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Author Topic: Victorian Pharmacy  (Read 827 times)
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« on: September 13, 2015, 05:51:11 pm »

A "reality" show attempting to recreate as much of the 19th Century reality of the village chemist's shop as possible.

(As always, I'm open to discussion as to whether this belongs here or in Historical.)

From the program's Wikipedia entry (successive quotes from the same source):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_Pharmacy

"Victorian Pharmacy is a historical documentary TV series in four parts, first shown on BBC Two in July 2010... It was filmed at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire. It is a historical documentary that looks at life in the 19th Century and how people attempted to cure common ailments. Since some of the ingredients of Victorian remedies are now either illegal or known to be dangerous, Professor Nick Barber often uses his modern pharmaceutical knowledge to produce similar products without those ingredients. The other main presenters are Tom Quick, a PhD student, and Ruth Goodman, a domestic historian...

...In 2011, BBC2 repeated the series but split into 8 shorter, 30 minute episodes."

Episode 1:

"...The first episode is set in 1837. It was mentioned that the series would not be using opium that was commonly used by pharmacists during the Victorian era. A world where traditional remedies, such as leeches, oil of earthworm and potions laced with cannabis and opium, held sway. After sampling some of the old ways, the team ventured into new discoveries, such as the Malvern water cure, the bronchial kettle for curing coughs, and the invention of Indian tonic water."

BBC The Victorian Pharmacy 1 of 4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsIAGCqN4po

Episode 2:

"...The team took on the challenges of the 1850s and 1860s, a time when overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions had reached their peak, leading to unprecedented outbreaks of disease. 'Cure all' medicines that had promised to cure virtually everything, were all the rage and the team make their own out of rhubarb, liquorice, soap and syrup. They also ventured into the uncertain world of electrotherapy and found out how the discovery of germs made disinfectants a bestseller."

BBC The Victorian Pharmacy 2 of 4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yxj8xyciaWg

Episode 3:

"...The pharmacy entered a period of new inventions and new laws. In 1868 pharmacies were regulated by law for the very first time - and Ruth, Tom and Nick faced a taste of the tough examinations pharmacists went through to become qualified.

They also explored the world of poisons and hazards that were completely unregulated until this time - from arsenic and opium to explosives. But the lack of restrictions they had enjoyed enabled 'experimental chemists' to invent products ranging from matches to fireworks, to custard and jelly. The team learned the processes involved in each, and laid on a Victorian style firework display for their customers."

BBC The Victorian Pharmacy 3 of 4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyytJNzy2X8

Episode 4:

"...The last programme in the series saw Ruth, Tom and Nick continue with Barber and Goodman's Pharmacy through to the end of the Victorian era.

Tom branched out into photography and dentistry using the latest technology, such as the foot-pedal dental drill. Ruth made condoms out of sheep intestines. Nick produced salicylic acid (a precursor to aspirin) which was tested orally and as a cure for corns along the way. And for those customers who like a little pampering, the team turn their hands to making their very own brand of perfume.

As they shut up shop for the last time, the team reflected on a revolution in public healthcare that put a chemist's shop in every town in the country."

BBC The Victorian Pharmacy 4 of 4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBWTK4mAfhE
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Theophania_Elliott
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« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2015, 06:32:05 pm »

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain was involved in this, and I meant to watch it. Unfortunately, I missed every single episode.

Here's another article about it, in one of the pharmacy periodicals: https://www.rpharms.com/museum-pdfs/ppjuly2010-victorianpharmacy.pdf

It was said, at the time, to be pretty accurate. So, if anyone is interested in the history of pharmacy, it may be worth shifting to Historical.
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« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2015, 06:45:34 pm »

Anyone else? Mods?

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« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2015, 07:18:29 pm »

Well, this is another one of those awkward topics that skirts the boundary between boards. I mean the reality shows Ms Goodman is involved with for the beeb are usually very good (and this was no exception) and are as historically accurate as possible. However, despite the focus of the series on 19th Century pharmacology, I personally come down on it remaining here rather than being moved, since it's primarily a discussion of the series rather than the subject matter.


If this changes the thread may be moved or split but for now it stays.

*mod hat off*
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« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2015, 07:28:02 pm »

Well, this is another one of those awkward topics that skirts the boundary between boards. I mean the reality shows Ms Goodman is involved with for the beeb are usually very good (and this was no exception) and are as historically accurate as possible. However, despite the focus of the series on 19th Century pharmacology, I personally come down on it remaining here rather than being moved, since it's primarily a discussion of the series rather than the subject matter.


