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2003/31/1 Homoeopathic medicine chest, containing homoeopathic medicine bottles, wood / metal / leather / glass / paper / plastic / medications, makers of medicines include Fisher & Co, Homoeopathic and Dispensing Chemists, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and Ashton & Parsons Ltd Homoeopathic Che. Click to enlarge.

Homoeopathic medicine chest

Made
The practice of homoeopathy was founded in the early 1800s. It was a new kind of medicine based on the system that 'like cures like'. The patient was given extremely small quantities of drugs that were capable of producing the same symptoms as the disease being treated. It reached its height of popularity in the late part of the 19th century before its popularity faded, but nevertheless is still practised by some today.

Homoeopathic medicine chests generally follow a standard arrangement although they vary in size depending on how many bottles of medicine they contain. They are made of polished wood with brass fittings and a lining of black leather or imitation leather. There is a hinged lid and underneath that a tray with a perforated rack holding rows of tiny bottles. Behind the bottle tray is a compartment for an instruction book and underneath it there are one or two drawers holding larger bottles, usually containing preparations for external application. In the leather lining of the lid there are slots for housing a glass rod and a small spatula for extracting drops of medicines or pilules from the bottles.

The homoeopathic chest donated to the Powerhouse Museum in 2002 is of this standard design, but it contains none of its original contents. Instead there are nine bottles of homoeopathic preparations lying in the upper compartment.

The chest belonged to a family in Ingleburn on the south-western outskirts of Sydney. The donor, now 75 years old, remembers his mother administering the medicines when he was a child. In those days a visit to the doctor meant a day's outing to Campbelltown, so for most illnesses "Mum was the doctor of the house". The medicine box was kept in a safe place in her bedroom - there was, for example, aconite for a headache or memory problems, belladonna for stuffiness from asthma or an allergy, rhubarb powder for constipation and tummy problems. A supplier would visit once or twice a year so that mother could stock up.

The chest and its contents are a tangible relic of a time when people were more self reliant than perhaps they are now - a time when, for most people, whether geographically isolated or not, a visit to the doctor was an expensive and therefore rare event.

References:

Young, Anne Mortimer, Antique medicine chests: or glister, blister and purge, Vernier Press, London & Brighton, 1994.
Conversations between Mr Arthur Hounslow and Megan Hicks, curator of health and medicine, May 2002 [transcription on file].

Summary

Object No.

2003/31/1

Object Statement

Homoeopathic medicine chest, containing homoeopathic medicine bottles, wood / metal / leather / glass / paper / plastic / medications, makers of medicines include Fisher & Co, Homoeopathic and Dispensing Chemists, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and Ashton & Parsons Ltd Homoeopathic Chemists, London, England, United Kingdom maker of chest unknown, [Australia / UK], 1880-1970

Physical Description

Homoeopathic medicine chest, containing homoeopathic medicine bottles, wood / metal / leather / glass / paper / plastic / medications, makers of medicines include Fisher & Co, Homoeopathic and Dispensing Chemists, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and Ashton & Parsons Ltd Homoeopathic Chemists, London, England, UK, maker of chest unknown, [Australia / UK], 1880-1970.

The chest is a standard form seen in many homoeopathic medicine chests. It is wooden with a brass catch and fittings, and with a black leather lining. The lid lifts to reveal a shallow tray (that would have originally contained a rack of small medicine bottles). Behind this there is a deeper slot (originally for the instruction manual) and two lidded compartments. There are two lower drawers, originally for more medicine, now empty. The lining of the lid has slots and pockets for accessories and plasters.

It is unlikely that the present contents of the chest are as old as the chest itself. The original contents have been replaced by nine medicine bottles, which are lying in the upper compartment. Six of these are brown glass bottles with plastic screw caps and paper labels. Four of them contain 'Mercurious Bin-Iodide 3x' for 'diphtheria and ulcerated sore throats [etc]', while two contain 'Tab. Aconite N. 3x' for 'anxiety physical and mental restlessness internal heat [etc]'. These were all dispensed by Fisher and Co., Homoeopathic and Dispensing Chemist, Sydney.

The other three medicines are in brown glass bottles with cork stoppers, each in a cardboard cylinder with a paper label. They are: 'Baptisia T[inctoria] 0 pilules' for 'blood poisoning Typhoid and Typhus fevers [etc]'; 'Cantharsis 1x' for 'inflammation of the bladder, urethra and kidneys, retention of water [etc]'; and 'Dulcamara 0'. These were dispensed by Ashton & Parsons Ltd, Homoeopathic Chemists, London.

Dimensions

Height

175 mm

Width

285 mm

Depth

200 mm

Production

Made

Notes

The maker of the homoeopathic chest is unknown. The dispensers of the homoeopathic preparations are printed on the bottles' labels as noted in Description above.

The chest is a standard type of homoeopathic chest produced from the mid-19th century onwards. It is from the estate of Mrs Annie May Hounslow, born in 1890 and married in 1910. The donor, her youngest child, was born in 1927. He remembers his mother administering medicines to the family when he was child in primary school and perhaps also in high school. It is possible or even probable that she continued to use these medicines herself, and keep the box stocked, beyond this time. The bottles in the chest when it was donated to the Powerhouse are not likely to have been amongst the original contents of the chest. The examples from Fisher & Co. Chemists have plastic screw-on lids. I have not been able to get definitive information about when plastic lids were first used on pharmacy bottles in Australia. It may have been as early as the 1940s. I have chosen the dates 1880-1970 as likely to encompass the dates of production of the various components of this donation.
Megan Hicks, curator of health and medicine, September 2002

History

Notes

Donated to the Powerhouse Museum by Mr Arthur David Hounslow of Ingleburn, NSW, from the estate of his parents both deceased, Henry Ernest Hounslow b. c.1886, and Annie May Hounslow nee Nepean b.1890. According to Mr Hounslow, his mother administered medicines to the family from this chest.

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Mr Arthur Hounslow, 2003

Acquisition Date

9 February 2003

Cite this Object

Harvard

Homoeopathic medicine chest 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 16 April 2021, <https://ma.as/12032>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/12032 |title=Homoeopathic medicine chest |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=16 April 2021 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}