Apothecaries' system

Apothecaries' system

|The basic form of the apothecaries' system is essentially a subset of the Roman weight system. An apothecaries' pound normally consisted of 12 ounces. (In France this was changed to 16 ounces, and in Spain the customary unit was the "marco", a mark of 8 ounces.) In the south of Europe and in France, the scruple was generally divided into 24 grains, so that one ounce consisted of 576 grains. Nevertheless, the subdivision of an ounce was somewhat more uniform than that of a pound, and a common feature of all variants is that 12 ounces are roughly 100 drachms (96–128 drachms) and a grain is roughly the weight of a physical grain.

It is most convenient to compare the various local weight standards by the metric weights of their ounces. The actual mass of an ounce varied by ±17% (5 g) around the typical value of 30 g. The table only shows approximate values for the most important standards; even the same nominal standard could vary slightly between one city and its neighbour. The range from 25 g to 31 g is filled with numerous variants, especially the Italian range up to 28 g. But there is a relatively large gap between the troy ounces of 31 g and the Habsburg ounce of 35 g. The latter is the product of an eighteenth century weight reform.

Even in Turkey a system of weights similar to the European apothecaries' system was used for the same purpose. For medical purposes the tcheky (approx. 320 g) was divided in 100 drachms, and the drachm in (16 killos or) 64 grains. [ cite book | last=Beasley | first=Henry | title=The Druggist's general receipt book | location=London| year=1850 | pages=p. 396 | url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=DHYFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA396 ] cite book | location=Leipzig | title=Vollständiges Taschenbuch der Münz-, Maass- und Gewichtsverhältnisse | last=Noback | first=C. | coauthors=Noback, F. | year=1851 [http://books.google.com/books?id=GIMBAAAAQAAJ Volume 1] and [http://books.google.com/books?id=OYMBAAAAQAAJ Volume 2] .] This is close to the classical Greek weight system, where a "mina" (corresponding roughly to a Roman "libra") was also divided into 100 drachms. ["The Greek weights, mentioned by Roman authors, are chiefly the "talent", divided into 60 "minæ", and the "mina" into 100 "drachmæ." The "mina" was nearly equal to the Roman "libra." cite book | last=Adam | first=Alexander | coauthors=James Boyd, Lorenzo L. da Ponte | title=Roman Antiquities: Or an Account of the Manners and Customs of the Romans | edition=8th ed | location=New York | year=1842 | url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=MP0LAAAAYAAJ&pg=PT376 ]

With the beginning of metrication, some countries standardized their apothecaries' pound to an easily remembered multiple of the French gramme. ["Bayern […] hat schon im Jahre 1811 nicht nur sein Civilgewicht in eine sehr zweckmäßige Übereinstimmung mit dem französischen Grammengewicht gebracht, sondern auch sein Medicinalgewicht genau nach dem neu eingeführten Civilgericht reguliert […] , wonach das Medicinalpfund (= 360 Grammes) sich zu dem Civilpfunde (= 560 Grammes) […] wie 9:14 verhält […] ." " […] ob es nicht besser wäre, das Medicinalgewicht nach diesem zu reguliren und das Apothekerpfund auf genau drei Viertheile des Zollpfunds festzustellen?" cite journal | url=http://books.google.com/books?id=CJIDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA715#PPA713,M1 | last=Seeger | title=Vorschlag zu Abänderung unseres gegenwärtigen bestehenden und zu Einführung eines gemeinsamen teutschen Medicinalgewichts | pages=p. 713–724 | journal=Vereinigte deutsche Zeitschrift für die Staatsarzneikunde | year=1847 .] E.g. in the Netherlands the Dutch troy pound of 369.1 g was standardized in 1820 to 375.000 g, to match a similar reform in France. The British troy pound retained its value of 373.202 g until in 2000 it was legally defined in metric terms, as 373.2417216 g. [Schedule 1 of [http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/legResults.aspx?LegType=All+Legislation&title=weights+and+measures+act&Year=1985&searchEnacted=0&extentMatchOnly=0&confersPower=0&blanketAmendment=0&TYPE=QS&NavFrom=0&activeTextDocId=2191980&PageNumber=1&SortAlpha=0 Weight and Measurements Act 1985] , as amended in 2000 by the Units of Measurement Regulations 1994.] (At this time its use was already illegal for all purposes except trading precious metals.)

