Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Apothecary in History and Dollhouse Miniatures: much more than a Druggist

In this article, I will explore the history of the Apothecary as well as the essentials in creating a miniature Apothecary setting in your dollhouse or room box. My investigation began after seeing this incredible Apothecary Chest made by Lil Witchy, pictured below. She is yet another fantastic Etsy Miniature Artist!
The listing:
The Shop: Lil Witchy Haunted Dollhouse Minaitures

“Apothecary” is a historical name for the medical professional who formulated and sold medicinal materials, a role now served by pharmacists in the US or dispensing chemists in British English. According to Sharif Kag al-Ghazal, the first apothecary shops were founded during the middle ages in Baghdad. By the end of the fourteenth century, Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400) mentioned an English apothecary in the Canterbury Tales. These men continued to ply their trade until the advent of modern medicine in the last century, completely dominating mainstream medical care and so marginalizing female practitioners, such as midwives, during this time.

The early Apothecary performed a much wider range of roles than today’s Pharmicist. They performed surgery, they took over midwifery, they were the dentists, and even made house calls. In Colonial Williamsburg, apothecaries also sold cooking spices, candles, salad oil, anchovies, toothbrushes, and tobacco, making them true precursors of today's drugstores.
The work of the apothecary may be regarded as a precursor of the modern sciences of chemistry and pharmacology, prior to the formulation of the scientific method. Some of the ingredients that were used in Colonial remedies are the basis for modern medications. This includes chalk for heartburn, calamine for skin irritations, and cinchona bark for fevers. Later it was discovered that cinchona bark contains quinine for malaria and quinidine for cardiac conditions.
Ancient folk herbalism and healing practices continued in tandem with the new Apothecary system as many people could not afford professional Doctors. They would simply self diagnose and buy the needed ingredients for home made medicines from the local Apothecary shop.

What items must you have to make an Apothecary room? The basics are bottles, mortar and pestle, and storage units. Throw in an Apothecary sign, vintage labels, dried herb and powder specimens, and a scale for further realism. You could even refine your theme to Colonial Early American, Medieval European, the Country Quack, or Asian style medicine. Well, my aspiring mini herbalists, lets begin!

Containers for all the powders, tonics, and salves are the key to creating an Apothecary scene. Glass canisters, tubes, jars, and bottles of all kinds are a must! Here are examples of actual Apothecary bottles and vintage look labels: Below, you can see the dark glass bottles used to preserve contents from sunlight: Good sources for miniature glass bottles and chemistry components:
- Dollhouse Hand Blown Glassware by Royal Miniatures from FINGERTIP FANTASIES Dollhouse Miniatures Examples of this line can be seen below: - Glasscraft of England hand blown glass can be found at various dealers such as Daisy’s Dollhouse and Bits n Pieces Dollhouse Miniatures online. Examples of this line can be seen below the links. I have personally seen lovely work from Glasscraft and it is cheaper to buy it online rather than in an exclusive dollshop. The cranberry and amethyst pieces are especially lovely! - D’s Miniatures and Collectibles on eBay has some very unusual medical pieces including these handmade glass test tubes.

Here are various examples of actual life sized mortar and pestles available today. They come in a wide range of shapes and materials so be creative when crafting miniatures! Try beads, clay, or carved wood.
I found several antique miniature mortar and pestles on the market, mostly made of brass and dating to the early 1900’s. They are easily found at online dollhouse auctions, just search ‘vintage’, ‘brass’, or ‘antique’ miniature mortar and pestle. Below are a few examples.
There are also many sources of new porcelain, turned wood, and brass mini mortar and pestles. I like the one made by Clare-Bell Brass Works. You can find this through several retailers priced from $4 to $6. Here it is at the Dollhouses and More online store: 3) APOTHECARY STORAGE
Concerning storage, you could have a store room full of shelves, a single desk or cabinet next to a working table, or even a carrying case for a traveling practitioner. Here are several historical examples for inspiration:

Below are examples of Apothecary carrying cases and travel trunks:

Personally, I love love love the labels available in Dead Spider’s Etsy store Curios and Dark Arts. There are wonderfully vintage looking labels for both 1:12 scale and life size bottles. She has two different sets of miniature lables and I just ordered one of each! Yay... presents in the mail! Item link:
Store link: Don't forget to make your Apothecary Sign!
For futher inspiration, check these links to historical Medical, Scientific, and Industrial Museum collections and dealers:
2) Urban Remains Chicago: Antique American Architectural Artifacts
3) Gilai Collectibles
4) Transylvania University Museum of Medical and Scientific Apparatus


hannajaleijona said...

Now I got it! The comment-box I mean ;o).

Great article! Thank you for posting this and finding the amazing photos and links from everywhere.


Joyce said...

Wonderful article and very interesting blog too! You've inspired me to try making a couple of witchy type items next time I'm in the clay :)

nikkinikkinikki72 said...

Lovely posting you have done today. I just joined as a follower. I thought i already had done this.
I love your blog and this posting is fabulous.
Nikki x

Witchkrafting with Kat said...

As always a fantastic article. Thank you so much for taking the time to let us know in so much detail. Look forward to visiting again soon Kat the hat lady :-)

Witchkrafting with Kat said...

P.S another great place to get miniature Apothecary is from a seller in the UK called Valerie Claire Miniatures she sells overseas. Her website address is

KrisMrsBBradley said...

Wow, great post, and great blog!

Heather Cutting-Rayl said...

Fantastic Post! And timely too! I am building a Witch Shoppe and I am collecting all the supplies I need to fill the shelves! Now I know where to go! Many thanks!


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