If this changes the thread may be moved or split but for now it stays.

*mod hat off*

(So, we need to discuss the topic, and not the series...)

Hey, does this look infected?

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« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2015, 08:01:23 pm »

Hey, does this look infected?
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Absolutely. But you'll have to wait until 1942 for antibiotics, so just keep it clean and do your best. Otherwise, it'll have to be chopped off.

I would like to point out that the series is not about 19th century pharmacology. It is about 19th century pharmacy.

Pharmacy is a profession, and encompasses pharmacology, pharmaceutics (the science of dosage form design), pharmaceutical chemistry, and various other bits and bobs.

Pharmacology is the study of the action of drugs. Pharmacology wasn't different in the 19th century - digoxin is digoxin, whether you synthesise it in the lab or extract it from foxgloves.

The practice of pharmacy, however, has changed both considerably and not at all. For instance, fifteen years ago, pharmacy students were still taught to fold powder papers exactly the same way as their forebears in the nineteenth century.

Pills, however, have disappeared. Pills are not the same as tablets. I don't know whether the series showed a pill machine in action, but I'd be surprised (and disappointed) if it didn't - it's quite a cool process, making identical little balls out of play-doh (or rather, a drug-dough), which you then cover with gold or sugar, or something similar. However, the process isn't mechanisable, so hasn't survived.

Tablets, on the other hand, at their simplest, are just sand-castles made out of powder. Easily mechanisable, but not worth it unless you want to make batches in the hundreds-plus.

We still use leeches and arsenic, although mercury has gone. Digoxin is still in, as are the opioids - products of Papaver somniferum - although tincture of opium (known as laudanum) is out. Jequirity Seeds are out, but atropine is still in.

And Mr William Martingale's little book (first published in 1889) is still produced by the Pharmaceutical Press (considerably updated).
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« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2015, 08:31:32 pm »

I grew up in a time when our local pharmacist still mixed everything up for your doctor's prescription. I know some things came pre-mixed/made, but for the most part he was still mixing everything up from their component parts in the back. Obviously, he wasn't making pills or tablets, but he was filling up capsules with whatever the correct dosage was. Getting a prescription filled took forever, especially during cold and flu season.

Are you talking about Extra Pharmacopoeia or one of the others?
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« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2015, 08:41:34 pm »

Well, it's been a while since I saw the programme, but I do believe that pill making is featured amongst other things. It's definitely worth watching if you have the time.
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« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2015, 09:09:22 pm »

Are you talking about Extra Pharmacopoeia or one of the others?


The Extra Pharmacopoeia. I have a facsimile of the first edition. Smiley

Making stuff up on the bench hasn't really changed. If you're making small batches, you make creams and ointments, or mix things into them, exactly the way it was done a hundred years ago. For small batches, if you want to mix a powder into an ointment, you can't beat a skilled person with a white tile and a palette knife. And you can't hurry it - if you do, people tend to exhibit strange and unwelcome symptoms. In extreme circumstances, they die. (Chloroform water is still in use, and one really needs to know the difference between Chloroform Water, Double-Strength Chloroform Water, and Concentrated Chloroform Water.)

If you're interested in the history of pharmacy, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum does quite a nice set of leaflets for free download in PDF: http://www.rpharms.com/learning-resources/information-sheets.asp

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« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2015, 09:13:16 pm »

Interesting stuff; thanks!
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« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2015, 10:03:26 pm »

No problem.  Smiley

The 19th century is actually a pretty interesting period for pharmacy history - you're getting the patent medicines coming in, and some of them were really quite... unnerving. For the first time ever, you have the capacity for industrial-level production and distribution, mechanisms for widespread advertising and a population that could actually read the adverts - but virtually no regulation whatsoever on what could be sold (as opposed to who could call themselves a 'pharmacist'). You also have worldwide travel introducing interesting new drugs (like cocaine). Coca-cola, for example, was invented by a pharmacist (John Pemberton), and we probably all know what one of the active ingredients was...
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« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2015, 06:37:59 am »

You can buy the set of VF programs in a box set
http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Victorian-Farm-Collection-Boxed/dp/B0052TIR36/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442295348&sr=8-1&keywords=Victorian+farm

I have them and enjoy most of the stuff involving Ruth Goodman.
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« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2015, 07:27:33 am »

Interestingly, we in the States still have Formulating Pharmacies whose specialists still mix medicine to formula.
The plus - the exact dosage can be designed per patient by individual body weight, metabolism, and deleting unnecessary
ingredients ( for example some patients are intolerant to aspirin others to tylenol ) ...  etc etc.

