M21681.1-2 | Medecine Chest

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Medecine Chest
1875-1900, 19th century
16.5 x 26.2 x 19 cm
Gift of Mrs. William R. Bentham
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Medecine chest (1)
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Keys to History

This chest was probably used to treat the sick during the second half of the 19th century. The label on the bottle in the foreground of the photograph indicates that the liquid it contains prevents cholera and diarrhea. The remedy was apparently developed by a certain Dr. Dwight.

At the time in Montreal, illness was common and the rate of infant mortality was very high. And although this period was marked by many medical and therapeutic discoveries, practices changed only very slowly. In fact, many medicines at the time relieved the symptoms of illnesses without dealing with their causes.

The remedies, which were available as syrups, powders, pills, wines, ointments, suppositories, infusions, tablets or injections, were made of substances as varied as plants, alcohol, mercury, antimony, arsenic salts, morphine, codeine, opium and zinc chloride .

  • What

    This chest contains a set of medicine bottles and a few tools, including a knife, a measuring cup, a mortar and pestle, a spatula, a spoon and a syringe.

  • Where

    Some of the remedies in this chest were made up in London, the United States or Montreal. Most were sold in Montreal, at S. J. Lyman & Co. or Kenneth Campbell & Co.

  • When

    In 1908, the government finally forced manufacturers of medicines to mention the therapeutic uses, dosage and list of ingredients of their products.

  • Who

    Small chemical business and small-scale production dominated the medicine market until the end of the 19th century. Many pharmacists would prepare their products themselves until the birth and expansion of commercial production.