, while green was a sign of safety. The red and blue colors may also have represented arterial and venous blood. These wonderful works of art were available in either hanging or standing styles. (left) “art deco” (ca. 1930), others late nineteenth century, probably by Whitall, Tatum, and Co.
large British beam scale (ca. 1880) by W. and T. Avery
Scales used for weighing medications were first seen in Egypt in about 1500 B.C. and by the nineteenth century, those found in apothecary shops were often quite large and ornate. Physicians, however, frequently carried small sets of scales to individually measure medications in their offices or at the bedside. This is a large British beam scale (ca. 1880) by W. and T. Avery.
bronze mortars with pestles
The mortar and pestle remain the modern symbols of the apothecary shop, and pharmacists have used them for grinding and mixing medications for hundreds of years. Composition varied and included vessels made of wood, stone, bronze, Wedgwood, porcelain, and glass. At the turn of the last century, pharmacists rightfully stopped using metal for fear that some of the material might be escaping into the medications. (left) late fifteenth-century in the Gothic style with ribbed handles; (right): Burgundian mortar and pestle (1638)