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The round wooden box presented here was used in a pharmacy for silvering and gilding pills. In this way, their unpleasant taste was made more palatable and they were protected against drying and spoiling. The method of gilding pills may be found in Heinrich and Fabian’s Farmacya (Warsaw, 1835): “Pills, hard, dry and cleaned from powder are put on a pill rolling disc, moistened with a few drops of gum arabic or a regular syrup and, by spinning them a few times, they are covered with the liquid.

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The round wooden box presented here was used in a pharmacy for silvering and gilding pills. In this way, their unpleasant taste was made more palatable and they were protected against drying and spoiling. The method of gilding pills may be found in Heinrich and Fabian’s Farmacya (Warsaw, 1835): “Pills, hard, dry and cleaned from powder are put on a pill rolling disc, moistened with a few drops of gum arabic or a regular syrup and, by spinning them a few times, they are covered with the liquid. Then they are poured into a round box consisting of two hemispheres made of wood, horn, glass, porcelain, etc. One gold leaf or more is put into the box, which is then closed and spun. If everything is done correctly and the adequate amount of gold has been added, the pills soon are covered with a glittering coating. If the pills do not glitter enough, the above procedure needs to be repeated.” This custom survived in Europe until the 1st half of the 20th century, which is documented by the Steinbuch catalogue from 1930, where among the offered apothecary utensils there are also capsules for gilding and silvering pills.

Elaborated by the Museum of Pharmacy at the Jagiellonian University Medical College in Kraków, © all rights reserved

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Miss Pharmacist and pharmacy rooms at manor courts

All the medications that nowadays fill the surface of the drawer, formerly occupied an entire room. At the manors, these “first aid kits” contained natural ingredients, spices, liqueurs, vodkas, home-made brews and preserves.

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All the medications that nowadays fill the surface of the drawer, formerly occupied an entire room. At the manors, these “first aid kits” contained natural ingredients, spices, liqueurs, vodkas, home-made brews and preserves. Zygmunt Gloger, analysing the contents of the pharmacy rooms in the Old Polish Encyclopaedia , wrote:
“What – there was no rural pharmacy: the fat of various animals as medicines, dry reptiles, several dozen species of dried herbs, starting from linden flower, chamomile and mint, and ending with various dried fruits and rootlets. We did not forget about the March water from melted snow, which was thought to maintain a beautiful complexion for the fairer sex, and about rose water, which was sprinkled on the floor to lend rooms a pleasant aroma. Water for washing the face was also prepared from cucumbers. Only homemade vinegars were used: raspberry, relish, spinach, currant, barberry etc.”.
A well-stocked first-aid kit was particularly important in places far from the town, where the medic could not reach quickly enough.
Completing and supplementing its content was the housekeeper’s duty. Often, in the manors, the first aid kit was prepared by Mrs. Pharmacist – a poor relative who had no family of her own (this term even became a synonym for an old maid). As Glogger wrote:
“She had everything under her key, she kept everything and watched over the supply with everything, sometimes walking alone with the village girls to collect herbs”.
She was the one who gave first aid in emergency situations not only to the residents of the manor, but also to the surrounding villages.
The atmosphere of an old pharmacy, not only domestic ones, can be enjoyed while visiting the Museum of Pharmacy in Krakow, where an old herb dryer was restored in the attic.

We can find out how varied first-aid kits once were by browsing “the Tibetan Pharmacy” – a manuscript and a set of medicines.

Elaborated by: Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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On bizarre therapies, dangerous medications and opium-laced baby dummies

Medicine and pharmacy have not always been what they are today. The history of pharmacy and medicine is not only the history of the progress of science, marked by subsequent great discoveries but also a fascinating story about therapies and medications from the past that nobody would dare to try today...

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Wooden apothecary boxes from 18th century, The Museum of Pharmacy at the Jagiellonian University Medical College in Kraków, public domain.

On the 26th of September, it’s Pharmacist’s Day in Poland. On this day, we wish all pharmacists and chemists all the very best! We would also like to remind you that at the Malopolska’s Virtual Museums we present 24 exceptionally interesting objects from the collection of Muzeum Farmacji Collegium Medicum UJ w Krakowie (the Pharmacy Museum of the Jagiellonian University Medical College).

For those who, after they have seen the MVM’s (Małopolska’s Virtual Museums) collections, want to learn even more about the history of medicine, we are eager to assure you that as part of the currently implemented project Wirtualna Małopolska (2016-2020) (Virtual Lesser Poland (2016–2020)) our website will obtain a much larger collection of exhibits from the Pharmacy Museum of the JUMC. We encourage those who cannot wait to visit the Museum at 25 Floriańska Street – the interiors and atmosphere of an 18th-century pharmacy recreated there serve to leave an enduring impression.

Medicine and pharmacy have not always been what they are today. The history of pharmacy and medicine is not only the history of the progress of science, marked by subsequent great discoveries but also a fascinating story about therapies and medications from the past that nobody would dare to try today – either out of common sense or because some the substances used in the past are now illegal (even if the effects of their use may seem quite pleasant to some). The history of healing is also a story about the long duration of astonishing superstitions, whose popularity resulted from trusting in the authority of past scholars. It is enough to mention such miraculous medical preparations as a potion from a beaver’s testicles or powdered deer horn. Similar miraculous medicines are still popular in traditional Chinese medicine, which sometimes leads to the extinction of rare animal species.

Baby Jesus' dummie, Albrecht Dürer, Madonna with the Siskin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, public domain.

Anyone who has read any of the novels on Sherlock Holmes knows that taking cocaine or morphine was not anything surprising in the 19th century. Indeed, many substances which nowadays are considered to be drugs were previously used as a remedy for everything. It is worth mentioning the King of England, George IV, who used to start the day with a dose of a laudanum tincture, which was made on the basis of opium oil. Back when he was still the Prince of Wales and a regent exercising power on behalf of the mentally ill George III, had health problems due to his excessive love of food, alcohol and opium. Back then, he was already sometimes called the Prince of the Whales, which was a witty reference to his corpulent figure and a verbal game based on the identical sound of the nickname Prince of Whales, and the title born by the English heirs to the throne – Prince of Wales. Once he became the king, he contracted gout, cataract and atherosclerosis.

The therapies used by Adolf Hitler were a combination of superstitions and drug addiction. The creator of the drugs taken by the hypochondriac tyrant was the famous slob and boor – Dr Theodor Morell, who was also commonly regarded as a mountebank. The most famous of his medicines taken by the Führer was Vitamultin. Despite its name, it did not contain vitamins at all – among others, it included methamphetamine. Drugs, used as medicines, were still widely available in the 20th century. During World War I, heroin and cocaine could be purchased as medicines. In Great Britain, they could be purchased in pharmacies, at the Harrods department store and in military stores. Some British soldiers staying at the front regularly asked their families to send parcels with these medicines. Over time, the UK government banned the sale of cocaine. Strangely, the use of heroin was not prohibited.

But back to the subject of opiates... The high-morphine variety of bread-seed poppy was used in the past not only for the production of opiates but also to help put children to sleep. Poppy mixed with honey was wrapped in a linen handkerchief and rolled into a ball, and a dummy formed in this way was given to children to suck on. There are known representations of the Mother of God with the Baby Jesus holding such a “cumel” (a Cracovian regionalism for “a dummy”).

Elaborated by: Adam Spodaryk (Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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Pill gilding box

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