The Pharmacist's Laboratory


The Pharmacist's Laboratory


Promotional 17th century Delft reproduction ceramic pill tile produced by the Burroughs, Wellcome & Co. for their Pharmacy Education Fund. The front of the tile depicts the laboratory of the apothecary where large-scale drug production took place. The top of the tile has two unicorns depicted flanking a small coat of arms. The following description is glued to the back of the tile on a piece of paper. "This scene depicts part of the laboratory of a Dutch pharmacist in the Seventeenth Century, before the large-scale industrialization of pharmaceuticals. The pharmacist's laboratory was usually located in the back of the shop, with the family's living quarters upstairs. The pharmacist was especially proud of the large "beehive" brick oven and of the distillation apparatus for compounding batches of medicaments. Important laboratory equipment included alembic heads of all sizes, ladles and spatulas, barrels and casks, weighing devices, and mortars and pestles. Various "simples," or nncompounded items including mineral elements, roots, leaves, bark, and resin, were stored nearby in chests of drawers awaiting use. The final products were transferred to attractive delft and majolica jars, glass bottles or tightly-sealed metal boxes and put on display for sale in the apothecary shop in front of the laboratory. A typical European pharmaceutical training program in the Seventh Century included six to eight years as an apprentice and two years as a clerk, followed by comprehensive oral, written, and practical exams. As the science of pharmacy grew, an accomplished apothecary's price list might have included as many as 2400 different preparations, including almost 400 chemical compounds. Some of the recipes grew increasingly complex even by today's standards. One notable example was the famous Theriac, which contained more than 52 ingredients at the peak of its popularity. Porcelain pill tiles were used to prepare medications in early apothecary shops. They were awarded to pharmacists upon completion of their formal training and in recognition of their service to the community. In keeping with this fine tradition, Burroughs Wellcome has commissioned craftsmen in Delft, Holland, to create a series of handmade tiles. This limited edition is part of our Pharmacy Education Program series. (BW-1191)."



Tiles copyrighted by Burroughs, Wellcome & Co.







6 in x 6 in

Temporal Coverage

Original Format


Burroughs, Wellcome & Co., “The Pharmacist's Laboratory,” American Institute of the History of Pharmacy Digital Collection, accessed March 2, 2024,