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The History of the Pharmacy

Some say that the Dacians used medicinal herbs and had medical knowledge, facts that are mentioned by some of the Ancient Greek and Roman writers. It is rightly supposed that the first ustensils for the preparing of the medicines had been manufactured out of wood and burnt clay, but they did not resist to the aggressive factors of the nature and to the incapacity of the people in preserving those ustensils. It seems that all of them, the Ancient receptacles and medicines, as well as those from the territory of present-day Romania are of Mediterranean origin. All along the Black Sea coast and in Dobrudja numerous vestiges, up to the Roman conquest of Moesia Superior, belong to the Hellenistic culture. The oldest pharmaceutical vessel acknowledged by the archaeologists would be an "alabastron" (a vessel with characteristic shape, made of glass and having blue color) dated in the 7th century BC

In the present-day museums of Dobrudja there are numerous vestiges, especially from the first centuries of our era: two small portable, partitioned medicine chests, with prismatic glass flagons ( not round as the majority of the nowadays flagons are), differentiated into bottles for liquids (narrow-necked ), jars with an equal volume with that of the bottles, but with wider necks, used to preserve powders and small glass or ceramics receptacles, with characteristic forms and dimensions, resembling to those that used to be placed by the Romans inside one's tomb in order to symbolically collect the tears of those who mourned the defunct person, receptacles used to preserve ointments, having different forms, as well as other such objects. In this respect there is a well documented little book by the archaeologist Mihai Bucovală. Besides, there are charateristic metal little spoons, beautifully executed and glass side-footed sticks, simple or in cable moulding. Such Ancient objects can be found in museums from Mangalia, Constanța, Tulcea, Galați, Brăila, in The Severeanu Collection in Bucharest etc.

We should also mention the two portable medicine chests with 5, respectivelly 7 compartments and with other accessories, too; they are exhibited in The Museum of Archaeology and National History of Constanța. Inside the mosaic edifice there are exhibited several amphoras with drugs (resins) partly carbonized and which, undergoing an organoleptical analysis, could not be identified. Although of Hellenistic origin, they are extremely valuable for the Romanian pharmacy museums by their age and richness. Objects and ustensiles, mainly of Roman facture and ressembling to the Hellenistic and the Hellenic ones, brought from the Italic peninsula, are less numerous but endemical on the territory of our country. Such objects, disconnected or together can be found in Sighișoara, Alba Iulia, Craiova, Tg. Jiu, Turnu Severin and probably in other localities that have not been identified up to the present moment. These objects: glass vesels, little spoons, sticks, small receptacles for preserving ointments, clay rushlights, receptacles of the type that resemble to the Roman mortuary vessels of which we have already mentioned, are all things of value for our museums. Unfortunately, there is neither a centralized evidence of these objects nor have they been profoundly studied. We could add medicines presented under the form of hard eye washes (dry), with the printed seal of the person who executed the preparation (for exemple, Publius Corcolonius). We could also add amulets, votive plates and data on a sort of nurseries in the Roman castes, as well as instruments: bistouries, forcepses, needles made of various metals and others, that were used for therapeutical purposes by our ancestors.

Medieval Faience Pharmacy Objects from the Romanian Museums
Because of the artfulness they have been executed with and because of their signification, such vessels have been imported from the West by the specialists. The vessels are larger or smaller than the nowadays flower vases, made of enamelled faience, with burnt etiquetes (that is written before the vessels were put into kilns). As a rule they were made with the "great fire technique" and only few were made with the "small fire technique". When the Chinese porcelain begun to be imported, the vessels were nolonger produced in the West. They are very rare in the Romanian museums. Thus, in The National Art Museum of Bucharest there are 18 pieces, namely: "albare" (special forms of vessels used to preserve ointments and soft extracts), carafes for aromated waters, jugs.

