One of the items in our Pharmacy Cabinet is a small black pill press, a simple two-piece machine for turning medicinal paste into pills.
At first, we cataloged this artifact as “black plastic, mid 20th century.” There were no decorative touches, or conveniently printed patent dates, that would give an immediate clue that this a particularly early piece. However, when we took a closer look we discovered that this was almost certainly a Whitall Tatum “tablet mould” from the 1910s – and that it was, in fact, made of rubber.
“After preparing the mass of which the tablets are to be made, lay the perforated plate upon a pill tile or slab of glass, and spread the paste upon the upper surface with a horn spatula, completely filling the holes. (We have a pill tile and a horn spatula in the Pharmacy Cabinet, too.)
“Remove the surplus paste and put the upper plate upon the lower with the chamfered corners together. It may be necessary to let the plate stand a few minutes before doing this.
“The tablets after being forced out of the holes by the pins, would be left resting upon them until sufficiently dry and hard to handle.”
And that’s why it always pays to double-check your artifacts before writing your labels!
Post by JMM Collections Manager Joanna Church.