Basic variants

In the Romance speaking part of Europe the scruple was divided in 24 grains, in the rest of Europe in 20 grains. Notable exceptions were Venice and Sicily, where the scruple was also divided in 20 grains. cite book | url=http://books.google.com/books?id=rWcOAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA94 | pages=p. 94–96 | last=Phoebus | first=P. | title=Handbuch der Arzneiverordnungslehre | year=1836 | location=Berlin | volume=Vol. I]

The Sicilian apothecaries' ounce was divided in 10 drachms. Since the scruple was divided in only 20 grains, like in the northern countries, an ounce consisted of 600 grains. This was not too different from the situation in most of the other mediterranean countries, where an ounce consisted of 576 grains.

In France, at some stage the apothecaries' pound of 12 ounces was replaced by the larger civil pound of 16 ounces. The subdivisions of ounces were the same as in the other Romance countries, however, and were different from the subdivisions of the civil pound.


Roman weight system

The basic apothecaries' system consists of the units pound, ounce, drachm and scruple from the classical Roman weight system, together with a new subdivision of the scruple into either 20 ("barley") or 24 ("wheat") grains ( _la. grana). In some countries other units of the original system remained in use, for example in Spain the "obolo" and "siliqua". In some cases the apothecaries' and civil weight systems had the same ounces ("an ounce is an ounce"), but the civil pound consisted of 16 ounces, i.e. it corresponded to the Roman "mina" where the apothecaries' pound corresponded to the Roman "libra." "Siliqua" is Latin for the seed of the carob tree.

;Iberian PeninsulaOn the Iberian Peninsula, apothecaries' weights in the 19th century were relatively uniform, with 24 grains per scruple (576 grains per ounce), the standard in Romance countries. The weight of an apothecaries' pound was 345.1 g in Spain and 344.2 g in Portugal. As in Italy, some of the additional subdivisions of the Roman system, such as the "obolo", were still in use there. It was standard to use the "marco", defined as 8 ounces, instead of the pound. cite journal | last=Hille | first=K.C. | title=Medicinal-Gewicht | pages=p. 268 | url=http://books.google.com/books?id=BfI3AAAAMAAJ&pg=RA2-PA268 | journal=Magazin für Pharmacie und die dahin einschlagenden Wissenschaften | year=1831 | location=Heidelberg ]

;FranceIn 18th century France, there was a national weight standard, the "marc de Paris" of 8 ounces. The civil pound of 16 ounces was equivalent to 2 marks, and it was also used as the apothecaries' pound. With 30.6 g, the ounces were considerably heavier than other apothecaries' ounces in Romance countries, but otherwise the French system was not remarkable. Its history and connections to the English and Flemish standards are discussed below under Weight standards named after Troyes.

;ItalyDue in part to the political conditions in what would become a united Kingdom of Italy only in 1861, the variation of apothecaries' systems and standard weights in this region was enormous. (For background information, see History of Italy during foreign domination and the unification.) The "libbra" (pound) generally consisted of the standard twelve ounces, however.

The civil weight systems were generally very similar to the apothecaries' system, and since the "libbra" (or the "libbra sottile", where different systems were in use for light and heavy goods) generally had a suitable weight for an apothecaries' pound it was often used for this purpose. Extreme cases were Rome and Genoa, where the same system was used for everything, including medicine. On the other hand there were relatively large differences even between two cities in the same state. E.g. Bologna (in the Papal States) had an apothecaries' pound that was less than the local civil pound, and 4% lighter than the pound used in Rome.

The weight of an apothecaries' pound ranged generally between 300 g and 320 g, slightly less than that of a pound in the Roman Empire. An important exception to this rule is that the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia was under rule of the Habsburg monarchy 1814–1859 and therefore had the extremely large Habsburg apothecaries' pound of 420 g. (See below under The Habsburg standard.) E.g. in the large city of Milan the apothecaries' system based on a pound of 326.8 g was officially replaced by the metric system as early as 1803, because Milan was part of the Napoleonic Italian Republic. Since the successor of this little state, the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, fell to Habsburg in 1814 (at a time when even in France the "système usuel" had been introduced because the metric system was not accepted by the population), an apothecaries' system was officially introduced again, but now based on the Habsburg apothecaries' pound, which weighed almost 30% more. cite book | url=http://books.google.com/books?id=LnUAAAAAMAAJ | title=Universal Dictionary of Weights and Measures, Ancient and Modern | last=Alexander | first=J.H. | year=1850 | location=Baltimore ]

In Bruges, Amsterdam, Antwerpen and other Flemish cities, a "troy" unit ("trooisch pond") was also in use as a standard for valuable materials and medicine. As in France, the way in which the Flemish troy ounce was subdivided depended on what was weighed. Unlike the French, the Flemish apothecaries divided the scruple in 20 grains. The Flemish troy pound became the standard for the gold and apothecaries' system in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands; it was also used in this way in Lübeck.

