Apothecary Show Globes

Jane Neill-Hancock

Wayne, United States

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These Show globes are on display at the Paterson Museum in Paterson NJ USA. Photograph taken in November 2013.

information below on show globes found in Wikipedia:

A show globe is a glass vessel of various shapes and sizes containing a colorful liquid. It has been a symbol of pharmacy from the 17th century England to the early 20th century in the United States. It marked the drugstore or apothecary in much the same way as the barber’s pole marked tonsorial establishments in some countries. People who were illiterate needed such symbols to locate these medical practitioners.

George Griffenhagen, pharmacist and acting curator of the Smithsonian Institution, did extensive research into the evolution of the show globe. He found that the show globe appeared when the apothecaries and alchemists merged their professions during the mid 16th to mid 17th century. In England in the mid 1550s, just as physicians competed against apothecaries, the apothecaries, who delivered surgical services along with compounding and dispensing herbal medicines, competed with chemists and druggists. Druggists bought drugs in bulk and sold them as merchants; while chemists, who were derived from alchemists, prepared and sold chemical preparations used for medicinal purposes. To attract attention to themselves and to symbolize the mystery and art of their profession these chemists displayed show globes with solutions of colored chemicals.

Apothecaries and physicians were usually considered more conservative in their practice before the 18th century and often restricted themselves to non-chemical drugs using material of largely botanical origins. Most historians today feel the show globe began as a symbol of the chemist’s shop. Eventually the apothecaries began to use chemical remedies, and also adopted the globe as their symbol.

According to Charles Richardson, a collector of pharmaceutical artifacts, two apothecaries arrived in Jamestown, Virginia (1607) shortly after it was founded, and the colonists asked the Virginia Company to send more physicians and apothecaries to the colony. In the early American settlements there was a shortage of health professionals; public officials, religious leaders, educators and household heads served as health advisors. Herbs and Indian remedies were used and apothecary shops were set up in large population centers. During the Revolutionary War medicine and pharmacy emerged as separate professions, and the first American Pharmacopoeia was printed in 1778.

By the 19th century, pharmacists had stopped practicing medicine and even the name apothecary faded away. Pharmacies developed the warmth and comfort of country stores and were displaying show globes, which by 1789 were being exported to America. According to one writer, the only way pharmacies distinguished themselves from other stores was this unique sign. It was in the United States 19th century that the show globes started to develop their elaborate design and diverse forms. Although the show globe became a pharmacy symbol of mainly English-speaking countries, it did appear in a few other countries notably France.

Next to their origins, the greatest debate about show globes is what, if anything, the colors of the liquids symbolized. Red and blue may have indicated arterial and venous blood. One belief was that if the globe was filled with red liquid there was a plague in town, but if it was filled with green all was well. Pharmacists could create vibrant colors with chemicals in their shops, often following a recipe book.

Though oil could be used to illuminate the colored glass panes in windows, gas lighting in the early 19th century led to the general use of show globes. They could be lit from the interior or placed in front of a gas jet. In the US, globes were usually illuminated by a light placed behind them.

Despite many attempts to revive show globes, they have disappeared from American pharmacies.By the early 20th century, new stores shunned them, and they were disappearing from many older pharmacies.

TOO BAD – they are so beautiful!

Artwork Comments

  • missmoneypenny
  • Jane Neill-Hancock
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  • Jane Neill-Hancock
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