Style By the Jar

BY COURTENAY EDELHART ON APRIL 6TH, 2017

Glass apothecary jars can be used all over the home as accessories, storage, or both. In bathrooms, apothecary jars are perfect for cotton balls, swabs and other personal care items. In kitchens, they make lovely food containers for display on countertops or in the space between the top of a cabinet and the ceiling.

They’re available in all different shapes and sizes so they can be very pretty assembled as a diverse group or matched up with others the same size and filled with something colorful like candy.

The need for medicinal storage dates back centuries. Archaeologists have discovered similar containers dating as far back as Biblical times. Drugs from Africa and the Far East were stored in earthenware pottery and carted along trade routes, says Greg Higby, executive director of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The stylish shapes of apothecary jars emerged from necessity – curved walls made liquids and powdered substances easier to pour, lids were made as air-tight as possible and showy shapes attracted more customers.

“They were symbolic of the trade, and would be displayed in open air stall type shops,” Higby says. “Remember that most people couldn’t read, so you tried to get [a container] indicative of the contents. The more stylish jars let people know that you had some exotic spices and herbs inside.”

In time, furniture pieces evolved to serve the trade as well. Apothecary cabinets have many small but long drawers to store a wide variety of herbs and medicines.

The accompanying labels could be quite lovely when they were composed of Chinese characters. There’s a whole subset of apothecary cabinets from Asia, which has a long, rich history of herbalists.

Few of the chests and cabinets are still used for medicine today, but they remain a practical storage solution for spices or anything else that’s small. They can store supplies related to fly fishing, jewelry making, knitting, and sewing.

Lakisha Chambers is a spokeswoman for Madison, Va.-based Plow & Hearth, a furniture and home and garden accessory retailer with 18 stores on the East Coast. It sells several apothecary cabinet reproductions.

“The combination of nostalgic charm with all the conveniences needed in a modern media cabinet make apothecary cabinets appealing,” Chambers says.

The lower, wider cabinets also are popular as dining room buffets. The little drawers can be used for flatware, napkins and the like.

But for those who simply don’t have anything small to store in these cabinets, the aesthetic is enough to justify the investment.

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