Apothecary (from the Latin apothecarius, a keeper of an otheca, a store) is a historical name for a medical practitioner who formulates and dispenses materia medica to physicians, surgeons and patients — a role now served by a pharmacist.
In addition to pharmacy the apothecary also offered general medical advice and a range of services that are now performed solely by other specialist practitioners, such as surgery and midwifery. Apothecaries often operated through a retail shop, which in addition to ingredients for medicines, would also sell tobacco and patent medicines.
In its investigation of herbal and chemical ingredients, the work of the apothecary may be regarded as a precursor of the modern sciences of chemistry and pharmacology, prior to the formulation of the scientific method.
From the 15th century the apothecary gained the status of a skilled practitioner, but by the end of the 19th century the medical professions had taken on their current institutional form, with defined roles for doctors and surgeons, and the role of the apothecary was more narrowly conceived as that of dispensing pharmacist.
In England, the apothecaries merited their own livery company, the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, founded in 1617. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first woman to gain a medical qualification in Britain when she passed the Society's examination in 1865.
Apothecaries used the now obsolete apothecaries' measure to provide precise weighing of small quantities.
There is a set of mystery novels featuring the historical character of John Rawlings , an 18th century apothecary, written by Deryn Lake , the pen name of Dinah Lampitt .
Last updated: 07-29-2005 21:04:17