The downside - with the tremendous marketing leverage of Big Pharma, costs of "standardized pills" drop, and the patients are forced into "one size fits all" . As a result,  fewer patience go to Formulators, and the Formulators are no longer willing to purchase a vat of ingredients (minimum purchase from supplier, you know) for one or two  ( or a dozen ) patients and watch the rest of the vat expire....

Thus unless they develop a niche with enough customers ( for example hormonal creams) , the Formulators are slowly disappearing.

Soon Pharmacies will be nothing but pill dispensaries :-(

yhs
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« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2015, 08:01:19 am »

Soon Pharmacies will be nothing but pill dispensaries :-(

Only if you think a pharmacist's job consists entirely of supplying the medication they're told to supply, when they're told to supply it, like some kind of automaton.

In fact, supply is the simplest part of the job - and extemporaneous formulation can be done by a suitably trained technician. The job of the pharmacist is to provide the expertise to know what to supply. Nowadays, there are pharmacists who don't do any supply work at all - their job is purely to advise on the best use of medicines and to solve medicines-related problems.

In some ways, this hasn't changed since the 19th century - the high street apothecary/chemist/pharmacist was the poor man's alternative to a physician (as mentioned in Jane Eyre). Nowadays, the pharmacist is available for help and advice on medicines and minor ailments. This is the part of the job that will never change - the contents of the pharmacopoeia might alter, but the requirement to know what to do with it all (or, just as importantly, what not to do) is the same.
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« Reply #14 on: September 15, 2015, 05:55:00 pm »

I wonder if there is a herbalist/pharmacist course that can be taken to learn the old ways.
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« Reply #15 on: September 16, 2015, 01:55:24 am »

I wonder if there is a herbalist/pharmacist course that can be taken to learn the old ways.


There are Herbalist classes in the U.S. , there used to be some in Germany, I cannot speak fro the U.K.

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« Reply #16 on: September 16, 2015, 08:23:12 am »

When it comes to herbalism, what do you actually want to achieve?

Do you want to go around recommending things to people just because "they did it back then and it's traditional so it must be OK", or did you want to learn what actually works?

You have to remember, back when a lot of herbal traditions were being formed, the Doctrine of
Signatures (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_signatures) was regarded as a good way of figuring out which bunch of leaves was good for what.

I spent many happy hours with a sixteenth century herbal, back in the dim and distant mists of time. Then I spent more happy hours trying to figure out whether:
a) Any of this stuff worked for anything and
b) If it worked for anything, did it work for what they said it did?

There were few a plants being used in ways that might actually have worked, but not many. If you really want to look at this kind of thing in the modern context, you ideally need to be able to read German and Russian, as that's where a lot of good research has been done.

On the other hand, for those of us who don't necessarily have the time to research from scratch (even in English), the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (www.naturaldatabase.com) is excellent.

The old ways and the new ways are pretty much the same ways - if you are truly interested in helping people. It's not helpful to recommend something that doesn't work, just because it's "traditional". In fact, it's harmful, because by recommending a treatment that is ineffective, you are preventing the person obtaining effective healthcare elsewhere.

Neither should herbalism be regarded as low-risk, or no-risk. Anything that works is going to have side effects: there is no such thing as a free lunch - even laying aside the embarrassing problems of misidentification and contamination (let's face it, one lot of dried leaves looks very like another lot of dried leaves) which have had unfortunate consequences.

In the UK, some of the schools of pharmacy teach pharmacognosy as part of the undergraduate pharmacy degree; University College London has post-grad degree courses in pharmacognosy.

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« Reply #17 on: September 16, 2015, 03:53:07 pm »

Well, that was a brand new word for me, so I had to do a quick look-up:

Pharmacognosy:

"Pharmacognosy is the study of medicinal drugs derived from plants or other natural sources. The American Society of Pharmacognosy defines pharmacognosy as 'the study of the physical, chemical, biochemical and biological properties of drugs, drug substances or potential drugs or drug substances of natural origin as well as the search for new drugs from natural sources.' It is also defined as the study of crude drugs.

The word "pharmacognosy" is derived from two Greek words φάρμακον pharmakon (drug), and γνῶσις gnosis (knowledge). The term "pharmacognosy" was used for the first time by the Austrian physician Schmidt in 1811 and 1815 by Crr. Anotheus Seydler in a work titled Analecta Pharmacognostica.

