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APOTHECARY (from the Lat. apothecarius, a keeper of an apotheca, Gr. ἀποθήκη, a store), a word used by Galen to denote the repository where his medicines were kept, now obsolete in its original sense. An apothecary was one who prepared, sold and prescribed drugs, but the preparing and selling of drugs prescribed by others has now passed into the hands of duly qualified and authorized persons termed “chemists and druggists,” while the apothecary, by modern legislation, has become a general medical practitioner, and the word itself, when used at all, is applied, more particularly in the United States and in Scotland, to those who in England are called “pharmaceutical chemists.” The Apothecaries’ Society of London is one of the corporations of that city, and both by royal charters and acts of parliament exercises the power of granting licences to practise medicine. The members of this society do not possess and never have possessed any exclusive power to deal in or sell drugs; and until 1868 any person whatever might open what is called a chemist’s shop, and deal in drugs and poisons. In that year, however, the Pharmacy Act was passed, which prohibits any person from engaging in this business without being registered.

From early records we learn that the different branches of the medical profession were not regularly distinguished till the reign of Henry VIII., when separate duties were assigned to them, and peculiar privileges were granted to each. In 1518 the physicians of London were incorporated, and the barber-surgeons in 1540. But, independently of the physicians and the surgeons, there were a great number of irregular practitioners, who were more or less molested by their legitimate rivals, and it became necessary to pass an act in 1543 for their protection and toleration. As many of these practitioners kept shops for the sale of medicines, the term “apothecary” was used to designate their calling.

In April 1606 James I. incorporated the apothecaries as one of the city companies, uniting them with the grocers. On their charter being renewed in 1617 they were formed into a separate corporation, under the title of the “Apothecaries of the City of London.” These apothecaries appear to have prescribed medicines in addition to dispensing them, and to have claimed an ancient right of acting in this double capacity; and it may be mentioned that Henry VIII., after the grant of the charter to the College of Physicians, appointed an apothecary to the Princess Mary, who was delicate and unhealthy, at a salary of 40 marks a year, “pro meliore cura, et consideratione sanitatis suae.” During the 17th century, however, there arose a warm contest between the physicians and the apothecaries,—the former accusing the latter of usurping their province, and the latter continuing and justifying the usurpation until the dispute was finally set at rest by a judgment of the House of Lords in 1703 (Rose v. College of Physicians, 5 Bro. P. C. 553), when it was decided that the duty of the apothecary consisted not only in compounding and dispensing, but also in directing and ordering the remedies employed in the treatment of disease. In 1722 an act was obtained empowering the Apothecaries’ Company to visit the shops of all apothecaries practising in London, and to destroy such drugs as they found unfit for use. In 1748 great additional powers were given to the company by an act authorizing them to appoint a board of ten examiners, without whose licence no person should be allowed to dispense medicines in London, or within a circuit of 7 m. round it. In 1815, however, an act of parliament was passed which gave the Apothecaries’ Society a new position, empowering a board, consisting of twelve of their members, to examine and license all apothecaries throughout England and Wales. It also enacted that, from the 1st of August of that year, no persons except those who were so licensed should have the right to act as apothecaries, and it gave the society the power of prosecuting those who practised 206 without such licence. But the act expressly exempted from prosecution all persons who were then in actual practice, and it distinctly excluded from its operation all persons pursuing the calling of chemists and druggists. It was also provided that the act should in no way interfere with the rights or privileges of the English universities, or of the English College of Surgeons or the College of Physicians; and indeed a clause imposed severe penalties on any apothecaries who should refuse to compound and dispense medicines on the order of a physician, legally qualified to act as such. It is therefore clear that the act contemplated the creation of a class of practitioners who, while having the right to practise medicine, should assist and co-operate with the physicians and surgeons.

Before this act came into operation the education of the medical practitioners of England and Wales was entirely optional on their own part, and although many of them possessed degrees or licences from the universities or colleges, the greater number possessed no such qualification, and many of them were wholly illiterate and uneducated. The court of examiners of the Apothecaries’ Society, being empowered to enforce the acquisition of a sufficient medical education upon its future licentiates, specified from time to time the courses of lectures or terms of hospital practice to be attended by medical students before their examination, and in the progress of years regular schools of medicine were organized throughout England.

As it was found that, notwithstanding the stringent regulations as to medical acquirements, the candidates were in many instances deficient in preliminary education, the court of examiners instituted, about the year 1850, a preliminary examination in arts as a necessary and indispensable prerequisite to the medical curriculum, and this provision has been so expanded that, at the present day, all medical students in the United Kingdom are compelled to pass a preliminary examination in arts, unless they hold a university degree. An act of parliament, passed in 1858, and known as the Medical Act, made very little alteration in the powers exercised by the Apothecaries’ Society, and indeed it confirmed and in some degree amplified them, for whereas by the act of 1815, the licentiates of the society were authorized to practise as such only in England and Wales, the new measure gave them the same right in Scotland and Ireland. The Medical Act 1886 extended the qualifications necessary for registration under the medical acts, by making it necessary to pass a qualifying examination in medicine, surgery and midwifery. (See Medical Education.)

An act, passed in 1874, related exclusively to the Apothecaries’ Society, and is termed the Apothecaries’ Act Amendment Act. By this measure some provisions of the act of 1815, which had become obsolete or unsuitable, were repealed, and powers were given to the society to unite or co-operate with other medical licensing bodies in granting licences to practise. The act of 1815 had made it compulsory on all candidates for a licence to have served an apprenticeship of five years to an apothecary, and although by the interpretation of the court of examiners of the society this term really included the whole period of medical study, yet the regulation was felt as a grievance by many members of the medical profession. It was accordingly repealed, and no apprenticeship is now necessary. The restriction of the choice of examiners to the members of the society was also repealed, and the society was given the power (which it did not before possess) to strike off from the list of its licentiates the names of disreputable persons. The act of 1874 also specified that the society was not deprived of any right or obligation they may have to admit women to examination, and to enter their names on the list of licentiates if they acquit themselves satisfactorily.

The Apothecaries’ Society is governed by a master, two wardens and twenty-two assistants. The members are divided into Three grades, yeomanry or freemen, the livery, and the court. Women are not, however, admitted to the freedom. The hall of the society, situated in Water Lane, London, and covering about three-quarters of an acre, was acquired in 1633. It was destroyed by the great fire, but was rebuilt about ten years later and enlarged in 1786. This is the only property possessed by the society. In 1673, the society established a botanic and physic garden at Chelsea, and in 1722 Sir Hans Sloane, who had become the ground owner, gave it to the society on the condition of presenting annually to the Royal Society fifty dried specimens of plants till the number should reach 2000. This condition was fulfilled in 1774. Owing to the heavy cost of maintenance and other reasons, the “physic garden” was handed over in 1902, with the consent of the Charity Commissioners, to a committee of management, to be maintained in the interests of botanical study and research.

See C.R.B. Barrett, The History of the Society of Apothecaries of London (1905).

Transcriber's note: A few typographical errors have been corrected. They appear in the text like this, and the explanation will appear when the mouse pointer is moved over the marked passage. Sections in Greek will yield a transliteration when the pointer is moved over them, and words using diacritic characters in the Latin Extended Additional block, which may not display in some fonts or browsers, will display an unaccented version.

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