A Short View of the Frauds and Abuses Committed by Apothecaries by Christopher Merrett


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Page 2

But before I descend to particulars, I shall first lay down this
Proposition, their own confession, and in their own Language, viz.
That they may be the veriest Knaves in England. Because they may put
in bad ingredients, and more or less then the composition requires,
they may substitute one thing for another; and all this without being
detected, and consequently not be punished for such misdemeanors; but
more especially in Medicines for private mens uses, wherein they may
do what they please without the least discovery of the Patient, and
from this general confession of theirs, it clearly follows, that
whatsoever deceit, covetous wits can invent, may at least be suspected
to be used by them, and whatsoever is here alledged may find easier
belief.

And Secondly, Most men wonder, that this Corporation, being but of few
years standing, and to the setting up of whose Trade so small a Stock
is necessary; should live so high, spend so freely, gain so great
Estates, by their return of so little money yearly, which how 'tis
done every man may conceive to be effected by the following Artifices.

More particularly, the Frauds by them committed relate either to their
falsifying of Medicines, or secondly, to the number of their Bills,
and prescriptions, or thirdly, to the prices of them.

First, They use Medicines quite contrary to the prescription,
Myrtle-leafs shewed the Censors for Sena, a Binder for a Purger.
Mushroms of the Oak, &c. rub'd over with Chalk for Agaric, which Mr.
Evelyn in his late publisht Book of Forest Trees, pag. 27. observes,
to the great scandal of Physic as he adds; Hemlock-Dropwort Roots for

Dog-berries, for those of Spina Cervina, no Purgers for a strong one.
Sheeps Lungs for Fox Lungs, the Bone of an Oxe Heart for that of a
Stags Heart, Damsons for Damasc Prunes, Syrup of Limons, for that of
Citrons, Bryony Roots for Mechoacan, &c.

Secondly, They falsify the grand Compositions of the London
Dispensatory. It being a common trade with them to buy unsound, and
decayed Simples of some Druggists, and to return them back so much of
the composition as will pay for the Simples. Secondly, whereas
Apothecaries are bound to shew publickly to the Censors of the
College, and the Master and Wardens of their Company, Mithridate,
Diascordium, Alkermes, &c. Yet for all this some of them privately
make a great deal more of the Composition then is shewed, of unsound
Drugs, and some without any view at all; others put in the Scrapings
that ought to be thrown away; and by these Arts they under-sell, and
ruine one another, selling the Composition at a lower rate then good
Ingredients cost them; and with these complaints they daily mutiny
amongst themselves.

Thirdly, 'Tis very common for them to load Medicines with Honey, and
other cheaper ingredients, and to leave out in whole or in part, those
of greater value; viz. Saffron in Ruffus Pills, and in Oxycroceum
Plaster, which latter, they colour of a saffron colour with Turmeric,
Sanders &c. Ambergrise in Alkermes, Diascordium was found by the
Censors in their search made only of Honey, and Bole-Armeniac. Which
false composition was taken away by the then Master of the Company.

Such Chymists which sell preparations honestly made complain, that few
Apothecaries will go to the prices of them. Whence it comes to pass,
that most of the preparations found in the Shops are sophisticated, to
the great abuse of City and Country. These abuses daily increase since
the Censors, discouraged by the multitude of Empirics swarming in
every Corner, have omitted their wonted searches, being to their loss
of time, and expences out of their own Purses for the publick good
only. Now since the Chymical Oyls, by reason of their great prices are
most of them adulterated, and very few of them right good, and that
nothing hath been published on this matter, and to leave the buyers of
them unexcusable, I shall here add briefly, yet sufficiently the ways
to discover these Cheats. First for sweet-scented Chymical Oyls, viz.
those of Cloves, Cinnamon and Sassaphras. Only drop a little of them
into fair water, and that part which is true good will sink under the
water, but the adulterated part will swim on the top of it. Some
others draw deep tinctures from the said Spices with Spirit of Wine
highly rectified, and sell them for the Oyls; but these mix with the
water throughout, neither swimming, nor sinking. Others more craftily
digest with the said tinctures some of the true Oyls, which compound
being put into water, will for a time render it white. Another way of
sophisticating is with Oyl of Turpentine mixed in great quantity with
that which is adulterated; You may easily discover the Oyl of
Turpentine, by setting it on fire, for it yields abundance of
ill-scented smoak, with very little savour of the Herb, Flour, or
Seed, &c. and soon takes fire. To correct the ill smell of the
Turpentine, they digest it with, and distil it off with Spirit of
Wine. Those sophisticated with Turpentine, fired in a Silver Spoon
colour it, and quickly diffuse themselves upon a Knife, or Paper. The
best way to try by firing, is to put a drop or two of these Oyls on
the end of a broad pointed Knife, which being first heated, and then
thrust into a lighted Candle, presently take fire, and break out into
a flame with much dark smoak; but if you will try them in a Spoon,
heat it first over a Candle, and then blow the flame of lighted paper,
or of a Wax Candle on them. To try the scent, blow out the flame of
the good Oyls, and your smell will soon discover the ill scent of the
Turpentine from that of the good Oyl. But on the contrary, all Oyls
drawn from Plants by distillation hardly flame, and the flame soon
goes out, and the smoak gives a full flavour of the Plant it self,
whereas those sophisticated as before, differ from the true in both.
The same Oyls are also sophisticated with cheap ones drawn from
decayed Oringes, and Limons; Your smell on firing will soon discover
these mixtures. A third way of sophisticating Chymical Oyls is, by
mixing with them such Oyls as are made by expression, which are easily
discovered by rubbing them on white paper, which being held and dryed
at the fire, the Chymical part soon flyes away, and leaves the paper
transparent, looking no otherwise then oyled paper; but pure Chymical
Oyls totally fly away, leaving the paper white as 'twas before, and
not transparent, and in this way Oyl of sweet Almonds and Spike have a
great share. As for Oyls drawn by Retort, they all of them smell so
strong of the fire, that neither smell nor tast can well discover any
fraud in them. Now for the fixed Salts, most of them are made of the
Ashes of Tobacco-stalks, &c. More might be said for the discovery of
the Cheats of other Chymical preparations, which shall be reserved to
another opportunity, and had Physicians just encouragement, they would
spend both their time and moneys on the like discoveries for the
publick Utility.

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