Apothecary Chest

Upper Potomac River Valley, Virginia or Maryland

Walnut, yellow pine

Circa 1765

H: 41″; W: 36″; D: 12″

Only a single other example of an apothecary chest is recorded in the MESDA Research database, dating to 1770-1790 with a history in Clarke County, Virginia (S-10231).  This speaks to the rarity of this form in the South for reasons as yet to be researched. We now think of the word apothecary as a term related to pharmaceuticals when in the period the word was associated more with storage or “warehousing” goods of any kind.   While such chests were no doubt used to store medical and pharmaceutical related materials, they were also utilized in homes and mercantile establishments for a wide variety of goods.

Even compared to apothecaries produced in other parts of the country, this chest is a very early representative. The majority of American apothecaries are both later and constructed of softwoods for a painted surface.  This chest has five rows of four drawers and is constructed in a tall and narrow silhouette.  This vertical orientation was often favored by the Scots-Irish communities settling the Valley of Virginia.  The severity of the plain front is softened by the fanciful shaping of the skirt at both sides which relates to other case pieces from the northern Valley.  The bracket feet are worn from wear, but show distinct evidence that originally there were spurs in front of the straight brackets.  Characteristic of southern cabinetwork, the case is fitted with full dust boards constructed of yellow pine.  The drawer blade intersection with the sides are concealed by beaded vertical strips, a common southern preference and the top is a mitered breadboard design.

The chest survives in very fine condition with only the aforementioned minor losses to the feet, blocking,  and returns.  It retains a mellow old surface that likely dates to the early twentieth century.



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