Originally—during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century—"pharmacognosy" was used to define the branch of medicine or commodity sciences (Warenkunde in German) which deals with drugs in their crude, or unprepared, form. Crude drugs are the dried, unprepared material of plant, animal or mineral origin, used for medicine. The study of these materials under the name pharmakognosie was first developed in German-speaking areas of Europe, while other language areas often used the older term materia medica taken from the works of Galen and Dioscorides. In German the term drogenkunde ("science of crude drugs") is also used synonymously.

As late as the beginning of the 20th century, the subject had developed mainly on the botanical side, being particularly concerned with the description and identification of drugs both in their whole state and in powder form. Such branches of pharmacognosy are still of fundamental importance, particularly for pharmacopoeial identification and quality control purposes, but rapid development in other areas has enormously expanded the subject.

Although most pharmacognostic studies focus on plants and medicines derived from plants, other types of organisms are also regarded as pharmacognostically interesting, in particular, various types of microbes (bacteria, fungi, etc.), and, recently, various marine organisms..."

(Taken from the Wikipedia entry at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharmacognosy . As with all things Wiki, this is as good as anyplace to start, but do your serious research elsewhere.)


"Dioscorides’ Materia Medica, c. 1334 copy in Arabic, describes medicinal features of various plants."

Thanks, Theophania_Elliott!
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« Reply #18 on: September 16, 2015, 05:23:10 pm »

When it comes to herbalism, what do you actually want to achieve?

Do you want to go around recommending things to people just because "they did it back then and it's traditional so it must be OK", or did you want to learn what actually works?
*SNIP*

As a writer, it would be interesting to learn so that I make less mistakes in my writing.
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« Reply #19 on: September 16, 2015, 05:28:21 pm »

Always a commendable goal. We need more like you.
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« Reply #20 on: September 16, 2015, 06:36:52 pm »

I spent many happy hours with a sixteenth century herbal, back in the dim and distant mists of time. Then I spent more happy hours trying to figure out whether:
a) Any of this stuff worked for anything and
b) If it worked for anything, did it work for what they said it did?

Would that be Culpeper, by any chance? I have a copy (reproduction.)
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« Reply #21 on: September 16, 2015, 09:12:25 pm »

Would that be Culpeper, by any chance? I have a copy (reproduction.)

No, it was Gerard's - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gerard - complete with marginalia in faded ink, written by the original owner!

I have a reproduction of Culpeper myself - not a nice one, though, just a cheapie paperback.

If you're writing historical fiction, your job is a lot easier than if you're actually doing herbal stuff for real. For a start, you can pick what medical conditions your patients have beforehand! What time period are you writing? As GCCC says, it's great to see a writer who wants to do the research to get it right.
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« Reply #22 on: September 17, 2015, 06:22:19 am »

I write in the .......... Victorian era!  Shocked Grin
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« Reply #23 on: September 17, 2015, 08:25:54 am »

If you're writing about pharmacy in the UK, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society is a good place to start. Not only do they have a potted history on the website (www.rpharms.com) but the museum - which also has a section on the website - is interesting. It's currently closed for relocation, though. When I was last there, it was heavily biased in favour of Victorian - unsurprisingly, as that was when the Society was started.

The Pharmaceutical Press produced a facsimile of Martindale: The Extra Pharmacopoeia a few years ago, which is a nice reproduction of the first edition (published 1883) of one of the major pharmacy reference books: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Extra-Pharmacopoeia-William-Martindale/dp/0853698260/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1442473832&sr=8-3&keywords=martindale+extra+pharmacopoeia - useful if you're writing around that time period, as it'll tell you not only what drugs were in use, but what for, and in what formulations.

You can find a free download of the British Pharmaceutical Codex (1907 edition) here: https://archive.org/details/b21687390 - sometimes you still see tablets marked "Such-and-such BPC" - the BPC is "British Pharmaceutical Codex," meaning that the formula is in the BPC. Likewise, "BP" means the formula is in the British Pharmacopoeia.

The 1867 British Pharmacopoeia is available here: https://archive.org/details/britishpharmacop00gene

When it comes to practical skills, for small-batch stuff, nothing much has changed - and there are plenty of YouTube videos. The ones designed for pharmacy students are likely to be the best.

If you need (or want) to know anything else, drop me a line.  Smiley
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« Reply #24 on: September 18, 2015, 12:17:51 am »

Thanks! I've got both of the above bookmarked, and I'm going to include Martindale under History in the forthcoming "Relatively Comprehensive" list for non-fiction.
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