Featured Artifact

Doctor's Medicine Chest, 1850s

medicine chest


Object Number: 2004.127.01.01

This chest was a ship captain's chest, and based on the style of its construction and contents of the chemical bottles enclosed, it is our best estimate that it originates from the mid 19th century. Chests of this size and nature were also quite common for doctors who often traveled great distances to visit patients. They could be purchased and outfitted by a local apothecary and customized to fit the physician's practice. Of interest are the contents of this chest; some of the labelled bottles include: Spirit of Hartshorn, which is the name given to the compound ammonium carbonate when it is mixed with water, better known as smelling salts; laudanum, the bitter tasting combination of alcohol and powdered opium, often prescribed as a cough suppressant;sugar lead, now called lead(II) acetate, which is a toxic chemical compound. Some doctors combined sugar lead with lead oxide and used it as an astringent, a topical relief for swelling.