Saturday, August 5, 2017

Is It A "Poisoner’s Cabinet" Or A Home Medicine Chest?

Imagine if you will that, having won the lottery, I used the monies to open a little museum of morbid curiosities. Allow me to show you the first exhibit:

This is quaintly known as a "poisoner’s cabinet" and when a German auction house made it available for bidding it was described as follows:
“A Hollow Book Used As A Secret Poison Cabinet. Historism, 17th-century style. With original, finely embossed parchment cover. Intact book clasps, the pages glued to a solid piece with a central rectangular cavity. The inside finely worked, providing eleven drawers of various sizes and one open compartment. The front of the drawers covered with colored paper and fitted with flame-carved frames, the knobs of silver and ebonized wood. Handwritten paper labels with the Latin names of different poisonous plants (among them castor-oil plant, thorn apple, deadly nightshade, valerian, etc.). Incl. greenish bottle bearing the label “Statutum est hominibus semel mori” (“It is a fact that man must die one day”). Glued to the inside of the cover an old etching of a standing skeleton bearing the date “1682”. Size of the book 36 x 23 x 12 cm [14.2 x 9 x 4.7 inches]. Elaborately worked Kunstkammer [cabinet of curiosities] object with strong reference to the memento mori [a reminder or warning of death] theme.” (Bookaddictuk, 2014) 
However, it may not have been all that it was advertised. The eleven cabinets were marked with names of herbs that were certainly poisonous, but they were also herbs used for medicinal purposes. The listed herbs are:
  1. Hyoscyamus niger (Henbane) 
  2. Papaver somniferum (Opium Poppy)
  3. Aconitum napellus (Monk’s Blood, aka Wolfsbane)
  4. Cicuta virosa (Cowbane, aka Water Hemlock)
  5. Bryonia alba (Devil’s Turnip, aka Mandrake) 
  6. Datura stramonium (Jimson Weed, aka Devil’s Snare)
  7. Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)
  8. Daphne mezereum (Spurge Laurel)
  9. Ricinus communis (Castor Oil Plant)
  10. Colchicum autumnale (Meadow Saffron, aka Naked Lady)
  11. Atropa bella (Deadly Nightshade aka Belladonna) 
Aside from the Valerian, all of them are considered deadly, but in minute doses, they served as important medicines for serious illnesses.

So what do you think? A tool for the professional assassin or a convenient way to keep one's medicine cabinet close at hand?

(Note: Most information on this intriguing find was taken from this article.)

1 comment:

  1. "So what do you think? A tool for the professional assassin or a convenient way to keep one's medicine cabinet close at hand?"

    How about both? Working as a doctor who has the occasional 'tragic' death of an accidentally overdoes patient would be a great cover for an assassin.