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Definition: apothecary from Collins English Dictionary

n pl -caries

1 an archaic word for pharmacist

2 law a chemist licensed by the Society of Apothecaries of London to prescribe, prepare, and sell drugs

[C14: from Old French apotecaire, from Late Latin apothēcārius warehouseman, from apothēca, from Greek apothēkē storehouse]


Summary Article: apothecary from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Person who prepares and dispenses medicines; a pharmacist.

The word ‘apothecary’ retains its original meaning in the USA and other countries, but in England it came to mean a licensed medical practitioner.

Trade in drugs In medieval England apothecaries engaged in a flourishing trade in drugs and spices from the East. In the 14th century they became merged in the Grocers' Company, but, under a charter from James I early in the 17th century, they separated again to form their own company: they then had the monopoly of buying and selling drugs within the city of London, and were responsible for dispensing the prescriptions of the physicians.

Treatment of the sick Not content with compounding drugs to the physicians' orders, apothecaries started treating the sick. In the great plague of London 1665 most of the physicians left the city, but the apothecaries stayed and attended the sick and in 1704 the House of Lords pronounced judgement in favour of the Society of Apothecaries, which had been founded 1617, to the effect that an apothecary could prescribe for a sick patient without the advice of a physician. However, apothecaries were still only allowed to charge for the medicines they made up, not for their advice.

Licence to practise An Act of Parliament 1815 gave the Society of Apothecaries of London the power to examine all apothecaries in England and Wales and grant them licences to practise medicine. This gave a great stimulus to medical education and regular teaching of students was started at many of the principal hospitals; to this day a medical student may qualify by passing the Society's licensing examination, which is recognized by the General Medical Council for purposes of registration.

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