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Mahogany desk top with scales attached, England, 1780-1890

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This mahogany desk top with a balance attached may have been used in a shop window to advertise an apothecary’s trade. The brass pans are hung from a metal rod which is inserted into the snake’s mouth. A snake coiled around a rod in this manner is called a staff of Asklepios. This is a symbol of medicine associated with the Greek healing god, Asklepios. The drawer in the desk top may have been used to store weights for the balance, but it might not be original.

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Glossary: shop sign

Use broadly for signs identifying places of business.

Glossary: sign

An entity that signifies another entity. Often a publicly displayed board giving information

Glossary: beamscale

Scales with a horizontal bar pivoting about a central fulcrum, creating equal-length arms; suspended from the ends of the arms are pans or baskets, in one of which is placed the item being weighed and in the other, a premeasured weight.

Glossary: pharmacy

The preparation and medicinal dispensing of drugs.

Glossary: apothecary

A term used until about 1800 to describe someone who prepares and sells drugs or compounds for medicinal purposes. Today the term ‘pharmacist’ or ‘pharmaceutical chemist’ is used instead.