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Museum treasures

'The Quack Doctor', 1814

A hand-coloured etching from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s museum depicts the inside of an apothecary and the equipment in use in the 1800s.

'The quack doctor' caricature print

Source: RPS Museum

“The Quack Doctor” is a hand-coloured etching and aquatint by Thomas Rowlandson, published by Rudolph Akermann in 1814

While a satire on the dubious nature of medicine in the early 1800s, Thomas Rowlandson’s caricature ‘The Quack Doctor’ also depicts the public interior of an apothecary shop and the equipment in use at the time. 

The apothecary is shown standing behind the dispensing counter, decanting a liquid into a medicine bottle. More bottles, a small composition mortar and pestle, and a wet drug jar line the counter. Behind the counter are shelves of carboys, wet and dry drug jars (all labelled with poisons: canthari, arsenic, opium, nitre, vitriol), and a drug run. 

Over the doorway is painted ‘Apothecaries Hall’. Patients crowd in and one is startled to see, behind a curtain, that the apothecary’s assistant is a skeleton mixing a preparation in a large bell metal mortar labelled ‘slow poison’.  Below the drawing is lettered, “I have a secret art to cure, each malady which men endure”.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20204998

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