Collected by Professor Victor Hoffbrand, FRCP, comprising of 183 items, it is the largest privately owned collection of English delftware apothecary jars in the country.
In the 17th and 18th centuries wealthy apothecaries (chemists) stored their medicinal preparations and ingredients in tin-glazed jars. With their decorative Latin labels naming their contents, the jars were functional, attractive and fashionable, designed to impress customers and fellow medical practitioners.
Delftware is a type of tin-glazed earthenware. Pots were fired at a low temperature then dipped in a tin oxide glaze to make them white and opaque. The design was then hand-painted onto the surface and it was re-fired.
Delftware arrived in England around 1567 when Dutch potters fled Antwerp following religious persecution. Southwark and Lambeth became the main locations for London potteries, using the Thames as a transport route.
Shapes and designs of apothecary jars
Shapes and functions
English delftware apothecary jars had four main shapes and functions:
- 'wet jars' held liquid preparations - they have a spout and usually a handle at the back
- 'dry jars' held dry ingredients - they are cylinder-shaped and taper at top and bottom
- small 'dry jars' were used to hold pills and lozenges
- large 'dry jars' often feature the coat of arms of the Society of Apothecaries and were used for display only.
The jars originally had parchment, vellum or fabric lids tied on to protect their contents, which have not survived to today.
Apothecary jars display common features including:
- a Latin inscription labelling the jar's contents
- a decorated cartouche surrounding the inscription
- the most valuable jars have a date and the initials of the apothecary who commissioned them.