In 1414, six years before the Treaty of Troyes, a statute of Henry V of England gave directions to the goldsmiths in terms of the troy pound. (In 1304 it had apparently not yet been introduced, since it did not appear in the statute of weights and measures.) There is evidence from the 15th century that the troy pound was used for weighing metals and spices. After the abolishment of the Tower pound in 1527 by Henry VIII of England, the troy pound was the official basis for English coin weights. The British apothecaries' system was based on the troy pound until metrication, and it survived in the United States and Australia well into the 20th century.

Since the modern (English, American and Imperial) troy ounces are roughly 1.5% heavier than the late Paris ounce, the exact historical relations between the original "marc de Troyes", the French "poids de marc", the Flemish trooisch pond and the English troy pound are unclear. It is known, however, that the relation between the English and French troy ounces was "exactly" 64:63 in the fourteenth century. cite journal | last=Simpson | first=A.D.C. | coauthors=Connor, R.D. | title=The mass of the English troy pound in the eighteenth century | journal=Annals of Science | year=2004 | pages=321–349 | doi=10.1080/0003379032000159431 | volume=61 ]

Nuremberg standard

In Prussia, a reform in 1816 defined the Prussian civil pound in terms of the Prussian foot and distilled water. It also redefined the apothecaries' pound as 12 ounces 3/4 of the civil pound: 350.78 g. ["Im Preußischen ist der Unterschied zwischen Civil- und Medicinalgewicht durch eine Verordnung vom 16. Mai 1816 aufgehoben." cite book | year=1829 | page=p. 151 | title=Encyclopädisches Wörterbuch der medicinischen Wissenschaften | url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=OhoDAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA151 ] [ cite journal | url=http://books.google.com/books?id=eDgDAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA594 | journal=Allgemeine preussische Staatszeitung | year=1838 | title=Ueber Maasse und Gewichte, veranlasst durch die Schrift des Herrn Adelfeld über die Maasse und Gewichte der deutschen Zollvereinsstaaten | last=Hoffmann | first=Johann Gottfried] This reform was not popular with apothecaries, because it broke the uniformity of the apothecaries' pound in Germany at a time when a German national state was beginning to form. It seems that many apothecaries did not follow this reduction by 2%. [ cite journal | journal=Archiv und Zeitung des Apotheker-Vereins in Norddeutschland | year=1848 | author=Geffcken | pages=p. 217–226 | title=Bericht über die Lübecker Kreisversammlung des norddeutschen Apotheker-Vereins am 6. August 1848 | url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Kfc3AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA217 (The relevant passage is in a quoted summary of an earlier report.)]

Another reform in 1856 increased the civil pound from 467.711 g to 500.000 g (the German civil pound defined by the Zollverein), as a first step towards metrication. As a consequence the official apothecaries' pound was now 375.000 g, i.e. it was increased by 7%, and it was now very close to the troy standards. §4 of the law that introduced this reform said: "Further, a pharmaceutical weight deviating from the civil weight does not take place." But this paragraph was suspended until further notice. ["§4. Ein von dem Handelsgewichte abweichendes Medizinalgewicht findet ferner nicht statt. […] §8. […] Der Zeitpunkt, mit welchem die Vorschrift im §4. in Kraft treten soll, wird durch Königliche Verordnung festgesetzt werden." [http://books.google.com/books?id=gLkNAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA113 Gesetz, betreffend die Einführung des allgemeinen Landesgewichts in den Hohenzollernschen Landen. Vom 26. März 1860.] ]

The abolishment of the apothecaries' system meant that doctors' prescriptions had to take place in terms of the current civil weight: grammes and kilograms. This was considered unfeasible by many, and the state received numerous protests and asked for expertises. [ cite journal | url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3wkDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA82 | title=Die Normalgaben der Arzneien nach dem Unzen- und Grammen-Gewicht, zugleich als Repetitorium der Arzneimittellehre, von Dr. F.L. Strumpf (book review) | pages=p. 82–86 | last=Riedel | first=T. | journal=Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Therapie | year=1864 ] Yet by 1868, §4 of the earlier reform was finally put into force. [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=0Z0N5IRob38C&pg=PA180 Verfügung vom 16. März 1867 betreffend das Preußische Medicinalgewicht] .]

