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Apothecary Weights - Claire Fraser of the Outlander series frequents apothecary shops and makes her own remedies as she tends to the sick and wounded who come to her for healing. Whether she buys medicines pre-packaged or makes them herself, somewhere along the way ingredients need to be measured. In the 18th century, small sets of apothecary weights and scales were used for this purpose. Receipts or recipes dictated the amounts to be used, and scales with the right weights on one side were filled with ingredients on the other until they balanced out. Since some drugs were quite potent, precision mattered, even for tiny quantities, so many apothecary weights are quite small. If not carefully put away after use, such small items could get lost, making their way into the archaeological record. Illustration of  scruples and drams symbols and weight amounts:The symbols used on apothecary weights have been written in stylized script for a long time. This image shows the symbols as they appear on mass-produced weights of the early 20th century, but the same symbolic elements are present on the 18th-century weights found in Maryland. Photo image of an apothecary weight:Apothecary Weight, Date: ca. 1675-1765, Site Name: Bennett’s Point, Site Number: 18QU28/137 - This copper alloy apothecary weight comes from the tobacco plantation of one of the wealthiest couples in colonial Maryland, Richard Bennett III and his wife Elizabeth, who were merchant-planters with a major port on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  There are two marks on the front; a stylized “3i” which is connected in a script style of writing, and a rose. The rose mark is unidentified, but it may have something to do with the production of the weight, perhaps representing the maker or the place of manufacture. The “3i” is the symbol used to represent 1 dram or drachm. That corresponds with the dimensions of the weight, which is roughly 1/2” square, 1/8” thick, and weighs 3.7 grams. The dram is derived from Roman systems of measure, which persisted in the pharmaceutical field in England even as “English” measures became the norm. For example, in the English measurement system there are 16 ounces in a pound, but for Roman measures there were only 12 ounces in a pound. Each of these Roman ounces was equal to 8 drams or 24 scruples. Apothecary weights of the 18th century therefore represented something rather different from weights used for general trade, and the symbols on them set them apart. Photo image of an apothecary weight:Apothecary Weight, Date: ca. 1711-1754, Site Name: Smith’s St. Leonard, Site Number: 18CV91/363 - This tiny brass weight is roughly 1/4” square and 1/16” thick, and it weights about 0.6 grams. Based on these measurements and the symbol on the face of the weight, it has been identified as a “half scruple” weight, which was the smallest piece available in a typical apothecary weight set. This particular half scruple weight was recovered in the detached kitchen area at the Smith St. Leonard site, which was a tobacco plantation occupied by Richard Smith Jr., his family, descendants, and enslaved servants from ca. 1711-1754. Research into the Smith family has not revealed any members who were physicians or pharmacists, though the Smiths did associate and do business with doctors. It is possible that the weight could have been lost on a visit from a physician, or the family might have owned apothecary weights for making their own remedies. In the 1748 probate inventory of Walter Smith, one of the last Smiths to own  the plantation, “a pr of scales & weights” were listed in the kitchen, so this apothecary weight could represent one that was kept with that set. Weights were useful for measuring spices and other ingredients for general cooking, so even though apothecary weights were specialized for making medicines, in practice they could have been pressed into service for more mundane meal preparation as well. Italian engraving showing 18th-century apothecary measuring ingredients (Apotheke, Lo Speziale, Italian engraving by Franciscus Baretta after Petrus Mainoto, Wellcome Library, London.) and a copy of a recipe for tooth powder. Caption:The detail at left from an Italian engraving shows an 18th-century apothecary measuring ingredients with scales and weights while his wife holds out a recipe for him to read. Above is one example of a recipe published in the February 23, 1736 Boston Weekly Post-Boy for tooth powder, a precursor to toothpaste. The units of measure in the recipe are the drachm and the grain, so it was either intended for readers who had their own weight sets and ingredients at home, or it could be used as a shopping list for the local apothecary’s wares.