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'Livingstone’s Medicine Chest'

Wellcome Collection

Burroughs Wellcome & Co., 1900–10. Leather

Burroughs Wellcome & Co. supplied the Swedish-American explorer Algot Lange with specially equipped medicine chests for his 1911 and 1913 Amazonian expeditions. Commonly advertised as ‘Livingstone’s Medicine Chest’, these compact cases were featured in all the major expeditions of the time. Bearing the marks of use acquired during these heroic undertakings, the cases were then returned to the company and displayed at international fairs in dioramas that mimicked contemporary museums of natural history and ethnography. Given the supposed reliability of the drugs they contained, their neat design and the associated advertising that focused on a spirit of enterprise and discovery, they were ideal trademarks for a company wishing to epitomise a modern scientific ethos.

The use of pharmaceutical substances is as old as history itself, ranging from domestic healing practices based on herbs through to contemporary industrial products. Exhibits related to this topic can be found throughout Wellcome Collection. Go to the galleries on the first floor and see if you can find Adam Elshmeier’s painting of St Elizabeth visiting the sick, a whole wall case of pharmaceutical glassware and Julian Walker’s contemporary artwork ‘Acts of Faith’ (2003), which incorporates hundreds of pills.

A700016, Wellcome Collection, kept at the Science Museum, London

This will be on display at Wellcome Collection between 20 January - 6 March 2011

See this object in its context at the Horniman Museum (on display 8 March - 17 April  2011)
See this object in its context at the Natural History Museum (on display 19 April - 29 May 2011)
See this object in its context at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (on display 1 June - 10 July 2011)
See this object in its context at the Science Museum (on display 12 July - 21 August 2011)

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