Gilded pills - an apothecary tradition

Covering pills in gold and silver was practiced in Europe between the 17th and 20th century, erroneously attributed to Avicenna. The procedure was meant to make pills easier to swallow, coating their bad taste/smell and preventing them from disintegrating. Though Avicenna did talk about the properties of precious metals, in cauterizing, heart and lungs afflictions and bad breath, the first mention of pill gilding dates from 1626.

The procedure included the following steps: producing hard pills, coating them in syrup of Gum Arabic, placing them together with gold leaf inside a scatula deauratoria (two hemispheres made of wood or horn) and shaking well.

The History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca includes several jars for Gum Arabic, a natural gum made of the hardened sap of various species of the acacia tree. One such jar, made of wood during the eighteenth century and used in an apothecary shop from Târgu Mureş is exhibited in the "Gold and gems" temporary exhibition that can be visited until the end of this year.
18th c apothecary jar with painted cartouche and the signature PULV G: ARAB

Gum Arabic pieces and powder, by Simon A. Eugster - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.orgb/w/index.php?curid=48712562

Modern pills, gilded pills and gold leaf in the "Gold and gems" temporary exhibition in Cluj-Napoca


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