One of tools of the apothecary’s trade has been discovered at our Public Archaeology excavations. Apothecaries (the historical name for pharmacists) regularly used a mortar and pestle, surgical instruments, and weights and scales in their profession. A bit of this paraphernalia, an apothecary weight, was excavated recently at the Smith St. Leonard site. Apothecary weights would have been used, most likely in small double-pan balances, to judge the weight of medicines before sale. This particular weight is a 1/2 scruple weight, one of the smallest of the apothecary weights. A scruple weighs 1.296 grams, so our 1/2 scruple should weigh .648 milligrams. We don’t have a scale that measures in that small of an increment (!), but our archaeologists have weighed it as accurately as possible and they believe the weight is indeed .648 mg…or darn close. In a home setting, such as the Smith kitchen, balances and apothecary weights could have been used to measure herbs for cooking but, being such a small weight, it is doubtful that there would have been much use for this little 1/2 scruple in a kitchen. Walter Smith’s 1748 probate inventory lists a pair of “Scales and weights” in the kitchen at Smith’s St. Leonard. Our 1/2 scruple may well have been lost from that weight set, but if it was, it’s doubtful that the Smiths missed it very much.
*FUN FACT: Nostradamus and Benedict Arnold were apothecaries.