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Medicine chest, United Kingdom, 1800-1830

This fine medicine chest carries the inscription “From REECE’S Medicinal Hall, No.171, Piccadilly”. Richard Reece (1775-1831) was a popular physician and herbalist who sold a number of drugs and preparations, including those in large family medicine chests like this one from 1800 onwards. Among those he treated was the self-styled religious prophetess Joanna Southcott, during her final illness. From 1812, his shop in Piccadilly was adjacent to the architecturally extravagant Egyptian Hall which, with its collection of ‘natural and artificial curiosities’, was one of the great attractions of early 1800s London. The medicine chest has room for thirty bottles, all of which are labelled and numbered, and it has four internal drawers. Other contents of the chest include two spatulas, a probang, a bowl, a pill tile, a fleam, a lancet, two syringes and a number of other glass bottles and wooden boxes.

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    Glossary: medicine chest

    Small chests fitted for bottles and intended to hold medical supplies; of a type made in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

    Glossary: pill tile

    Tile used to roll and divide pills on - this helped determine the dosage of the pill.

    Glossary: fleam

    A sharp instrument used for opening veins, lancing gums etc.

    Glossary: probang

    A long, slender, flexible rod having a tuft or sponge at the end, used to remove foreign bodies from or apply medication to the larynx or asophagus

    Glossary: lancets

    A surgical instrument of various forms, commonly sharp-pointed and two-edged. The lancet is used in venesection (the act of opening a vein for bloodletting), and in opening abscesses.

    Glossary: syringe

    An instrument used for injecting or withdrawing fluids. The open end of the syringe may be fitted with a hypodermic needle for injection into the bloodstream.