Some such vessels are to be found in the profile collection of The Peleș Museum of Sinaia. A porcelain vessel, having (as others as well) as effigy a saint with an aureola, is to be found in the collection of The Pharmacy Faculty of Bucharest. At the present moment the situation of the 18 vessels from The National Museum is not exactly known because the objects have been put to shelter because of the events of the 22nd-25th of December 1989. One (or more of these vessels) are to be found in The History and Archaeology Museum of Bucharest. All or almost all of the vessels from The Art National Museum have been photographed and exhibited on the occasion of several pharmacy manifestations and constituted the object of a calendar of The Medicines Factory from Bucharest, before the revolution.

The Saint Healers
Pictures of the Saint healers representing Cosma and Damian, as artistic proofs in the orthodox an catholic Romanian churches, can be found in many places. The oldest picture of them all is in the church situated in Densuș (Hunedoara County), but also in Roman, Bucharest etc. They are important because, on the one hand many of them are medieval,and on the other hand because one of these two saints holds a small portable medical pouch that seems to be made of wood and in the other one he holds a spoon or a little spoon used to administer the medicine, usually pills or bolus. Of course, there are many saint healers which have been painted in the churches but they do not have ustensiles. The orthodox Romanian church painting also shows Ancient physicians such as Esculap and Hygiea.

The Oldest Collections of History of the Pharmacy
In Romania, the laboratory pharmacy appeared later than in the West and progressed slower. The first mentioning in official documents is dated in the year 1494, in Sibiu, chemist's shops appearing afterwards in Bistrița, Brașov, Făgăraș etc. In the Danubian Romanian Principalities the chemist's shops appear during the second half of the 18th century, although the trade with medicinal drugs (camphor, pepper, etc.) is dated three centuries earlier. The objects belonging to the Romanian Middle Age preserved and are still preserved in some places, by virtue of habit, but due to lack of acquaintance with the matter, the objects are getting fewer and fewer every year. We could take as exemple the situation of two objects used for other purposes, but which have been identified and handed over to the museums: a charge of one pound was keeping open, for over 100 years, the door of the dispensary of the Military Hospital from Cluj.

Now the object is at The National Military Museum of Bucharest. The master of the State Chemist's Shop (ex-chemist's shop no. 84), Duca Avenue, had on her desk a brass piece, polished after so much manipulation, as it was used to press the prescriptions so that they would not be blown by the draught. It had the form of the pyramid trunk. The chemist had brought it from another chemist's shop but she was not curious to look at it attentively; if she had done so, she would have seen the metrology cheques legislated a century before. It had an old pharmaceutical weight. So, during the time, pieces 100-150 years old had been and actually continue to be found; they are unindentified and used with other purposes. The oldest collections of history of the pharmacy that have been organized after World War I, belong to the professors from Cluj, namely Professor Doctor Jules Guiart and Valeriu Bologa and, apart, to Iuliu Orient, physician-chemist, whose collection seems to be a little bit older.

A small and old collection of history of the pharmacy can be found at The History Museum of Sighișoara. Numerous pharmacy pieces are used as hand balances, weight boxes, pestle mortars, etc.; such objects are frequently found in many museums in the country, but they are little studied. An old collection is at The Medicine and Pharmacy Museum in Roman, Neamț County; it has been studied and exhibited by Mr. Căzărescu, Doctor. It is exposed to degradations due to the fact that it is placed in a small room that functioned as control post. It would represent a significant loss because the hospital had been built two centuries ago.

The Collection of Pharmacy Muniments and Documents
The collection has been founded at the end of the 19th century by N. I. Angelescu, Doctor-Chemist, from Bucharest. The collection, which has never been exhibited for the public, constituted the base of the printed work entitled "Papers and Documents from the Past of the Romanian Principalities", Bucharest, 1904. Unfortunately, the author, a great personality of the Romanian pharmacy, brought the collection to the House of Trade - and, some authors say, was sheltered inside the present-day building of the Court house situated on the Quay of Dâmbovița River. The chemists do not know what happened next with the collection. Pharmacy muniments, though few in number, can be found in the Central State Archives in Bucharest. The muniments were written by hand on parchmented paper and were signed by the Romanian rulers which reigned between 1750 - 1830; the pergaments bear imposing sealing waxes; the intention was to create chemist's shops and to give privileges.

