The Apothecaries’ Society
The Society of Apothecaries is No. 58 in the order of precedence of the City Livery Companies, and the largest in the City of London. They were incorporated by Royal Charter in 1617, evolving into the pharmacists of the day. In 2017 the Society of Apothecaries celebrated the 400th anniversary of its Royal Charter.
The Apothecaries had been members of the Grocers’ Company, since they were originally spice-sellers. However, by the sixteenth century, they had pharmaceutical skills and sought to establish their own livery company; they received their charter from James I in 1617. From 1704, Apothecaries were permitted to prescribe as well as dispense medicine, and the Society has been responsible for examinations, licensing and regulation of the profession since 1815 – a feature that prevails to the present day.
Unlike many livery companies, it remains at the heart of its original trade, with medical professionals making up the vast majority of members. In addition to its traditional civic, ceremonial, social and charitable activities, as a member of the United Examining Board, the Society continues to license doctors to practice medicine, and also offers 11 postgraduate medical diplomas.
For full details click here to visit the Apothecaries’ Society website.
The Society of Apothecaries’ Coat of Arms can be found above the entrance to the courtyard of Apothecaries’ Hall – it shows Apollo, the Greek God of healing, slaying the dragon of disease. Described in the blazon of the Society’s Grant of Arms of 1617 as “the inventor of physic” (medicine), Apollo is depicted with his head radiant, overcoming pestilence which is represented pictorially by a wyvern (a “serpent” in the blazon).
The Coat of Arms also boasts two unicorns, taken from the arms of James I who had granted the Society the original charter, and a rhinoceros, whose horn supposedly contained medicinal properties. The Society’s motto is “Opiferque Per Orbem Dicor”, a Latin part-quotation from Ovid’s Metamorphoses that refers to Apollo, meaning: “I am spoken of all over the world as one who brings help“.
The rhino has been the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries emblem for over 300 years and Apothecaries’ Hall is home to what is thought to be London’s largest rhinoceros collection. Throughout history, the rhinoceros has had strong medical associations in Europe. The London Society of Apothecaries featured ‘Dürer’s Rhinoceros’ on its crest as early as 1617, along with Apollo, the Greek God of healing, killing the dragon of disease.
‘Dürer’s Rhinoceros’ is famously inaccurate. German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer drew a rhinoceros without having seen one; he based it on a written description and brief sketch by a friend who had seen the animal in Lisbon, Portugal. To make the rhino more exotic, Dürer added an extra horn on its back, covered its legs with scales and made its skin resemble a suit of armour.
Nowadays The Society of Apothecaries strongly supports Save the Rhino, the international charitable organisation dedicated to preserving and supporting the rhinoceros in the wild, and holds scholarships for medical students called Apothecaries’ Rhino Electives.