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Society's materia medica collection now featured on Kew website

Kew's website

Part of the Kew website’s introductory page about the Society’s collection

A comprehensive collection of materia medica put together by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society is now being featured on the website of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, as part of an educational initiative to highlight how medicines have been derived from plants over the centuries.

The collection can be accessed from the economic botany section of the Kew website or through a link from the museum section of the Society’s website.

The Kew website devotes eight main pages to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society collections. They include a number of images, each with a link to an enlarged version of the illustration accompanied by further text.

Two pages provide a general introduction to the collections plus a brief history of the Society and its museum. They explain that the original purpose of the Society’s museum, founded in 1842, was to provide a reference collection of materia medica for teaching purposes. By the 1920s the collection had grown to 20,000 specimens. Most of the collection was housed at the University of Bradford from 1968 to 1983, when the Society decided to donate it to Kew.

One web page is devoted to the Maton collection of materia medica from the end of the 18th century and early 19th century. The collection is divided into seeds, fruit, roots, gums, wood, bark, flowers, animals and minerals, and most of the specimens are still in their original hand-blown glass jars with parchment labelled lids. The collection was built up by a Dr William George Maton, who died seven years before the Society’s museum was founded. It is not known how it came into the Society’s possession.

Another page covers the Hanbury herbarium and collection, built up by Daniel Hanbury and presented to the Society after his death in 1875. The herbarium consists of 610 plant specimens, arranged in systematic order. Many have notes by Hanbury himself.

A further page describes six student materia medica boxes. Used as teaching aids, each box contains up to 100 small samples of plant, animal and mineral materia medica.

A page devoted to “other highlights” includes a description of a collection of cinchona bark (the source of quinine) donated to the Society in 1874 by “respected quinologist” John Eliot Howard. Also described are a cabinet containing 704 specimens of essential oils and a collection of 2,000 microscopic slides of plant and animal materials.

Briony Hudson, keeper of the Society’s museum collections, says: “For nearly a century, the Society’s museum was purely a materia medica collection, and one of great importance. This new online exhibition is a terrific way for people to find out more about the collection and its history.”

Selected specimens from the Society’s collection are currently on display as part of a “Plants and people” exhibit in Kew’s Museum No 1. The collection is also available for study by research scholars.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10020488

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