The Drama of the Old Pharmacy Objects from the Collection of the Pharmacy Faculty in Bucharest
According to the relating of Professor Doctor Al. Ionescu Matiu (1889-1975), it seems that after the Pharmacy Faculties of Iași, Cluj and Bucharest were unified in 1934 in Bucharest, the newly created institution gathered old objects from the chemist's shops from the country's capital-city, thus making up a museum collection. In this respect, chemist Aurel Scurtu was especially called from Galați. There he owned a chemist's shop and was the author of many articles on the history of the pharmacy, which were published in the successive magazines he edited. The didactic collection was well organized by a competent person and exhibited for the public in the building of the old Bucharest University, the present-day Faculty of History. In 1944, during the bombardments, it was exactly that side of the building that was hit and set on fire.

Unfortunately, all the objects were lost, and if something was saved anyway, the place where it could be found is not known. Thus, the capital-city of the country was widowed of the oldest and most beautiful vestiges of pharmacy history. A year after the bombardment chemist Aurel Scurtu died and our investigations at his domicile in Șt. Furtună Street (ex- Angelescu Street) led to no results due to the changing of the lodgers and to the nationalization of the house.

Destructions During the War
It is known for sure that the Schuster Emil chemist's shop situated on Calea Victoriei, at the beginning of Calea Griviței, was hit during the German air raids of the 25th- 27th of August 1944. The entire shop was destroyed but it had in its windows an expensive collection of medieval faience pharmacy objects (say the eye-witnesses). It is not known if anything was saved and, if so, where it could be found.

The Nationalization of the Chemist's Shops in Romania
This operation was made in three different stages: on the 11th of June 1948 the biggest laboratories of pharmacy products have been nationalized; on the 2nd of April 1949 the private chemist's shops from the towns have been nationalized; in 1953 the rural chemist's shops have been nationalized. By entering the state chemist's shops, it seemed that the old ones will be preserved as they were on their places. However, a stipulation from the Ministry of Health decided the modernization of the chemist's shops and the handing over of the old objects to The Bruckenthal State Museum in Sibiu. Duringng 1951 - 1952, maybe later also, 64 boxes containing pharmacy objects were sent. We have no knowledge of the stipulations by virtue of which the most representative pieces were selected and sent to Cluj, to The Museum of History of Transylvania and constituted there The Museum of History of the Pharmacy.

In 1973, the second Pharmacy Museum was open in Sibiu, having objects from this collection, that were to be found at The Bruckenthal Museum. Unfortunately, the organizers of these museums never revealed the sources from where the objects came. Their discretion might be related to hidden purposes. They also gave the impression that the objects belonged there. Negligence must not be left out of view. The third lot of pharmacy objects of historical importance remained in the storage rooms of The Bruckenthal Museum and can constitute a part of the patrimony fund of a future national museum of pharmacy.

The Problem of the Museum Collections on the History of the Pharmacy that Exist in Romania and Solutions for Their Future
It is well-known that in the entire country there are over 20 collections that are state property, stored in places that are state property as well. As the storage places can become private property, these collections might: Either, if preserved in state property, be evacuated from those places, as these ones would have more profitable usings. Or, they would become private property and would cease being exhibited for the public; thus the trace of the materials would be lost. An analysis at the highest degree must be effectuated; a decision that would state their regime must be issued as well. If these collections had a state inventory and the storage places remained in state property as well, the problem of the buildings servicing (who pays) and of the personnel ( who gives the salaries) would occur than. We shall further describe the collections that exist in state property in an organized manner.

The Present-day Situation
The state fund consisting of pharmacy furniture, vessels and ustensiles that are obsolete and present a high level of damage, represent a constitutive part of the present-day functioning chemist's shops. This general inventory, with old furniture of historic interest, has been achieved by and with the participation of the ex-chemist's offices. Nowadays, they are incompletely changed into private property, because the old endowments of the chemist's shops from all over the country had not been changed into private property.

