Pill Silverer

ACCESSION NUMBER: 009027004 a-b
Object Name: Pill Silverer
Manufacturer: Unknown
Date Made: early 19th century
MeSH Code: Medical Subject Headings Pharmacy-Instrumentation


Medicinal pills were first coated with sugars and honeys in the 9th century, to mask repulsive odours and tastes.  In the 17th century, pharmacists began coating pills in gold and silver leaf to appeal to the most affluent members of society who regarded this luxury as a symbol of status.  This primarily aesthetic undertaking had also the side effect of delaying the absorption of the pill, if not rendering it entirely inert.

The apothecary – as the pharmacist was known at the time – mixed the ingredients and rolled the pills by hand, using pill tiles or machines.  Then, pills were moistened with Arabic gum or mucilage and placed inside a pill silverer lined with gold or silver leaf.  The top was fastened and the pill silverer was lightly shaken, rotating the pills around the interior for several minutes and coating them in the leaf.  A pharmacy text from 1762 cautions that pills must be neither too hard nor too soft to be perfectly gilded, as the leaf will not stick properly if too hard and too much will adhere if soft, ruining the smooth appearance of the ideal pill.

The practice of coating pills in gold or silver continued into the early twentieth century.

Related: Pill Machine , Medicine Chest

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