Early Modern Drugs and Medicinal Cannibalism

18th century container for medicinal mummy, Germany. Image via Wikimedia Commons. This is the first Res Obscura post after another rather lengthy break, but I plan to start updating more regularly in the new year. I’ve cannibalized portions of this post from a piece I wrote for the new online journal I helped co-found, The Appendix, […]

From Quacks to Quaaludes: Three Centuries of Drug Advertising

Eli Lilly Amphedroxyn (methamphetamine) advertisement, 1951. New York State Journal of Medicine, Vol. 51, No. 1. (Via the Bonkers Institute). Portuguese physician João Curvo Semedo, 1707, sporting the extravagant locks typical of his era. Image viathe Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal. In his book Polyanthea Medicinal (Lisbon, 1697), a Portuguese doctor and seller of remedios secretos (“secret remedies”) named João Curvo Semedo […]

Res Obscura Miscellany, Part One

A medical alchemist, or ‘iatrochemist,’ examines a jar of urine in seventeenth-century Holland. Well, I try to avoid posting decontextualized grab-bags of images (one of the drawbacks of Tumblr and its ilk, in my opinion), but I’m on vacation and busy with research, so this week I’m going to take the easy route and do just […]

Smokers and Drunkards in the Dutch Golden Age

I’ve recently been amassing an image library of paintings by the likes of Frans Hals, Adrian Brouwer, Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu and Jan Steen — Dutch painters who were contemporaries of Rembrandt and Vermeer and, though less well known, were in my view almost as good. I suspect that Vermeer’s popularity has given us a […]

The Domestic Life of Alchemists

Philadelphia’s Chemical Heritage Foundation maintains a wonderful Flickr page of images relating to the history of chemistry, pharmacy and alchemy. While perusing their image banks, I came across this collection of 17th and 18th-century paintings of alchemists practicing their occult art — paintings which include some revealing glimpses into the private life of those who […]

"It is an error to suppose that lions do not approach a fire": Observations of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier

 “It is the custom of the Dutch to send parties from time to time to explore the country, and those who go furthest are best rewarded. A number of soldiers went in a party with a sergeant who commanded them, and advanced far into the country, where they made a large fire at midnight, both […]

"A Compleat History of Druggs." [Jan. 2011 Update]

“The study of simple drugs is a study so agreeable, and so exalted in its own nature, that it has been the pursuit of the first geniuses of all ages.” – Pierre Pomet, Histoire generale des drogues (Paris, 1684). “A book of high character was published in France at the conclusion of the seventeenth century, […]

A Drug Merchant in Seventeenth Century London

John Jacob Berlu’s wonderfully titled The Treasury of Drugs Unlock’d (London, 1690) is a rare book, and I can find very little information on either the work itself or the author, who was apparently a London merchant of drugs, spices and other exotic commodities. I took the opportunity to look at the copy in the […]