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'William Wilson, commonly called Mortar Willie, aged 107': coloured etching and aquatint

In July 1814, a print depicting Edinburgh’s very old drug grinder, Mortar Willie, was published.

Coloured etching and aquatint of Morar Willie

Source: Royal Pharmaceutical Society Library

A coloured etching and aquatint of William Wilson, who is believed to have worked as a drug grinder until the age of 107 years

This print, drawn, etched and published by John Kay of Edinburgh in 1815, depicts a drug grinder by the name of William Wilson (1709–1815), who was also known as ‘Mortar Willie’.

Wilson came to Edinburgh in 1778, where he found employment as a drug grinder. It is believed that he worked as a drug grinder for various apothecaries, chemists and druggists in Edinburgh until his 106th year. In this print he is shown seated, using a large pestle and mortar.

Pestles and mortars have been essential for the preparation of medicines for centuries. They were used by apothecaries, drug grinders and chemists and druggists for two main purposes — for grinding drugs and bruising drugs by gentle pounding.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20205480

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