In medieval times, people called apothecaries 'spicers'. At that time, apothecaries sold their herbal remedies from local food markets. By the 17th century, apothecaries split from groceries and formed their own societies, becoming legitimate purveyors. Crafting their own remedies and using bespoke tools, scales, and bottles, apothecaries entered the mainstream of society, and shoppers today can find many vintage apothecary items to use as decor.
Vintage Apothecary Jars and Bottles
The rise of glass apothecary bottles in the 19th century contributed to the demise of ceramic apothecary jars for use in pharmaceuticals. Before this time, people made ceramic drug jars, called gallipots, of earthenware and later in delicate creamware. Some had metal plates around their necks on chains. Apothecaries would often discard the pots, but they would save the brightly coloured lids with under or overglaze decorations. You can find lids much more readily than the ceramic pots. In the late 19th and 20th century, earthenware jars in colourful greens, reds, pinks, or blues became standard. Early 20th century jars have a recessed space for the labels. Look for jars that are in good condition and the older ones are better for collecting. Avoid jars and bottles with pits, cracks, and chips, if possible.
Vintage Apothecary Cabinets and Drawers
Decorating and collecting vintage apothecary cabinets with their many drawers is a popular way to display apothecary collectables or small household items. Most are of solid wood construction and have an indent or slot for labelling different herbs, spices, tablets, or compounds. Available in various sizes with wood or glass drawers, you should check apothecary cabinets and drawers for cleanliness prior to purchase. Old medications can be dangerous, especially to children and pets. Look for solid construction, brass door pulls, and labels for the highest value.
Vintage Apothecary Scales
Measuring scales were an important part of the apothecary's lab equipment. Until 1497, when Henry VII defined the troy weight for spicers and apothecaries in England, there was no universal standard for weight measurement. In the 18th century, brass replaced iron and lead weights and you can find them in both troy and Avoirdupois measuring scales. Early scales, known as equal arm scales, include two pans attached at the opposite ends of a beam. Pillar scales have a support in the middle. Look for scales with good balance, metal construction, and all the pieces included.
Vintage Apothecary Tools
The mortar and pestle is one of the most iconic vintage apothecary symbols of the pharmaceutical profession, and it decorates prescription pads, pharmacy signage, and tokens. Essential tools for early apothecaries, practitioners used them to grind roots, rhizomes, herbs, and minerals to craft powders and ointments. Mortars crafted of brass, copper, iron, glass, marble, and stone were approximately 10 to 15 centimetres high. Other collectable tools include measuring vessels, cachet machines, suppository moulds, pill cutting machines, plaster irons, and powder folders, which folded paper to hold powders.