Just what the doctor ordered! ‘Tardis box of wonders’ found in Lichfield

Posted on 16/02/2021 in Press Coverage

By Adrian Rathbone, Associate Director, Hansons Auctioneers, Bishton Hall, Staffordshire

In these strange times, huge advances in medicine are perhaps more apparent and crucial than at any other time.

If we could step back in time 150 years to the reign of Queen Victoria, this was also a time of significant progress in the world of medicine. For example, in 1864 Louis Pasteur discovered germs caused disease and, perhaps relevant to today, in 1880 Charles Chamberland discovered injecting weakened germs inoculated a patient against disease. And in 1909, German scientist Paul Ehrlich discovered the chemical Salvarsan 606 cured syphilis.

In light of the impressive advances in science and medicine in the 19th Century, a ‘medicinal box of wonders’ has recently been discovered at a property in Lichfield. The rather plain but handsome looking 19th Century box made of mahogany is on the face of it appears ordinary. Such an assumption taken at a glance would be a mistake.

The cube-like object is in fact an apothecary box. It would have belonged to a notable person of medicine or, what we would call today, a chemist. Apothecary boxes were used by medical professionals to store and dispense an array of wonderous herbs and medicines to surgeons, physicians and patients. Befitting the status of such an esteemed individual, boxes of the highest quality and genius for housing these precious potions were required.

The Lichfield box makes full use of every inch of space inside and of course is lockable to keep the valuable and potentially harmful contents safe. This example was made around 1870 by leading New Bond Street manufacturer Savory & Moore, a firm which won a medal in 1862 for excellence of manufacture. The cover lifts up to reveal velvet-lined slots and lift-out trays for glass bottles of medicine. The front doors open to reveal upright pigeon holes for cube-shaped glass bottles and a base drawer for oddments. Remarkably in addition, the side doors also conceal pigeon holes for further bottles. No space is wasted in this ‘Tardis’.

Adrian Rathbone, a Lichfield antiques expert with a passion for history, said: “Apothecary boxes vary greatly in shape, size and date. The Victorian era was a time of huge advances in medicine and science and such boxes last as a reminder of how medicine was practiced more than 120 years ago. Long gone are the contents but the box remains in extraordinary condition and one can only wonder who actually owned it from new. It would certainly have been a medical professional of considerable stature. It would be nice to think its new owner was a medical practitioner.

“Such is the current interest in antique medical relics such as microscopes, literature, equipment and even prosthetic eyes, this box is certain to perform very well when it comes up for auction at Hansons Fine Art Auction on February 24. The pre-sale estimate is £400-600 but with strong interest it could exceed £1,000.”

Do you have anything similar or any other manner of antiques, paintings, watches, jewellery or silver you would like advice on? If so, please contact Adrian Rathbone on 07843 061921 or email [email protected].