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Museum treasures

Precision medicines — Renaissance-style

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the apothecary gained the status of a skilled practitioner and the profession began using standardized weights to ensure accurate dispensing.

Nuremberg weights showing five nested cups lines in a row

Source: Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

These weights, known as Nuremberg nested cup weights, were probably made by Dietrich Hagen in Nuremburg, Germany, during the mid-1500s

As the practice of apothecary became more skilled in the 15th and 16th centuries, standardised weights were needed to ensure accurate dispensing.

Nested cup weights provided a scale for the precise measuring of medicinal ingredients. They were designed for each cup to fit precisely into, and weigh exactly half of, the previous larger weight. The vessel for storing the weights weighed exactly the same as all the cups enclosed within it. This set comprises six weights: 16 marcs, 8 marcs, 4 marcs, 2 marcs and 1 marc — a marc being traditionally a half-pound weight. The smallest weight is the 4-ounce cup.

The lid of the vessel for housing the cup weights is highly ornate, decorated with human figures and hybrid creatures from Greek mythology.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203381

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  • Nuremberg weights showing five nested cups lines in a row

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