The historic inventory could be preserved in the state fund and delivered by transfer to the national patrimony. Now it is the most opportune time for this because, if the objects arrive in the possession of private owners, their passing into a museum's possession and exhibiting them into a national museum would meet great difficulties, moreover, the base of materials would be significantly reduced in view of constituting the fund of objects for the museum. The difficulties would start at the moment when, instead of talking to one single owner - the state - the problem of constituting the fund of objects for the museum would get slower by talking to the hundreds or the thousands of private owners.

It is also necessary to take into consideration a conjuncture element: as a consequence of the decline of preparing the medicines in the laboratory of the chemist's shops in favour of the medicines prepared on industrial scale, many ustensiles, apparata vessels and mayby furniture would not be useful anylonger and could be given to a future museum. Rescuing these objects 2 or 3 years from now would be too late because destroying is easyer and more simple than preserving something in order to transfer it to The National Pharmacy Museum. This opportunity hurries the organizing of the national museum.

The Present-day Situation
  1. The Pharmacy Museum of The National History Museum of Transylvania, Cluj-Napoca,

    Doctor Physician Eva Crișan as custodian. It is the first museum in Romania that was created with a majority of objects that had been conceded by The Bruckenthal Museum and with part of the objects belonging to the Hintzs's chemist's shop that had been funded in 1710. It is probably the oldest one, but the building still exists even now. It is state property. The museum is open for the public.

  2. The Pharmacy Museum of The Bruckenthal State Museum, Sibiu

    Part of the objects that were collected after the nationalization together with the "La Ursul Negru" ("The Black Bear's") chemist's shop's inventory (property of chemist Guido Fabritius, who lived in Germany) are now state property and make up the present-day inventory of the museum - chemist's shop (Chemist Ban Minodora being the custodian). The museum is open for the public. The exhibition is well organized but the objects are not studied from a pharmaceutical point of view, as the case is at The National History Museum in Cluj.

  3. The Collection of History of the Pharmacy from the Basement of The Bruckenthal Museum, Sibiu

    It is made up of objects that remained after the most representative and aesthetic pieces had been chosen and handed over to the two museums described above. It is an unstudied collection, stored together with depersonalized and, probably, not paired objects as well. From a scientific point of view we know that all the small homeopathical medicine chests have been grouped by historian chemist I. Fr. Roth (1914 - 1977) and stored in The Pharmacy Museum in Sibiu; it was a remarcable and well done thing; Sibiu was the city where Hahnemann, the founder of the homeopathy as a science, had lived. We do not know the criteria that were at the base of the distribution of the other pieces between the two museum - chemist's shops. This collection may constitute the basis for a national pharmacy museum but we suppose it being insufficient because they are remains and, probably, the most recent belonging to the harvesting of 1950 - 1952.

  4. The Collection of The Faculty of Pharmacy in Bucharest

    It was created for didactic purposes but it went beyond this objective as it enowed itself with numerous objects from the Counties of Hunedoara ( Director Andrei Labud) and Suceava (Director Paul Potorac) at the request of Doctor Lecturer Fărșirotu Z. around the '70's or so. This is a rich collection exhibited in two rooms and a small repository (the third room). Normally, this colection should contain aparata and ustensiles that are used in the teaching process. However, the criterium has not been paid attention to and that is why it has a pharmacy musuem character. It is state property, Professor Doctor Ana Carata being the conservatoire. She also teaches the History of the Pharmacy at the Faculty of Pharmacy. The present-day conservatoires aprove the transfer of objects and constitute the second base for the national museum.

  5. The Museum of the History of Medicine and Pharmacy, Craiova

    Has mixed aims: both didactic and exhibitional. The Director is Professor Doctor Scheanu Mihail, professor in the History of the Pharmacy at the Faculty of Pharmacy in Craiova. The pharmacy part is sheltered in the basement and does not benefit by the best conditions. It is state property. Here is the adress where the offices are: Unirii Street, no.104; it has a yard and an area for growing medicinal herbs. The source of the objects is known - but not entirely - due to the two founders, the chemists Gh. Cismărescu and N. Zahacinschi, both of them deceased.

