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Apothecaries Weights were the weights which Pharmaceutical Chemists (Pharmacists) used exclusively until the late 1960′s.

The writer commenced his career in Pharmacy at the beginning of 1949  and used these weights on a daily basis for almost the next twenty years until they were replaced by metric weights.

Most sets of Apothecaries Weights consist of:

℈ss   =   ½ Scruple ℈i   =   1 Scruple ℈ij   =   2 Scruples
ʒss  =   ½ Drachm ʒi    =   1 Drachm ʒij    =   2 Drachms

Though in one or two sets a 4 Drachm and an 8 Drachm (=1 Apothecary Ounce ℥ i) are found – See sets #1240 and #1285 in the Catalogue Section.

To complete the set of Apothecaries Weights there was also a set of  6 grain weights  (1,2,3,4,5 & 6) and sometimes also an ½ grain weight, which were usually just cut out of thin sheet brass or aluminium with the denomination stamped on. (See the Article: “The Grains of History”)

While Apothecaries Weights in various forms have been used for about 2000 years and most European Countries and the United Stated of America developed their own unique styles, this site will concentrate on the Apothecaries Weights of the United Kingdom almost exclusively.

1878 The British Weights and Measures Act of 1878 introduced verification and consequent stamping of Apothecary Weights. Stamps of the reign of Queen Victoria are rare but become common during later reigns. (For further information and the numerical codes which will give the place of verification Cf Norman Biggs ‘Apothecary Weights – an Outline Catalogue’)
1890-1900 Up to this period, the spelling ‘DRAM’ was used exclusively but the spelling ‘DRACHM’ came into use to mark the difference between the avoirdupois ‘DRAM’ and the apothecary ‘DRACHM’(The avoirdupois ‘DRAM’ is actually 1/16 of an Avoirdupois Ounce of 437.5 grains and equals 27.34 grains while the Apothecaries ‘DRACHM’ is 1/8 of an Apothecaries Ounce of 480 grains and equals 60 grains).
196? A Law in Australia introduced Metric Weights and Apothecaries Weights were formally abolished and, after a changeover period, it became illegal even to have them on the premises of a Pharmacy
1971 Apothecaries Weights were formally abolished in the United Kingdom and were replaced by Metric Weights

It has always fascinated me that the earliest standardised sets {see sets #1110, #1111& #1112} all seem so similar that one is almost forced to the conclusion that they were all made by the same manufacturer – they are all stamped on roughly square slugs of brass and the dies used for the script writing of the words Scruple and Drachm (or Dram) are remarkably similar. I suspect that they are from the early 19th Century but this does not agree with the theory of 1890-1900 above.

To Polish or not to Polish…

It is interesting to note that in general British Collectors prefer their weights clean but not polished while US Collectors like theirs polished. (I will probably be shot down in flames for making this statement) Personally I prefer a light polish.

A special case may be made out for polishing Apothecaries Weights: Because these weights were usually kept in a drawer under, and part of the scales, it often happened that small quantities of the chemicals or medications being weighed were dropped into the drawer and onto these weights. Obviously, some of these chemicals would stain and corrode the weights. Old, used, Apothecaries Weights rarely have the nice patina of age so liked by many collectors. Consequently they usually need a fairly rigorous cleaning and polishing.

A Font for APOTHECARIES SYMBOLS

It is difficult to find a font which includes Apothecaries Symbols but they will be found in ‘Lucida sans Unicode’ under the heading of Non-mathematical Symbols.

A word or two about numbers: Numbers almost always follow the Symbol and are always expressed as Roman Numerals e.g. i = One Drachm ii = Two Drachms, etc. Often an “i” would appear as “j” as in “j”, “ij”, “iij” or 1, 2, 3. This leads to ambiguities when Script writing is used and “ij” looks more like a letter “y” or “ij” as in the following 2 Drachm weight:

script half

The Symbol for “half ” also has problems and appears variously as “ss”, “fs” or in script writing “fs” as in the Half Drachm Weight above.