Exploring Medicines

The earliest known dated English delftware drug jar



This jar can boast two claims to fame: it is the earliest known dated English delftware drug jar, and it is also the earliest dated appearance of Apollo, the god of medicine, on an English drug jar.

The jar features the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries London coat of arms on its front, with a leaf, pomegranate and flower design on the reverse. It was manufactured in 1647 at either the Pickleherring, Rotherhithe or Montague Close potteries in Southwark, London. 

English Delftware Drug Jar: Angel With Outspread Wings



The ‘angel with outspread wings’ design emerged around the time of the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660.

Above the label is an angel’s head with outspread wings. The folding of the ribbon cartouche forms two compartments. The left hand one was typically used for the initial letter of the type of preparation the jar contained, for example 'S' for syrups, 'C' for conserve, and 'O' for oleum (oil). The inscription on this wet drug jar 'O VULPIN: M:H 1684' reveals the jar was used for storing Oleum Vulpinum, Oil of Fox. 

M.H. are the initials of Michael Hastings of Dublin, the apothecary who commissioned the jar. The jar was manufactured in London in 1684. 

English Delftware Drug Jar: Apollo and Peacocks


Circa 1675-1700

In the ‘Apollo and peacocks’ design of drug jar Apollo’s head is centrally placed above the contents label. Apollo is the Roman god of medicine and healing.  A straight cartouche forms the contents label, flanked either side by peacocks.

Below the contents label, in the centre, is an angel's head, above a pair of wings. The bottom of the contents label is also decorated with swags and tassels. The inscription on this wet drug jar 'S E ROSIS SICC' reveals the jar was used for storing Syrupus e rosis siccis, Syrup of dried roses. The jar was manufactured in Southwark, London around 1675-1700. The ‘Apollo and peacocks’ design was used on English Delftware drug jars from around 1675-1700. 

Terra Sigillata

LDRPS: 2014.14.1

Medicinal Clay Tablets

This box contains samples of Terra Sigillata (Sealed Earth) medicinal clay tablets.

The mineral rich clay was believed during the Renaissance to have medicinal properties which enabled it to absorb poisons and ‘bodily impurities’. In an early example of trademarking, these tablets are stamped with a seal indicating their place of origin, proving their authenticity and quality.

Fact: Terra Sigillata translates as ‘Sealed Earth’. As the clay was from the Greek island of Lemnos, it was also known as Terra Lemnia. 

Animal Ingredients from the Burges Collection of Materia Medica



These drugs were collected by the apothecary John Burges (1745-1807). They illustrate the medicinal ingredients - animal, vegetable and mineral - found in the pharmacopoeias of the early 1700s.

These specimens include many animal ingredients. This group includes (from left to right): bees, sea skinks, red coral, a viper, seahorses, toads, and European scorpions.

The advancement of science in the 1700s saw many of these cures fall out of favour, making Burges' collection important for its historical and educational value.

Human Remains from the Burges Collection of Materia Medica



The Burges Collection contains many medicinal ingredients derived from the human body. They include (from left to right): a roll of skin; a mummified jawbone with teeth; pieces of skull bone; a mummified hand and a lump of solidified blood.

Herbarium, or Hortus Siccus of Plant Specimens 


Collected by Dr John Bateman, 1718

This large herbarium, entitled ‘Hortus Siccus’, dates from 1718. The book contains medicinal plant specimens collected and preserved by Dr John Bateman.

A herbarium is a collection of plant specimens, dried and preserved and often mounted on a sheet of paper. Herbaria were arranged systematically, with their associated data, to be used for scientific study. They were invaluable resources for pharmacists to help them identify the plants that they might use when making medicines.

Fact: Hortus Siccus translated from Latin means garden of dried plants; hortus ‎(“garden”) + siccus ‎(“dry”). Dr John Bateman was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. Upon his death in 1728 he left the College many of his books. His herbarium was transferred to the Pharmaceutical Society in 1926.

Mahogany Medicine Chest


Early 19th Century

This delightful mahogany medicine chest was manufactured during the early 1800s.

