RCP unseen audience selection


RCP Unseen: audience selection

We asked you which object from our rare book, archive and museum collections you would like to find out more about.

This winner will be on display in our exhibition at our Regent's Park home from Wednesday 23 February - book a free visit to come a see it in person!

Bezoar box

Europe, late 17th century


Bezoar stones were used as an antidote to arsenic poisoning, and as a charm for protection against the plague and other illnesses.  They were brought to European countries by doctors from Persia and the Middle East during the 12th century. Their use was particularly widespread during the 16th century, when their value was ten times more than their weight in gold.

This silver filigree box once housed a bezoar stone – a gallstone or lump of hard material usually found in the gastrointestinal system of a deer, antelope, goat or ox. Layers of calcium and magnesium phosphate build up around undigested plant fibres or small stones, and they are smoothed into a round shape by the movement of the stomach.

Bezoar stones were used in different ways depending on what they were being used to treat. They were ingested to help cure fevers and applied directly to the skin to ease they symptoms of skin diseases. The stones were often preserved in intricate cases or boxes like this one, made from fine silver or gold, with a chain attached. They were often worn as jewellery, although the box had another function – it could be suspended in wine or liquid which was then drunk as an antidote to poison.  

In 1567 the French surgeon Ambroise Paré undertook an experiment to prove that a bezoar stone could not in fact cure the effects of any poison, as was popularly believed at the time. A cook at the royal court was sentenced to death by hanging for stealing fine silver cutlery. He asked to be poisoned instead, and Paré used the bezoar stone to try to heal him. The cook died in agony seven hours after taking the poison.

Bezoars were often collected and displayed in cabinets of curiosity and natural history collections in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were important in the histories of toxicology, medicine, pharmacology and geology, as well as the study of animal health.

Accepted from Jean Symons under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government and allocated to the RCP, 2018               

View catalogue record for Bezoar box

Explore further: Part of the exhibition 'RCP Unseen'