Dispensing pot of Blue Pills, England, 1880-1930


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Box marked 'Blue Pills' - these mercury containing pills were prescibed for a number of complaints in the 19th century.
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Earthenware dispensing pot, tin-glazed, with original paper cover and contents, 'blue pills' by T.C. Lester, 39, Prospect-street, corner of Spencer-street, Hull, 1880 to 1930

‘Blue Pills’ were found in many pharmacies and dispensing chemists throughout the 1800s and beyond. Used for a range of ailments as varied as constipation, tuberculosis and toothache, Blue Pills contain mercury and were potentially toxic, slowly poisoning the patient. The mercury content also hints at one of their other uses – as a medicine against the venereal disease, syphilis.

Pills and treatments were often placed in earthenware dispensing pots like this one, which were covered with brown paper or vellum and tied with string. This example has the name of the pharmacist, “T C Lester”, and his address painted on to the side.


Medical Ceramic-ware
Object Number:
complete, earthenware (tin-glazed), materia medica and paper (fibre product)
dispensing pot, pharmacy (ceramics) blue pills, dispensing pots and pharmacy (ceramics)
  • furnishing and equipment
  • container - receptacle

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