This print, drawn, etched and published by John Kay of Edinburgh in 1815, depicts a drug grinder by the name of William Wilson (1709–1815), who was also known as ‘Mortar Willie’.
Wilson came to Edinburgh in 1778, where he found employment as a drug grinder. It is believed that he worked as a drug grinder for various apothecaries, chemists and druggists in Edinburgh until his 106th year. In this print he is shown seated, using a large pestle and mortar.
Pestles and mortars have been essential for the preparation of medicines for centuries. They were used by apothecaries, drug grinders and chemists and druggists for two main purposes — for grinding drugs and bruising drugs by gentle pounding.