Pill Silverer (From the Collection #13)

The Story

Medicinal pills were first coated with sugars and honeys in the 9th century, to mask repulsive odours and tastes. In the 17th century, pharmacists began coating pills in gold and silver leaf to appeal to the most affluent members of society who regarded this luxury as a symbol of status. This primarily aesthetic undertaking had also the side effect of delaying the absorption of the pill, if not rendering it entirely inert.

The apothecary – as the pharmacist was known at the time – mixed the ingredients and rolled the pills by hand, using pill tiles or machines. Then, pills were moistened with Arabic gum or mucilage and placed inside a pill silverer lined with gold or silver leaf. The top was fastened and the pill silverer was lightly shaken, rotating the pills around the interior for several minutes and coating them in the leaf. A pharmacy text from 1762 cautions that pills must be neither too hard nor too soft to be perfectly gilded, as the leaf will not stick properly if too hard and too much will adhere if soft, ruining the smooth appearance of the ideal pill.

The practice of coating pills in gold or silver continued into the early twentieth century.

The Specs

ACCESSION # (Web Link):009027004 a-b
Object Name:Pill Silverer
Manufacturer (Country):Unknown (Unknown)
Date Made:Circa 1890-1920
MESH Code:Pharmacy — instrumentation
Mental Health
Mental Health — hospital
Mental Health — laboratory
Mental Health — laboratory — equipment
Mental Health — laboratory — equipment — drug compounding

Additional Images

About “From the Collection”

“From the Collection” was a project originally published in 2010 to the Museum of Health Care’s website by former Curator Paul Robertson, with the goal being to highlight some the Museum’s most unique items that might be missed in our collection. Each artifact is presented as a bite-sized story, related information, and a link to it’s fully detailed entry on our free online digital catalogue!

Posts in the “From the Collection” series were originally created with support from Funded by the Ontario Museums and Technology Fund. The support of the Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is acknowledged.

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