  6. The Museum Collection Belonging to the Medicines Repository of Banat ARCATIM, Timișoara

    It is a small collection, exhibited in a room. We do not know the exact situation, but there exists the possibility of disanssembling as the old chemist founder and conservatoire, Popovici Valeriu, has now retired. It has not been open for the public and the objects have not been scientifically identified. "Arcatim" is now a trade organization and in the future it might need the space where the collection is kept.

  7. The Museum Pharmacy Collection of the Ex-Pharmacy Office, Galați

    Is now a trade Society named "Hepites" s.r.l. It has a collection of old pharmacy vessel and objects. We do not know the present-day situation of the inventory and the value of the pieces. It seems that it is exhibited for the public since 1981, but the information is incertain.

  8. The Museum Collection of the History of the Pharmacy Belonging to the History Museum in Brăila

    It is state property. The collection has been founded by Paul Bălcănescu (1910 - 1965). After the death of the chemist, his sister donated the entire inventory to the locality museum, following the testamentary will. Now the collection can be found in good conditions at the museum that is situated in Piața Traian (Trajan Square), Brăila. However, the objects of history of the pharmacy are few and not studied.

  9. The Collection of History of the Pharmacy, State Property of the Ex-State Chemist's Shop No.40 in Bucharest, Calea Călărași

    Is now conceded to a trade society. It is a valuable collection, the majority of the objects being well known as origin and fabrication. It is also open for the public, but not with museum status. It comprises old, unitary furniture (belonging to one single chemist's shop), vessels, ustensiles - it seems that it has the same source as the furniture. It also comprises a small pharmacy library - books from the 20th century and pharmacopoeias. It is attractive for the chemists because it is aesthetic as well.

  10. The Collection of History of Medicine and Pharmacy from the Memorial House of Professor Doctor Vasile Rășcanu, Iași

    It is a reduced collection, it comprises pharmacy objects, pharmacopoeias etc. Space - a small room; it illustrates the developement of the Moldavian pharmacy. It has a didactic purpose as well. It is open for the public. The objects are disparate, regarding from the point of view of their origin.

  11. The Museum Collection of ARGEȘFARM Pitești

    Trade Societyfounded by the old pharmacy office from Pitești. It is a rich, unitary and well built collection. The furniture, vessels, ustensiles, diplomas, books, etc. are stored in two large rooms that enter the repository of a functioning chemist's shop, now in private property. The custodian, founder and conservatoire is chemist Dorina Mureșan. She has advertized the collection on the occasion of various national and international manifestations (Wien, Prague, Paris). The collection has an assured perspective and it should be conceded to the national heritage , respectively to the History Museum of Argeș County.

  12. Small Collections from the History and Archaeology Museums in Constanța, Mangalia, Giurgiu, Tg. Jiu and others possess old pharmacy objects, some of them even from the Antiquity.

    The objects are exhibited. Neither an inventory, nor a sistematic study from the point of view of the history of the pharmacy have been made, but they are necessary. It is a dowry of invaluable historic value, but it is not advertized and sufficiently studied.

  13. The Museum Collection Belonging to The History Museum, Focșani

    It is inventoried and exhibited. The objects are well located. The collection comes from an exhibition on the history of the pharmacy organized on the occasion of an inter-regional pharmacy conference in 1970 (organizer C. Iugulescu, with the support of the Focșani chemists). The entire collection has been donated to the History Museum in Focșani, where few proofs existed and other pieces were collected from private persons and chemist's shops that have been subsequently demolished during 1976 - 1985. Part of the assets of the old chemist's shops, situated in basements, have been burried by leveling the area so that new buildings could be constructed. Focșani still has the possibility to collect some objects related to the history of the pharmacy.

