Herbs and cures have been employed by humans for so long the origin is undoubtedly lost along the often dusty roads of yesteryear.
The first indication of what is referred to as a “drug-store” or “pharmacy” is found in the records from Egypt and Babylon some 4000 years ago, when huge ceramic containers were employed for drug storage.
Many ancient cultures used the drug jars that have become a symbol of the pharmacy. Examples are the alabaster jar used by the Egyptians and mentioned in the Bible. Romans employed a crude earthenware jar.
A further development of storage jars occurred in the 8th century in Persia and Baghdad. These jars were glazed with an egg-shell white created by using tin-oxides — commonly known as tin-enameling.
The Islamic culture spread to Spain, and ceramic drug jar production was introduced in Malaga and Majorca. These jars later became known as “majorica” ware. They were often decorated with bright cobalt blue, embellished with copper or gold luster, on an off-white back ground, and became art works in their own right.
Up to about 1300, the jars made in Italy were inferior to their Spanish counterparts. By 1400, however, due to Oriental influence, numerous potteries in northern Italy, especially about Florence and Faenza, entered into tin-glazed earthenware production. This is where the word “faeince” was derived, referring to any and all decorated glazed earthenware or pottery including ornamental tiles. Drug jars from Faenza were decorated with numerous scrolled leaves called “gothic foliage”.
Itinerant Italian potters introduced their new skills into northern Europe, particularly France and Germany, where the pottery industry was already established. Centers such as Nevers, Nime and Rouen produced a characteristic ceramic drug jar, which usually had a blue wreath employed as decoration.
In Germany the Nuremburg potters imitated the faeince jars from France, using the blue wreath to decorate. But in Creussen a different design was developed. The jars from the Creussen potteries were a semi-porcelain rather than stoneware.
Delft, in Holland, began to produce tin-glazed stoneware at about 1600, also influenced by Italian itinerant potters. Employing Chinese designs of blue and white, the Delft potters became renown for their wares. Early wares from that pottery employed the Venetian majolica-wares designs.
By mid-17th century the most renown design on Delft wares was two peacocks standing on opposite sides of a basket of fruit with an angel’s head below, this decoration remained popular for well over 100 years.
Sealed with wax.
Before the mid-18th century ceramic jars were covered by parchment, bladder or cloth tied securely and sealed with wax. The pitcher spouts were also sealed with wax. Later ceramic lids were added for more secure purity.
In the 16th century inscriptions were added to the jars for definite content identification. Previously a piece of paper with content description had been attached to the neck of the jar.
Today the ceramic jar and pestel/mortar are mere decoration. Some drugstores use them for display, and they are part of the market for collectors of pharmacy memorabilia.