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‘Neat’ Set of Apothecaries Measures

by Laura Collum (06/30/09).

People become antique dealers for various reasons. Some do so when their personal collection becomes too big for their home and, at retirement, opening a shop seems a good idea. Others start collecting and trading at a young age and at some point realizes they are a “dealer.”

However we come to it, we all love the things we specialize in and get a thrill buying, researching, coveting, rubbing our hands together and the “heh, heh, heh” in the back room; well, you get the idea. Hopefully, on a regular basis, we get “neat” stuff into our shops through pickers who know what we want or through that constant search through everyone else’s stuff. “Neat” is what we love and love to talk about; it has style, is unusual, beautiful, odd, rare, cool, well made, and sometimes can make the heart pound.

Elmer Crowell female Goldeneye decoy I sold for $900 15 years ago at the Holiday Antique Show in Williamsburg, Va. It is one of his working decoys and in rough shape, with paint rubbed off at the breast. Even so, it’s a lovely decoy.

Elmer Crowell female Goldeneye decoy I sold for $900 15 years ago at the Holiday Antique Show in Williamsburg, Va. It is one of his working decoys and in rough shape, with paint rubbed off at the breast. Even so, it’s a lovely decoy.

Elmer Crowell’s decoys are neat. I had a few I wish I’d kept (valued from $900 to $1,200 15 years ago). I had a walnut pie safe/meat keeper with fancy oval decorated doors, two drawers with carved fish pulls and a painting of meat on the inside back. I wish I had kept it, ($1,500 18 years ago). The horn bleeding cups I wrote about recently were neat. I wish I had kept them. A scrimshawed powder horn with a map of a river system with several forts on it sold at a Civil War show in Savannah, Ga. ($3,500). Selling is a necessary evil in the antique business.

Walnut pie safe made with oval cutouts in doors designed to be lined with fabric inside. The two drawers have carved fish pulls and the drawer fronts are made from figured walnut that looks like water. There is canvas covering the inside of the back where the painting of the meats is lined up with the removable shelves. Ultra Neat!

Walnut pie safe with carved fish pulls and the drawer fronts are made from figured walnut that looks like water. There is canvas covering the inside of the back where the painting of the meats is lined up with the removable shelves. Ultra Neat!

This is a close up of a map horn carved into a Civil War-era powder horn showing a river course with towns and forts.

This is a close-up photo of a map horn carved into a Civil War-era scrimshawed powder horn showing a river course with towns and forts I sold in Savannah, Ga.

A set of apothecaries measures came into my shop recently and I would call it neat. It is a lovely box holding eight brass measures, each labeled as to fluid capacity in ounces and drachms. The box also holds eight glass discs with a hole in the center of each matched to each measure. The cover of the box has a prominent brass plaque, which reads: “West Riding of Yorkshire Standard Apothecaries Measures 1879 DeGrave Short and Co. London.” The box is mahogany with green felt cushioning. There is an oblong vacancy that probably held a thermometer. So, what makes this neat? It is beautiful and extremely well made and I had to do a bit of research to find out about it.

DeGrave started business in England in the 18th century. What is unusual is that a woman, Mary DeGrave, owned and ran the business with her son after 1799, and they were probably the DeGrave and Son listed from 1799 to 1844. DeGrave and Short came into being in 1845 and lasted at least until 1879. W & T Avery bought the company in the 1920s and the DeGrave name disappears after 1962. The company made scales—including postal scales—and standard weights and measures for the British and other governments, Australia being one of them.

DeGrave Short and Co. apothecaries measures in their mahogany box.

DeGrave Short and Co. apothecaries measures in their mahogany box.

This set was made to measure the liquids dispensed from apothecary shops to ensure they met with the standardization of the time. The liquid medicine to be tested was poured into the brass container and the glass lid carefully placed on top. Excess would run out the hole. The temperature of the liquids would need to be uniform and indeed a temperature of 62 degrees is marked on the measures (thus, the empty slot would hold a thermometer). This process would determine if the measures the apothecary was using to dispense were accurate. The brass containers have stamps on them with crowns and dates to indicate when they were tested for accuracy. The first date was 1879 and the last date was 1949.

Close up of the marks on the apothecaries measures. The dates range from 1879 to 1949.

Close up of the marks on the apothecaries measures. The dates range from 1879 to 1949.

Here is an instrument made to do an important job that is beautiful, well made, and interesting; the very definition of a “neat” antique.

Laura Collum is a Worthologist who specializes in decoys, nautical and scientific instruments.

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One Response to “‘Neat’ Set of Apothecaries Measures”

  1. Nick Ryan says:

    Hi Laura, whilst serving in the British Forces (RAF) for 18 years one of my jobs was the Annual Verification of Weighing Appliances.

    It was my job to travel around with a set of standard weights in a very large and heavy wooden box containing the master weights from the avoirdupois set contained inside in a separate box right up to the huge bowling ball size lumps of brass with handle.

    I had to go to all of the kitchens in each mess and check the cooking scales, the Survival equipment section again checking scales, even the dog handling section to check the weighing scales for the dog food. The medical centres all had many different types of scales and all needed checking for accuracy.

    I hope you find this little snippet useful.

    Kind regards,

    Nick

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