Porcelain Pharmacy Jars
Renaissance pharmacists were specialists in the lore and science of herbs and traditional healing. Pharmacies sold a variety of drugs following recipes written in pharmacopoeias*, with specifications approved by city authorities. Centuries ago pharmacies were lined with shelves displaying ‘Delft’ hand painted faïence
porcelain pots, vases, bowls and boxes. The raw materials for making medicines were
stored in porcelain apothecary jars.
Typically made of glazed pottery with decorative blue artwork, these jars came in a variety of shapes and sizes. The first letter on each jar was a code for the form of its solid or liquid contents:
“A” indicated “aqua,” or water
“O” indicated “oleum,” or oil
“U” indicated “unguentum,” or ointment
“C” indicated “conserva,” or preserves
“S” or “Si” indicated “syrupus,” or syrup
“P” indicated “piulae,” or pills
“T” indicated “trochisci,” or tablets
“E” indicated “electuarium,” or mixture
“B” indicated “balsamum,” or balm
“R” indicated “rob,” a type of jelly
The remainder of the description was usually in abbreviated Latin form, such as U.ALTH.SIMP for ungenteum altheae simplex, an
ointment made from marshmallow.
Pharmacy jars combine the craftsmanship of the potter with the practicality of the pharmacist. The city of Delft in North Holland attempted to imitate Chinese porcelain in order to make these jars. This imitation porcelain, Delft blue, has become a household word, not only for medicinal purposes, but for a wide range of pottery. Made of stoneware pottery, hardly any survived the ages unscathed. Most original antique apothecary jars which survived the centuries are now part of museum and scientific collections. Their beauty and historical and scientific significance has attracted collectors to these intriguing examples of Renaissance pottery art.
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