Visiting Pharmacies: An Exploratory Study of Apothecary Shops as Public Spaces in Amsterdam, c. 1600–1850
Groot, A.R. de
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Apothecary shops played an important role in the commodification of new intoxicants such as tobacco, coffee, tea, cocoa and opium. These consumables were introduced through pharmacies as medicinal substances and turned into key elements of European diets between 1600 and 1850. Consequently, apothecary shops and the social practices within these shops had an early impact on the changing consumption patterns. Surprisingly, the diverse and important public functions of early modern pharmacies have only been explored in a few studies which focused on Venice, Stockholm, and London. It is striking that apothecary shops in Amsterdam have remained unexplored in this regard, since Amsterdam was the largest centre of trade in the seventeenth century. This study aims to close this knowledge gap by focusing on the public and social functions of apothecary shops in early modern Amsterdam. This is then related to the introduction of new intoxicants into society. For context, three conceptual models are introduced for the apothecary shops in early modern Venice, Stockholm and London. These serve as reference models for the pharmacies in Amsterdam. Apothecary shops in Amsterdam are found to differ significantly from all three of these models, making it most suitable to classify them within a distinct business-oriented model. As it turns out, there is little evidence that these shops attracted social gatherings and, at least from the eighteenth century onwards, the consumption of new intoxicants within them was uncommon. Indeed, these shops were furnished and decorated primarily to do business in the most efficient way possible. A mixed methods approach was adopted to study the apothecary shops from a new perspective, namely that of the customer. Textual and visual information from a wide range of sources such as literary works, socio-demographic data, and notarial deeds were explored. Moreover, the spread of apothecary shops over Amsterdam was visualised and analysed for the first time, which provided new insights concerning the distribution pattern, business, and clientele of these shops. This comprehensive approach broadens our understanding of the daily practice inside early modern apothecary shops in Amsterdam and allows for better contextualisation of important historical trajectories and long-term dynamics.