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A5012 Apothecary jar with lid, for holding medicinal leeches, slip-cast, earthenware, S. Maw and Son, London, England, 1860-1870. Click to enlarge.

Apothecary jar for holding medicinal leeches

Made
This jar was made for apothecaries to store leeches. Leeches are part of the Class Annelida of segmented worms which feed on the blood of other animals. Leeches are so well adapted to accessing the blood of mammals that humans, who have been practising bloodletting for 3000 years, began using then for this practice about 2500 years ago.

Bloodletting has been practiced for cultural and medical reasons, the latter becoming a very widely used treatment for innumerable ills. It was a practice heavily associated with the Hippocratic humoral theory of medicine. A healthy body had all of it's elements - blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm - in balance. Galen, the Roman physician and philosopher whose theories were the medical canon until the 17th century, believed that many common symptoms now known to be that of the common cold were caused by a build up of blood. Bloodletting was believed to release the excess blood and cool down the body.

Leeches can extract several times their body weight in blood - painlessly, so they were the ideal foil for the bloodletting surgeon's work. Leeching could be practiced at home by anyone, unlike venesection which required a surgeon or cupper.

Although they are no longer used for bloodletting in medicine - the practice ended in the late 19th century - they are used in skin-graft surgery to encourage blood flow and after microsurgeries to reduce swelling.

Damian McDonald, Curator, August 2013
Updated: Stephanie Chinneck, Curatorial Volunteer, March 2017

Summary

Object No.

A5012

Object Statement

Apothecary jar with lid, for holding medicinal leeches, slip-cast, earthenware, S. Maw and Son, London, England, 1860-1870

Physical Description

Slip-cast earthenware apothecary jar with flared foot, bulbous faceted body, fluted neck and twin handles at shoulders. The jar is painted dark blue and white with a central scroll and floral design edged in gold. Pendent blue shields feature on the shoulder. The flat jar lid is perforated and painted dark blue with a central white and gold finial. The jar is glazed white, inside and out. The word, 'Leeches' is printed in gold leaf in blue foliate scroll on front of jar. Gilt-painted bands on rim and foot with gilt embellishment on pendent shields, label and handles.

Marks

Impressed on jar base with makers name, 'S. MAW & SON'. No marks on lid.

Dimensions

Height

340 mm

Width

290 mm

Depth

230 mm

Production

Notes

The apothecary jar was made by S. Maw and Son, London, England, 1860-1870. S. Maw and Sons were based in London and provided chemist's sundries, dressings, surgical appliances and instruments.
The 'Maw's' firm was established by George Maw in 1813 and his sons John Hornby and Solomon joined him in the business in 1825, this firm would later be established as "S. Maw's and Son" when Solomon brought his own son, Charles, into the business in 1860. It continued to be a family run business until they were bought out by an international supplier in 1970. S Maw and Son sold their large variety of wares through illustrated books, the shape for this apothecary jar features on page 114 of Book of Illustrations to S Maw and Sons Quarterly Price Current from 1869.

Reference:
Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/bookofillustrati00mawsuoft, accessed March 2017.

History

Notes

Ceramic jars such as this one, here to store leeches, were a common sight in apothecary shops. Apothecaries would display a number of these jars, each containing different ingredients and were used as a form of advertisement. They designed to look attractive to prospective customers and therefore served a practical as well as decorative function.

Apothecaries were the major source of medicines for much of the population in Europe, especially in rural areas where doctors and surgeons were scarce. Even where doctors were available many people would have visited an apothecary's shop to fill prescriptions. Apothecaries treated all manner of ills, including supplying leeches which were an extremely popular folk medicine at the time. Leeches were used as a cure all, for fevers, swelling and when in doubt.

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Harold Jones, 1957

Acquisition Date

15 December 1957

Cite this Object

Harvard

Apothecary jar for holding medicinal leeches 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 16 April 2021, <https://ma.as/182254>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/182254 |title=Apothecary jar for holding medicinal leeches |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=16 April 2021 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}