The production of good set of pills in a pharmacy was regarded as a most important aspect of the skill of the pharmacist in the days before the tablet manufacturing processes of today.
The preparation of pills required much practical experience and judgment. The prescriber relied entirely on the knowledge and expertise of the pharmacist to produce pills which would have the required effect.
Well-prepared pills had to be:
Not too soft.
Non-sticky, smooth and properly rounded.
All of the same size and each pill to have a similar proportion of the active ingredients.
Soluble to be absorbed in the intended area of the digestive system
Elegant in appearance.
In addition the pharmacist had to be sure that the excipients did not react with the active ingredients. This also required knowledge of the therapeutic action of the ingredients in order to achieve the prescriber’s intention.
The prescriber would generally state the quantity of the ingredients for each pill and state the number of pills to be dispensed. Thus each set of pills was unique for the needs of the patient. The pharmacist would calculate the full amount needed, weigh out the ingredients and mix them in a pill mortar. The excipients used were varied but Syrup of Glucose was commonly used. The quantities of active ingredients were often very small and the pharmacist would select an inert powder to make up the weight required to produce an acceptable size pill.
After thorough mixing the pill mass was rolled out in an even ‘pipe’ to the length of the number of pills required. This is then placed on the lower half of the plate of the pill-cutter. The top half would then be used in a dexterous cutting motion to cut the pipe into the number of pills required. A pill-rounder was then used to form uniform round pills.
Some pills could be sugar coated, silver coated or lacquered.
The accompanied photographs are examples of the equipment used in pharmacies for dispensing pills and some of the prescriptions for pills from the late 1800’s.
by Ray Pogir