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Ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head, Europe, 1700-1870

'Unicorn horns' were believed to have medicinal qualities. As the unicorn is a mythical beast the apothecary had to find a substitute ingredient. Usually this was the long horn of a male narwhal whale, which was ground into a powder to be used in treatments. Unicorns were also a medieval symbol of purity and chastity. Mounted on an oak stand, the ivory shop sign was probably made in England or the Netherlands.

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Glossary: shop sign

Use broadly for signs identifying places of business.

Glossary: pharmacy

The preparation and medicinal dispensing of drugs.