Pestles and Mortars

Iron pestle and bell metal mortarPestles and mortars were important pieces of apparatus in the old-time chemist shop and are used as an international sign for a pharmacist. They were used to bruise, crush, grind and mix chemicals and the raw materials from which medicines were derived. They come in all sorts of sizes depending on the amount being dealt with and different materials: metal, wood, ceramic, glass and stone.

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Click on the thumbnail pictures for a bigger view.

The metal mortar above stands about 35cm high. It is made of bell metal, a copper alloy related to bronze (78% copper-22% tin) and rings like a bell when in use. The pestle is of wrought iron. They could be used for crushing and grinding hard dry materials, but the metals could be dangerous in combination with acids.

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Ceramic pestle and mortarMost of the pestles and mortars in general use were made of very hard ceramic, like porcelain. This has the advantage of being hard, inert and impervious. The Museum has several sizes, up to one with a mortar of 50cm diameter.

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Glass pestle and mortarGlass is another material that is hard, inert and impervious and it does not stain like porcelain or wood. However, it is fragile. The usually come in small sizes.

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