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The Pharmacy Museum in Mauthausen

The Mauthausen museum in Austria is small, maintained by a local historical association and opened during limited hours. But it is well worth the effort! The history of pharmacy collection, created mainly around the objects of an old local pharmacy that functioned until the contemporary period, is very well structured, thorough, and very well informed. The display dates to the 1970s but is still up to date – the panels are very clear, the artifacts are grouped according to materials, topics, and purpose (laboratory apparatuses grouped according to specific pharmaceutic production processes), the explanations contain contemporary elements that visitors can easily related to (the ingredients in Coca Cola, for example), and especially with interactive elements. We were delighted by the cupboard with tiny doors for apothecary curiosities (materia medica and containers). Visitors can open these doors to discover the contents; in other areas they can pull our drawers with documents and photographs, or they can browse through laminated replicas of old books and manuscripts. The explanations are in German, but one can use the excellent English audioguide (with fragments from an interview with the pharmacists who donated the artifacts and structured the exhibition). In the end one can take a break and gaze through the window, as the Danube flows across the road the runs by Pragstein Castle.

The Czech Pharmaceutical Museum

The largest pharmaceutical museum in the Czech Republic is on display inside the monumental building of the Hospital in Kuks and is administered by the Faculty of Pharmacy of the Charles University. We have visited two of their exhibitions, the history of pharmacy and pharmaceutical production technology, as well as the open-air medicinal herb garden. It is the richest pharmaceutical collection in the Czech Republic , including not only artifacts from old apothecary shops, bated between the Baroque and the contemporary periods, and specific machines and technology used in the production of medicines. When planning to visit Kuks one should keep in mind that the exhibitions are only accessible part of periodical guided tours (the faculty cannot provide enough personnel for the entire building) and that very few texts are in English and the tour is only in Czech (one can ask though for a printed English leaflet). There are also demonstrations (pill-rolling) and interactive elements (stamping),

At the White Unicorn in Klatovy

The history of pharmacy museum in the former ”At the White Unicorn” baroque apothecary shop is one of the main attractions of Klatovy, in the Czech Republic (Barokní lékárna u Bílého jednorožce, part of the Vlastivědné muzeum Dr. Hostaše v Klatovech). During our visit, in July 2021, we were impressed by the variety and rarity of the natural specimens on display, starting with the narwhal horn that gave the shop its name and ending with the jar of living leeches. We also admired the scarificators (for bloodletting), a mortar with mechanically-turn pestle, and a special closet with a painted human skull in which Venena, possibly toxic products, were kept in the old pharmacies. The narwhal horn acquired in 1740 by owner Stepan Schmidt proved a real marketing success. The furniture was obtained from the Jesuit pharmacy in town after the dissolution of the order. In 2010 it was restored to its 18th-century state and is impressive through its shades of green and gold. We are grateful for Dr. Martina Salvová’s specialized guided tour , her practical demonstrations in the production of medicines, and the privilege of taking photos inside the museum.

The Jesuit pharmacy in Český Krumlov

Part of our Central European tour in July 2021 we have also visited the Baroque pharmacy of the Jesuit college in Český c(in the Czech Republic). The furniture and some of the 18th and 19th-century jars of this pharmacy are on display inside the regional museum of Český Český. The lot is interesting because all items originate from the same context, thus helping the reconstruction of a baroque apothecary. Furthermore, one notes the specific elements of a religious pharmacy: the statue of Virgin Mary the Immaculate, depictions of saints Pantaleon of John of Nepomuk, the tiny decorations on the furniture with the head of the Virgin, even a holy wafer mold with the Jesuit monogram, the IHS (Jesus Hominum Salvator).

The History of Pharmacy Collection in Graz

The collection, part of Graz Museum, includes about 2300 items and is thus similar to the collection in Cluj. In Graz, the rooms dedicated to the history of pharmacy are not open to the general public, as a renewal of the exhibition is required, but it does host regular museum education events. We have discovered special artifacts such as a materia medica set for medicine and pharmacy students, produced in the USA, a so-called ”viper cord” (a piece of cord soaked in viper blood, worn as an amulet, especially during childbirth), a medicinal plant drying stove, and a heavy pestle balanced for ease of use. We thank Mrs. Silke Essinger and we congratulate her for all the interactive activities she organizes there (we wish could have stayed longer, for the artisanal soap making class!).

Visiting the Black Eagle Pharmacy Museum

We have visited the “Black Eagle” Pharmacy Museum in Székesfehérvár (Hungary) and have been delighted. The Fekete Sas Patikamúzeum, part of the Szent István Király Múzeum, has revealed analogies for some items in our collection, but we have also discovered novel objects such as: medicine jars made of metal inside glass covers, a miniature model of a historical pharmacy, a “doll-house” apothecary shop, as well as typical Jesuit containers with the order’s symbol (IHS). We thank Mrs. Anna Krizsány for the wonderful reception and guided tour and for her catching enthusiasm for specific museum-related activities. We have ground pepper in a mortar, have sniffed a variety of pharmaceutical ingredients, from the most beautifully scented to the most daunting, we have stamped dispensing envelopes, have lifted the heaviest pestle and have counted the number of seconds the mortar resounded when the pestle fell. Visiting this museum is strongly recommended!

Microphotography

Taking digital microphotographs of relevant details on items in the History of Pharmacy Collection is a novel research method envisaged by our project. Dr. Magó Andrea Beatrix is our specialist collaborator and her analyses will allow us to clarify certain faded inscriptions, to clarify production details (book binding decoration or painting layers on drug jars, for example), to identify some of the materials employed (parchment vs paper) and some of the natural specimens preserved. The use of ultraviolet and infrared light is sometimes very relevant for our research that fuces on different types of materials.

Visiting the Rodia Pharmacy

June 17-19, 2021, we have visited the history of pharmacy collection on display in the building of the old apothecary shop of the Misericordian Order in Oradea. Opened in 2019 by the Roman-Catholic Bishopric in Oradea, the collection is housed in the rooms of the old Rodia (Pommegranate) Pharmacy, with valuable rediscovered elements dating from the end of the 18th century: the Baroque painting from the ceiling of the oficina and the original furniture that includes a valuable wall clock. The project has been developed by the late Dr. Budaházi István, implemented by museographers Balla Tünde and Lakatos Attila. After its official opening, the collection has been further enriched with items donated by members of the local community. We applaud the initiative, congratulate our colleagues from Oradea and hope for a fruitful collaboration in the future.

Conservation and restoration

Our colleagues from the Restoration and Investigation Department of the National Museum of Transylvanian History contribute to the PHARMATRANS project through specialized interventions of cleaning, consolidating, conserving and restoring around 500 artifacts part of the History of Pharmacy Collections. The objects thus conserved will be exhibited in the future exhibition inside the old pharmacy of Cluj, inside the Hintz House.

Old pharmacy printed books

Our PHARMATRANS project includes taking photographs, cataloging, preserving, and researching the old book collection if the History of Pharmacy Collection of the National History Museum of Transylvania. Some of the oldest printed books (in the field of pharmacy, chemistry, and medicine) contain valuable manuscript notations created by those who used and sometimes amended them.