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APOTHECARIES. The apothecary struggled throughout early modern times to attain a measure of independence. He first had to free himself from his traditional origins and associations with spicers and grocers. In London it was not until 1617 that the apothecaries of the city were able to break away from the Company of Grocers and establish the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. In Paris it was 1777 before a royal decree finally separated the apothecaries from the spicers and established the Collège de Pharmacie. Prestigious apothecary corporations had been established even earlierin Rome, Barcelona, and Nuremberg, for examplebut the medical establishment had never conceded independence to the apothecary. The Collegio medicum, the prestigious association of the physicians in a particular jurisdiction, which was a fixture of the continental city, usually dominated. In addition, the apothecary was subject to strict controls by civil authority, ubiquitous municipal ordinances, royal decrees, and monopoly-granting court or church privilegia (grants, usually hereditary, which gave an apothecary sole right to practice in a given jurisdiction). In England, there was little control; in the provinces, the "surgeon-apothecary" found very little other than the mixed trade guild to which he belonged to impinge upon his practice.


The work of the apothecary was essentially pharmaceutical. He could identify the drugs, knew how to take care of them, knew how to manipulate the mechanical and chemical apparatus, and became aware of the purported therapeutic qualities of the drug. Given the shortcomings of the medicine of the age, the long tradition of herbal therapeutics to which the apothecary was heir, and the impact of the chemical therapeutics of Paracelsianism with its alchemical basis to which the apothecary was also heir, he became the health provider of the first resort for the general population. Physicians were few in number and expensive. Moreover, the nature of the work of the apothecary inevitably led to diagnosis and prescribing, and the apothecary was often actively encroaching on the prerogatives of the physician. Therein lay the basis for a long and vituperative quarrel between the two.

In France and England the quarrel seemed endless. In a tract war, begun in Paris about 1513, the two groups cast aspersions on each other's abilities and traded insults. The pamphlet war soon spread to England and Germany. Still at odds in 1625, Parisian doctors put out Le Médicin charitable, a doit-yourself pharmaceutical handbook, and sought to put the apothecary out of business. The apothecary withstood the onslaught, becoming officially, in the late eighteenth century, pharmacien rather than apothicaire, a change reflecting the lampooning of the apothicaire as the administrator of clysters (enemas) in literature and art. In London, the Royal College of Physicians was in conflict with the apothecaries long before the Society of Apothecaries was founded, for there, and in the provinces, the apothecary had unabashedly become the primary medical practitioner. As in Paris, the physicians sought to a destroy the apothecary and chose to do so by establishing, from 1698 to 1725, dispensaries in London where the poor could get their medicines "in penny doses." Again, the apothecaries survived, but in a way unique to England: the House of Lords, in the case of William Rose in 1703, found that prohibiting prescribing by apothecaries was contrary to custom and contrary to public interest, given the small number of physicians. Thereafter, apothecaries in Great Britain became general practitioners of medicine; the "chemist and druggist" took over the practice of pharmacy.


Toward the end of the fifteenth century, a body of literature directed at, and later written by, the apothecary began to appear. The first of the pharmaceutical handbooks, volumes of formulas, procedures, and expositions, was the Compendium Aromatariorum of Saladin di Asculi published in Bologna in 1488. A very popular work, it was soon followed by other such texts, three written by apothecaries in Italy, Spain, and France. In the late seventeenth and throughout the eighteenth century, the Dispensatory, a British specialty, became the textbook of pharmacy, but again, it was the work of physicians, not apothecaries.

The apothecary also needed a formulary, or pharmacopoeia, and although the first of these, the Florentine Nuovo Receptario that appeared in 1499, was the work of the guild of physicians and apothecaries, apothecaries did not take part in the compiling of a pharmacopoeia until the very end of the eighteenth century. The medical establishment saw the pharmacopoeia as an instrument of control over the apothecary.

Similarly, the interest of the apothecary in botany awaited the pioneering efforts of others. For a knowledge of plants he resorted to the ubiquitous herbals (which by 1483 were illustrated) and to the work of Dioscorides, particularly in the many versions issued by Matteoli. Apothecaries were, of course, involved in the establishment of herb gardens, and, among others, two of them, Basilius Besler in Germany and John Parkinson in England, issued large and copiously illustrated botanical works.