It has two winged doors at the front and five drawers with bone turned handles, incorporating 15 bottles with handwritten labels.

Its owner was David Doncaster, who wrote his name clearly inside a drawer. The full inscription reads: ‘'David Doncaster, Chemist and Druggist, 16 Haymarket, Sheffield'.

Medicine Chest



A very fine mahogany medicine chest which dates from the Georgian period.

It has a hinged lid and one hinged door at the front, which opens out to show this wonderful array of bottles. Four drawers provide plenty of storage space and the chest is completed by brass carrying handles at each side.

Shop Round AQ: CINNAM


Late 19th Century

Pharmacists used glass shop rounds to store their various medicines and medicinal ingredients.

This particular bottle, labelled  ‘AQ: CINNAM.', was used to store Aqua Cinnamomi or Cinnamon Water. Produced with cinnamon oil and water it was used for flavouring and as a carminative to aid digestion.

Fact: Originally shop rounds carried labels on gilded paper, which were hand painted with black letters. These would be varnished to prevent any damage or staining.



Late 19th Century

Referred to as a 'shop round' on account of its shape, dispensary bottles such as this were often designed to be both practical and decorative.

Pharmacists were able to choose from a range of different types. This bottle once contained Syrupus Scillae or ‘Syrup of Squill’ a preparation derived from the Scilla plant and used to treat coughs and catarrh.

Although decorative, the shape of such containers was dictated by the type of substance they were to hold. For example, powders were stored in bottles with wide mouths, making it easy to scoop up the granules with using a spatula. Liquids such as tinctures came in jars with narrow necks and a lip at the top to enable the contents to be poured effectively. Specialist bottles were also designed to contain oils, syrups and poisons.

Bohemian Glass Shop Rounds


18th Century

These Bohemian glass shop rounds with painted labels were possibly made in Germany or Bohemia (today much of the Czech Republic) in the 1700s.

Their contents labels reveal they stored the following medicinal preparations:

  • ‘OL: ASCHIAE’ - Oleum Aschiae or Oil of Grayling (a fish of the salmon family, Salmo thymallus). Used for the treatment of scaly skin.  
  • ‘AQUA HYSOPI’ - Hyssop Water. Used as an expectorant (to promote the secretion of bronchial mucus) and used to treat coughs and chest complaints.
  • ‘CONCHAE PRAEPAR:’ – Conchae Praeparatae or Prepared Shell 

Patent Medicated Gelatine Lamels

LDRPS: 2009.18.5

Savory and Moore, Circa 1910s

This paper envelope contains a Savory and Moore's Patent Medicated Gelatine Lamel and dates to the late 1910s.

It would have been stored in a wallet, along with additional lamels infused with doses of different medicines. To take the medicine, the lamel would have been held on the tongue while the gelatine melted, releasing the drug.

This packet contains cinnamon and quinine which were a popular treatment for flu. Other packets ranged from essence of ginger through to stronger medicines such as opium.  


Early Influenza Vaccine


Royal Army Medical College, 1918-1920

This small bottle contains an early flu vaccine manufactured by the Vaccine Department of the Royal Army Medical College. The vaccine was probably manufactured between 1918-1920, possibly in response to the 1918 Influenza pandemic. The label states that 'This vaccine should be used prior to 28.4.21.'

The vaccine was developed by using the lung scrapings from infected patients, at a time when the exact cause of the disease was unknown. It was much later in the 1930s when it was discovered that flu was caused by a virus.

The flu vaccine became publicly available in the 1940s and since then different flu vaccines continue to be developed to continue to protect against the different strains.



LDRPS: 2002.38.88


This box would have contained vitamin tablets called Sea-Vitoids which were sold between 1926 and 1932, during the so called ‘Golden Age’ of vitamin discovery.

The tablets were claimed to 'improve the complexion by clarifying the blood' and contained Fucus Vesiculosus, a seaweed often used in dietary supplements for its naturally occurring iodine.

The tablets were also promoted as 'wonderfully soothing and act quickly whenever you feel liverish, nervous, irritated, depressed, headachy, out-of-sorts, languid, indigestion, heartburn, wind, gastritis, pains and aches'.