The Victorian Pharmacy

Over the years I have collected a couple of instruction books for pharmacists and druggists. They contain recipes for everything you can imagine, from hoof tar to paints, cosmetics, rat poison, soap, wax, shoe polish, varnishes, liquors, glues and even fireworks.

Two Dutch recipe books. Left "The Recipe Book for the Druggist" and on the right "The Philosophers' Stone"

Two Dutch recipe books. Left “The Recipe Book for the Druggist” and on the right “The Philosophers’ Stone”

Most of these recipes are outright dangerous to make or use. Containing all kinds of poisons, like lead oxide and arsenic. But some of them are actually useable and I tried a couple of them.  What is even better is that it gives insight in the contents of various products. Like most cremes are just vaseline with a little addition.

On the other hand it really spoils you. Commercials aren’t as fun as they used to be. When a shampoo ad tells it contains “Collagen and Keratin” I can’t help thinking that there is gelatin (bone or hide glue) and hair or nails (yes those are made of keratin) in it. Another source of keratin could be found in rhino horns for example… Knowing this somehow doesn’t make the product more appetizing… But from a commercial point of view it must be really smart. Presenting ingredients as an asset, but not defining what they do.

Last week I stumbled across this series of BBC documentaries about the 19th century pharmacy. They even try some of the old formulas and show how life in the store went. In a way we still look for and buy the wonder medicines our ancestors used to fall for…

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