In the eighteenth century several apothecaries made distinctive contributions to botany. The Moravian Georg Joseph Kamel was the first European to describe the flora and fauna of the Philippines; the German Arthur Ernsting's work with pollens paved the way for the discovery of cross-fertilization; the Swede Friedrich Erhart made advances in botanic systemization and is noted for his studies of lichen.

While these contributions to botanical science were important, those that the apothecary made to chemistry were more fundamental to the development of the science and were more far-reaching in their influence. The apothecary had always been involved in chemical manipulation. Chemical procedures, learned from the alchemists, were part of the "mystery" of the art of the apothecary.

The ground breaking was again done by othersthe seventeenth-century works of Oswald Croll, Jean Beguin, and Jean Baptiste van Helmont, for example. But the apothecary was already gaining recognition as chemist. The first chair in chemistry was held by the apothecary Johannes Hartmann in Marburg in 1609. A series of lectures in chemistry for the public at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris were delivered by a succession of apothecaries, LeFevre, Charas, and Rouelle, among them. Nicaise LeFevre first published his Traité (later Cours ) de chymie in 1660. It appeared also in English and German. Nicolas Lémery's Cours de chymie, which first appeared in 1675, was reputed to be the most widely used chemistry textbook in Europe for a century. In Germany, the apothecary Caspar Neumann became professor of Chymiae practice at the Collegium Medico-Chirurgicum in Berlin in 1724.

The apothecary's contributions to chemistry were seminal. Sixteen of the elements were discovered by five apothecaries between 1750 and 1803. Foremost among them were Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who, in his little shop in Köping, Sweden, discovered seven of the elements (including oxygen, before Priestley's much more publicized achievement), and Martin Heinrich Klaproth of Berlin, considered the founder of modern quantitative analysis, who discovered seven others. Scheele is also credited with the introduction of a long list of organic and inorganic acids into chemistry.

While Scheele's work was basic to the development of the chemical industry, the work of Andreas Marggraf in Germany was the foundation of the beet sugar industry, and it was no coincidence that in Germany, France, and England, it was an apothecary who developed porcelain out of the local clay and who created the porcelain industries in those countries.

The apothecary thus played important roles in early modern history. He was, first of all, the primary provider of health care, and his contributions to science, especially chemistry, were often seminal to the science and significant to the economy and life of the times.

See also Alchemy ; Medicine ; Paracelsus ; Priestley, Joseph.


Bouvet, Maurice. Histoire de la Pharmacie en France des origines à nos jours. Paris, 1937. Valuable for its detailed attention to various local arrangements.

Burnby, Juanita G. L. A Study of the English Apothecary from 1660 to 1770. London, 1983. A comprehensive study with particular attention to the provincial apothecary.

Cowen, David L., and William H. Helfand. Pharmacy: An Illustrated History. New York, 1990. Also available in German, Spanish, and Italian. Contains chapters on "The Renaissance" and "The Early Modern Age and the New Science."

Dann, Georg Edmund. Einführung in die Pharmaziegeschichte. Stuttgart, 1975. Especially valuable for its chronological lists of pharmaceutical literature and scientific advances.

Helmstädter, Axel, Jutta Hermann, and Evemarie Wolf. Leitfaden der Pharmaziegeschichte. Eschborn, 2001. A scholarly overview with considerable attention to science.

Roberts, R. S. "The Personnel and Practice of Medicine in Tudor and Stuart England. Part I. The Provinces. . . . Part II. London." In Medical History 6 (1962): 363382 and 8 (1964): 217234. The medical activities of the apothecary and his professional difficulties are fully covered.

Schmitz, Rudolf, with the cooperation of Franz-Josef Kuhlen. Geschichte der Pharmazie Band I von den Anfangen bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters. Eschborn, 1998. An authoritative and exhaustive study valuable for the medieval background. A second volume, under the editorship of Christoph Friedrich and Wolf-Dieter Müller-Jahncke, covering 15002000, is forthcoming.

Sonnedecker, Glenn. Kremers and Urdang's History of Pharmacy. 4th ed. Philadelphia, 1976. Includes individual chapters on Italy, France, Germany, and Britain.

David L. Cowen