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In the early 20th century, pharmaceutical prescriptions worked very differently from how they do today. Instead of prescribing a certain amount of medicine which today’s pharmacist would already have access to in its pre-made form, a doctor would have to write out the exact recipe for the medicine he wanted made, and the pharmacist would then prepare that mixture using base ingredients.


As you can imagine, a pharmacist would accumulate thousands of these prescription slips, and here you can see two of the methods used to store them. The first picture shows a prescription log, which was one method used to store completed prescriptions. With little concern for the detailed record-keeping which is standard today, the pharmacist would simply tack the slip onto this metal rod when the prescription was filled. Think of it like a waiter sticking an order onto a spike by the kitchen window in an old-fashioned diner.


A second method is also seen here, which more resembles a scrapbook and where filled prescriptions were pasted into large ledgers. These old prescription slips can tell us much about the lives of both the medical professionals and their patients at the time. Firstly, that doctors really did have illegible handwriting. But also the kinds of people who would come to a pharmacy and what ailed them. If you’d like to try your hand at deciphering some of these prescriptions, or read about some specific patients, come visit us at the NL Pharmacy Museum!

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