The Berkefeld water filter was part of the standard equipment in pharmacies from the early 1900’s until pharmacists were satisfied with the quality of the water in the areas where they had their pharmacies.
The filter is named after Wilhelm Berkefeld, an engineer, who mined the material, Kieselguhr, now known as diatomaceous earth, from the Berkefeld Mine in Germany from about 1890. It is a soft solid material, 88% silica, composed of the fossilized skeletons of small prehistoric plants related to algae. The diatoms are capable of absorbing 1½ to 4 times of their weight in water. It is a good bacterial filter and is said to have been used successfully to filter the water in Hamburg in the Cholera epidemic in 1892.
The filter in the photograph is from the collection in the museum. The outer ceramic casing with the tap contained a tubular filter of compressed Kieselguhr, also known as a filter ‘candle’, through which the water passed. The ‘candle’ needed to be washed regularly as it became choked with organic matter. Replacements were also available.
Gravity feed Berkefeld Filters are still available in the UK and in Europe in a number of modern, elegant, styles and outer materials.
by Ray Pogir