Station: [5] Pharmaceutical Storage Vessels

You’re standing in front of the first themed showcase that you’re free to open. Go ahead! Like the shelves on the wall, the showcase contains storage vessels in which the pharmacists kept the ingredients to prepare medicines. In the showcase, we’ve displayed the three most common types of vessel.

In the middle compartment are various glass bottles used to store liquids and powders. Simple country pharmacies, which included this one, usually had inexpensive vessels made of forest glass that retained its impurities, so the glass wasn’t clear. The stoppers were made of cork, or the vessels had a rim which allowed a cover to be tied on. Better-quality vessels have a glass stopper with a ground joint, and elaborate fused glass labelling, a kind of enamel work. By contrast, basic containers were labelled by hand by the pharmacists, using oil paint or tempera that tended to rub off. 

Ointments were kept in earthenware, stoneware or porcelain vessels. Those are the ones you can see in the two upper compartments. The tall, slender vessels with a “waist” – a narrower middle section providing a better grip – are called albarelli. The covers were made of leather, oiled paper or cardboard. From the end of the 18th century, there were lidded jars made of porcelain called “Kruken”. These were specifically pharmaceutical vessels. The classic version has a wide mouth, so the pharmacist could use a spatula to take the ointment out of the jar.

In the bottom section, the cylindrical boxes made of turned wood would have held seeds and powders. The older examples, made of softwood, are artistically painted in oils and labelled. The more recent boxes are made of hardwood such as box or cherry. The name of the contents was painted straight on to the wood. 

Perhaps you’re wondering what was kept in the two-piece grey jar on the right. The answer is: leeches! A sieve insert containing the creatures was fastened with a screw clamp and suspended in water. For centuries, leeches had been placed on patients' skin as a way of bloodletting. It takes a single leech just 30 to 60 minutes to absorb five times its body weight in blood.

Now, please move on to the middle display case on the wall.

All depictions: © Trüpschuch