  14. S.C. MEDIFARM Ploiești Collection, State Property

    It seems that the collection has unrecorded objects. It has been founded by the old pharmacy office, now transformed into trade society. The inventory and the value of the pieces are not known.

  15. The Pharmacy Museum Collection, Oravița

    It comprises two rooms where a temporary exhibition was held and now the furniture and the vessels are only stored. It has not been advertized. We do not know its adress (it seems that it could be sheltered in two rooms with degrading roof, somewhere near or at the town theatre).

  16. The Collection of The Institute of Public Hygiene and Health in Bucharest

    Has only a few glass pieces (disconnected pharmacy vessels, of different size and source) with no historic value, constituted only for illustrative purpose. But, the collections of old books and magazines belonging to the history of medicine department are more important than the pharmacy objects. It is important that many old and rare pharmacy books, donated by chemists, are accessible but not exhibited. The value of the collection is immense, but the storage conditions are not proper - in halls or basements).

  17. The House of Chemist C. C. Hepites from Brăila

    Would be suited for declaring it memorial house. C. C. Hepites was one of the first class personalities of the 19th century. It would be a great win for the town itself, Brăila, the major of which he was.

  18. The Collection of History of the Pharmacy, Brașov

    Organized by the old inter-county pharmacy office, now turned into trade society named "Farmacom" s.r.l. A room from a 200 year-old building, that functioned as a chemist's shop, was localized in Brașov. It seems that the wall paintings that proved the room had been used as a chemist's shop, have been covered again, if not even destroyed. Anyway, the County of Brașov has a good potential in the field of the history of the pharmacy, a potential that have not been explored; it is to be found in Brașov, Codlea, Făgăraș.

  19. Museum-Chemist's Shops

    Presently, more chemist's shops that have preserved the furniture, vessels and even the configuration of an older chemist's shop, well determined from a scientific - historic point of view, may be declared museum-chemist's shops and offered to the visitors. Here are few chemist's shops that have a well known, characteristic past and an unitary aspect and which are now passing into private property:

    • The state chemist's shop, ex-no.13 "Hotăranu", Galați Street, Bucharest
    • The state chemist's shop, ex-no. 40 "Mihalovici Aristide" Călărași Street, Bucharest
    • Numerous chemist's shops from the province: Corabia, Sinaia etc.
  20. Unorganized Collections or mere disconnected pieces

    Presently, they are state property, but soon will be passed into private property. It is less probable that they will remain unitary, because the new commodities requirements demand that the spaces must be cleared. Probably they will desintegrate, but it would represent a great loss for the national heritage.

These data impose the founding of a national museum of History of the Pharmacy. Here are the most important elements in this respect:
  • The political situation of tranzition toward privatization takes out from the state property and thus, from the pharmacy heritage, all the above mentioned collections. The national museum could absorb the collections that would remain without a storage place and without guard - conservation.
  • The museum could function in a building that was raised with the financial contribution of the chemists, should it be retroceded; the building is situated in Pitar Moș Street and belongs to the Chemist's Shops Supply Office (OAF). Minovici villa could also be solicited; it had been conceded to the state. The place would be satisfying . It is situated in a central area and served as shelter for museum materials.
  • The difference between our country and the Western developed countries could be reduced.
  • There are unlimited resources coming from the quashing of the Romanian pharmacy industry undergoing a process of receiving a technological character. We already have the trained personnel for this. A Romanian pharmacy society is functioning already. A central college of the chemists and county colleges are also functioning already; they all could get involved in this great action, the chemists being interested in the developement of their profession, as it is menaced by dezorganization. The tendency to support the establishing of a national museum began to be felt among the chemists since September 1995.
All these conditions related to the material, personnel, opportunity and inerest from the part of the majority of the chemists make us propose the establishing of a National Museum of History of the Pharmacy in Bucharest. The action should commence as soon as possible. This idea has been launched in the pharmacy environment in September 1996.

Last update: July 13, 1999. web: Cornelia Calin