Station: [12] Compounding Equipment

Scales, mortars with and without a pouring lip, and grinding bowls – the two upper shelves in the glass display case contain a selection of equipment typically used to prepare prescriptions. It probably all looks familiar by now, since you’re well on the way to becoming an expert on pharmacy paraphernalia. But what you haven’t seen yet are the spherical devices used to coat pills in gold or silver. 

As you move down the shelves, it gets even more interesting. This is where we show you how a powder becomes a capsule. Each dose of a powder used to be weighed out separately and decanted into a folded piece of paper. Powders with a nasty taste were wrapped in edible wafer paper (or rice paper) that had first been soaked. From there, the next development was rice paper capsules, and finally, the hard gelatine two-piece capsules still in use today. 

On another shelf, you can see the equipment used to make suppositories. The raw materials were melted in a water bath (rather like a double boiler) – on the left. Once they had liquefied, the jug to the right of the water bath was used to pour the semi-liquid mass into the suppository mould. But as an alternative, you could also employ a screw press to turn the semi-solid mass into suppositories – there are several such presses on the right of the shelf. 

On the next shelf down, we have utensils for making eye drops and injection ampoules. At the bottom, there’s a display of equipment for making medicinal herbal teas, or tisanes. Again, this probably looks familiar. You saw an infusion apparatus in the dispensary earlier. The spoons, the spatulas, the chopper and the semi-circular chopping blade are all reminiscent of kitchenware. So is the hand mill, which looks rather like a coffee grinder. It was used to shred drugs for tisanes until they were just the right size.

Even today, ointments, creams, solutions, suspensions, gels and capsules are still produced in pharmacies. On prescription, of course. Tablets are usually the exception, because they require special machines.

All depictions: © Trüpschuch