Metrication in countries using the troy and avoirdupois systems

Britain was initially involved in the development of the metric system, and the US was among the 17 initial signatories of the Metre Convention in 1875. Yet in spite of enthusiastic support for the new system by intellectuals such as Charles Dickens, these two countries were particularly slow to implement it. [ cite journal | last=Dickens | first=Charles | title=At your fingers' ends | year=1863 | journal=All the year round | url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=RdUNAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA233 ]

To unify all weight systems used by apothecaries, the Irish pharmacopœia of 1850 introduced a new variant of the apothecaries' system which subdivided a new apothecaries' pound of 12 avoirdupois ounces instead of the troy pound. To allow effective use of the new system, new weight pieces were produced. Since an avoirdupois ounce corresponds to 28.35 g, the proposed system was very similar to that in use in Portugal and Spain, and in some locations in Italy. But it would have doubled the value of the avoirdupois drachm (an existing unit, but by then only used for weighing silk). [ cite book | title= A manual of chemistry | last=Brande | first=W.T. | year=1830 | edition=3rd edition | volume=Vol. I | location=London | pages=p. 489 | url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=u79wbv8_TaEC&pg=RA1-PA489 ] Therefore it conflicted with other non-standard variations that were based on that nearly obsolete unit. [ cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia=Medical lexicon – A dictionary of medical science | location=Philadelphia | title=Weight | pages=p. 979 | year=1860 | last=Dunglison | first=Robley | url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zgqN7_Kn3tEC&pg=RA11-PA979 ]

The Irish proposal was not widely adopted, but British legislation, in the form of the Medicinals Act 1858, was more radical: It prescribed the use of the avoirdupois system for the United Kingdom (then including Ireland), with none of the traditional subdivisions. This innovation was first used in the united British pharmacopœia of 1864. [ cite book | last=Squire | first=P. | year=1867 | title=A companion to the British pharmacopœia | page=xvi | url=http://books.google.com/books?id=pRgDAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP20 ] In practice the old apothecaries' system based on the troy pound was still widely used, however, until it was abolished by the Weights and Measures Act of 1976. Since then it can only be used to measure precious metals and stones. (The troy pound was already declared illegal for most other uses by the Weights and Measures Act of 1878.)

In the US, the metric system replaced the apothecaries' system in the US Pharmacopoeia of 1971.

Notes and references

Further reading


External links

* [http://www.lib.umich.edu/tcp/docs/dox/medical.html Apothecaries' symbols]
* [http://www.imperialtometric.com/conversion_en.htm Online Apothecaries' Converter]

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  • Apothecaries-System —   [ə pɔθəkərɪz , englisch], in Großbritannien und den USA für Drogen und Arzneimittel verwendetes System von Gewichts und Masseneinheiten (Ounce, Drachm, Scruple) mit einer den Apothekergewichten entsprechenden Teilung der Einheiten, die durch… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • apothecaries' system — noun A particular system of measuring mass and volume …   Wiktionary

  • apothecaries’ system of weights — vaistininkystės vienetų sistema statusas T sritis Standartizacija ir metrologija apibrėžtis Senovinė vaistininkystėje naudojama matavimo vienetų sistema. Ją sudaro vaistinės svaras (373 g), vaistinės uncija (31,103 g), vaistinės drachma (3,89 g) …   Penkiakalbis aiškinamasis metrologijos terminų žodynas

  • apothecaries' — adjective In or relating to the apothecaries system of measures. apothecaries ounce …   Wiktionary

  • apothecaries'weight — n. A system of weights used in pharmacy and based on an ounce equal to 480 grains and a pound equal to 12 ounces. It has been largely replaced by measures of the metric system. * * * …   Universalium

  • apothecaries' weight — n a system of weights used chiefly by pharmacists in compounding medical prescriptions that include the pound of 12 ounces, the dram of 60 grains, and the scruple * * * a system of weights used in compounding prescriptions, based on the grain (64 …   Medical dictionary

  • apothecaries' measure — n. Pharmacy a system of fluid measure using minims, fluid drams, and fluid ounces: see the table of weights and measures in the Reference Supplement …   English World dictionary

  • apothecaries' weight — n. a system of weights no longer used in modern pharmacy: see the table of weights and measures in the Reference Supplement …   English World dictionary

  • apothecaries' weight — noun any weight unit used in pharmacy; an ounce is equal to 480 grains and a pound is equal to 12 ounces • Syn: ↑apothecaries unit • Hypernyms: ↑weight unit, ↑weight • Hyponyms: ↑grain, ↑scruple, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • apothecaries' weight — a system of weights used chiefly in compounding and dispensing drugs: 20 grains = 1 scruple; 3 scruples = 1 dram; 8 drams = 1 ounce; 12 ounces = 1 pound. The grain, ounce, and pound are the same as in troy weight, the grain alone being the same… …   Universalium

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