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The History of Apothecary Jars

Kristy Ambrose

The humble tools of the apothecary have evolved considerably since the days of the mortar and pestle and glass jars. Now seen as a stylish accessory or valuable antique, we rarely see them behind the counter at the pharmacy anymore.


One of the main tools of the historic apothecary was the humble glass jar.
Ancient apothecaries also used glass bottles, but they were filled with wine.

The apothecary of the ancient world was a purveyor of spices, wine and other luxury items. It was not until the 16th century that the apothecary began to resemble a modern pharmacist. The opaque or translucent glass jars that lined these 16th century apothecaries had already been in use by people across the globe for centuries.


Modern decorators use apothecary jars as design accents.

There could be as many as three main types of storage that the vintage apothecary jar was used for in a single shop: to store medication in the form of pills, creams or elixirs: to store herbs and other basic ingredients needed for making medication; or for botany. Shapes and sizes varied, but most authentic antique apothecary jars are made of glass and still retain the original label.


A secure plastic container is the modern equivalent of the old-fashioned glass apothecary jar.

The modern apothecary jar with its handwritten label is now obsolete for commercial use, having been replaced by its more durable plastic counterpart and computer filing systems. They can still be found in many stylish homes as receptacles for soaps, herbs, plants. or even purely decorative objects like marbles or flowers.