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Title:apothecary tile
Date Made:1780-1795
Type:Advertising; Medical
Materials:ceramic: tin-glazed earthenware decorated in cobalt blue and manganese purple
Place Made:United Kingdom; England; London or Mortlake?
Measurements:overall: 9 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.; 24.13 x 29.21 cm
Accession Number:  HD 2170.1
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield

English delft octagonal pill slab or apothecary tile decorated in blue and purple with the full arms of the London Company of Apothecaries. The right to display arms was granted to apothecaries in 1617 by James I, as a City Company formed by Royal Charter under the title "The Worshipful Society of the Art and Mystery of the Apothecaries". This resulted after a long struggle against the control of spice merchants and then the Grocers' Company, which had the right to examine and "garble" or remove impurities from imported drugs and spices. The arms depict Apollo, god of healing, holding his bow and arrow, astride a wyvern, a heraldic dragon emblematic of pertilence. The Latin motto in purple, "OPIFERQUE PER ORBEM DICOR", which translates "For I am called Help-Bringer throughout the world", is taken from the first passage of Ovid's "Metamorphoses" and refers to Apollo's slaughter of Python, the dragon guarding Delphi. The full passage states: "The art of medicine is my discovery. I am called Help-Bringer throughout the World, and all the potency of herbs is given unto me." The crest includes a small, smiling rhinocerus and two unicorns, whose horns (according to ancient belief) were used for healing. The tree topping the rhinocerus is thought to represent the Cedar of Lebanon, which was introduced into the Chelsea Physic Garden of the Apothecaries' Society in 1683. The tile's non-functional shape, elaborate decoration, and two holes for hanging probably indicate a display function to show Society membership and superior status over chemists and druggists (who did not have any formal training and could not join the Society), rather than use by the apothecary to mix, roll, and divide his remedies. The College of Physicians claimed the exclusive right to practice medicine. The floral swag design below the motto was found on late 18th century London domestic wares, and fragments were found in the Mortlake excavations from the 1790's with similar swagging on the base. Although tiles such as this example are sometimes attributed to Lambeth potteries in London, fragments of apothecary tiles similar to this example have also been excavated at Mortlake in Surrey, England. (remarks courtesy of Jonathan Horne) Several decorative elements like those seen here are found on a chamfered rectangular tile that is incised on the back "J. or T. Butler/ 1785." It is unknown whether the inscription is contemporary with the tile or identifies it as an 18th-century commemorative piece. The floral swag on this tile may represent chamomile blossoms, known for their medicinal uses, or ox-eyed daisies. Traditionally referred to as a "palm," the tree uppermost on this tile may be a "cedar," based on the 1683 planting of cedars of Lebanon in the Chelsea Physic Garden, started by the Society of Apothecaries.

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