Medicine Chest

Domestic medicine chests were popular with nobility in the 18th century, although not all were as large or elaborate as this object. Besides holding and keeping expensive medicines safe, chests like this one were used for storing jewelry and other valuables. Many medicine chests commissioned by nobility were one of a kind creations, made from rare woods and precious metals. Interior lids were sometimes painted with pastoral scenes or iconic imagery.This chest is said to have belonged to Madame la Cometesse Giech whose family lived and ruled Thurnau, Bavaria, from 1695 to 1796.
This large wooden medicine chest has a metal hinged lid and a drawer at the front of the cabinet. (The door is no longer attached to the cabinet) The interior lid has a shallow compartment secured to the door with a hook. Wrought-iron straps, brackets, hinges, escutcheons, and pulls support the chest and add a decorative element. The lid opens to reveal the chest's largest compartment, which is partitioned into fifty smaller sections that hold medicine bottles. The smaller drawers below the main compartment have round wrought-iron or turned wooden knobs. Each compartment and the drawers are lined with red, blue, blue green, orange, and ivory marbled paper.
Eighteen drawers contain glass bottles of various shapes, sizes, and colors. In addition there are bone fragments, minerals, round ointment containers, pill boxes, a nutmeg grater, a funnel, a brass scale, a round wooden bead, and handwritten notes. The bottles in the main compartment are free-blown and made of clear or green glass. Some of the bottles have pewter lids. Other bottles are wrapped in marbled paper and secured with string. A few of the bottles have handwritten prescriptions in German that are attached with string at their necks. Most labels are illegible, and glued to the bottles or the lids. Other drawers contain various odds and ends, including three stones: two bright blue and one a white crystal; three small round ointment containers, two pewter, one ivory; one scale and one balance, and three animal jaw bones with very sharp pointed teeth.
Oval wooden pill boxes are covered and lined with the same decorative marbled paper as the drawers, several of which have wax seals. Many of the lids have written inscriptions. Some of the boxes contain residual powders or pills. One folded packet of paper contains a yellow green powder. Preserved in a plastic bag are several pieces of paper, one marked in black ink, “Beib silien Babe. 1724” A faded envelope is marked in ink, “Madame comtesse De Giech...”.
Currently not on view
Object Name
medical chest
medicine chest
date made
17th-18th century
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
iron (overall material)
glass (overall material)
pewter (overall material)
brass (overall material)
bone (overall material)
cork (overall material)
overall: 44 cm x 64 cm x 33 cm; 17 5/16 in x 25 3/16 in x 13 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
collector/donor number
SAP 1062
catalog number
Health & Medicine
European Apothecary
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Medicine
European Apothecary
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Bristol-Myers Squibb Company
Related Publication
Urdang, George and Ferdinand William Nitardy. The Squibb Ancient Pharmacy: A Catalogue of the Collection
Additional Media

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