Places of Pharmacy


Taxidermy Nile Crocodile

Circa 19th Century

Taxidermy animals, more specifically crocodiles or alligators, were a common symbol of the pharmacy profession. Not much is known about the Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus that we have in the RPS Museum Collection. It may have had a previous life as a pharmacy school mascot or a prop at an event.

Early pharmacopeias gave emphasis to exotic drugs, which may have been why an exotic animal like a crocodile was used by apothecaries. A practitioner who had access to exotic animals would have access to exotic, rare, and powerful drugs.

These visual symbols would have been particularly effective at a time when many of the population were illiterate.


Rouse (Chemist) of Wigmore Street Limited, London

Painted by John Vicat Cole, 1953

Framed oil painting entitled 'Rouse (Chemist) of Wigmore Street Ltd'. Painted by John Vicat Cole in 1953.

The painting captures in detail the exterior of Rouse’s pharmacy at 12 Wigmore Street, London, W1, showing shop window display, crammed with products for sale. Note the glass specie jars and the coloured carboys which for centuries had been used as the symbol for commercial pharmacies. The door of the pharmacy is open, with the interior of the shop partially shown.

The artist John Vicat Cole (British, 1903–1975) was a landscape painter who specialised in capturing old shop fronts. His work is a reminder of trades as they once were in the early to mid-1900s.

Fact: John Vicat Cole (British, 1903–1975) trained at the Royal Academy and became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists.


The Pharmacist in retail practice

The pharmacy of R. J. Mellowes, Enfield, Middlesex, 1959

The Pharmacist in Retail Practice', shows the interior of R. J. Mellowes retail pharmacy at 20 Bush Hill Parade, Enfield, Middlesex. The owner and pharmacist, Raymond John Mellowes, is shown standing behind the counter serving a customer. The customer has her young son with her, sitting in a pushchair.

This photograph was used in the 'Pharmacy as a Career' section of the Pharmaceutical Society's stand at the National Education and Careers Exhibition, held at Olympia, London in May - June 1959.

Colour gelatin print.


The Pharmacist in hospital: the dispensary

St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, 1959

The Pharmacist in hospital: the dispensary' shows four pharmacists working in the dispensary of St Bartholomew's Hospital, London.

The photograph was used in the 'Pharmacy as a Career' section of the Pharmaceutical Society's stand at the National Education and Careers Exhibition, held at Olympia, London in May - June 1959.

Black and white gelatin print.

LDRPS: 2017.11.1

Stained Glass Window of the Pharmaceutical Society’s Coat of Arms

Circa 1900

This beautiful stained and painted glass window shows the Pharmaceutical Society’s coat of arms, crest and motto, granted in 1844. In general, the choice of devices and supporters reflects the 1840s chemists and druggists’ keen regard for the historical and international roots of their profession. The Society's Arms show:

  • In the first quarter, a dove bearing an olive branch, the traditional Biblical emblem of peace.
  • In the second, an aloe plant, representing the use of plants in medicine.
  • In the third, the medical symbol of a snake-entwined staff.
  • In the fourth, an alembic and receiver, an early apparatus for distillation.
  • At the centre of the cross is a pair of scales, representing measures and standards.
  • Above the cross is a stag, possibly signify the animal content of medicines in the 1800s.
  • Over the arms is the crest, with a mortar and pestle, the traditional sign of the apothecary/pharmacist.

The supporters are Ibn Sina, (often known as Avicenna) on the left, and Galen on the right, two of the most important figures in the history of medicine.  Ibn Sina holds the staff of the Greek god Asclepius, which represents the art of healing. Galen is shown with a gold handheld balance, a weighing device widely used in the Roman period, to represent the accurate dispensing of prescriptions.

The Society’s motto ‘HABENDA RATIO VALETUDINIS’ is taken from Cicero’s “De Senectute”, a dissertation on old age. The translation adopted by the Society was ‘WE MUST PAY ATTENTION TO OUR HEALTH’.

The crest and coat of arms are surrounded by classical architectural motifs.  The lower panels depict the laboratory and tools of an early alchemist or apothecary. The window, dating from around 1900, was originally in the examination hall of the Society's first headquarters at 17 Bloomsbury Square, London.