Pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head

Made:
1700-1870 in Europe
Ivory pharmacy sign in form of unicorn's head, perhaps English or Dutch, 1700-1870. Full view, blacb background. Ivory pharmacy sign in form of unicorn's head, perhaps English or Dutch, 1700-1870

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Ivory pharmacy sign in form of unicorn's head, perhaps English or Dutch, 1700-1870. Full view, blacb background.
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Ivory pharmacy sign in form of unicorn's head, perhaps English or Dutch, 1700-1870
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Pharmacy sign in form of unicorn's head, perhaps English or Dutch, 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.

Details

Category:
Pharmacy-ware
Collection:
Sir Henry Wellcome's Museum Collection
Object Number:
A631343
Materials:
narwhal tusk and oak
type:
shop sign
taxonomy:
  • visual and verbal communication
  • sign - promotional or advertising artefact
credit:
Loan, Wellcome Trust