Nineteenth century pharmaceutical packaging and letterlocking

A few months ago letter locking was very much in the news with the digital unlocking of Mary Queen of Scots last letter.

Yesterday, when I was down at Chiltern, I came across an interesting application of a quasi letterlocking technique as applied to nineteenth century pharmaceutical packaging.

The item in question was a packet of Holloway’s Pills dating from the late nineteenth century


Holloway’s pills were advertised widely in Australia and it has been suggested that as well as the laxative effect they had, the aloe juice in them could act as an abortifacient – important in an age before reliable contraception.

However, the interesting thing is that the package is still intact with the instructions for use still wrapped around the outside of the package. Normally, even if the pill box survives, the instructions are long gone, as the first thing the purchaser did was remove the instructions to open the package.

Turning over the package we can see that the instructions are held in place using some clever folding, a little like letter locking


Quite fascinating – and the first time I’ve seen anything like this, with other contemporary examples, such as this packet of Grasshopper pills not showing such an intricate technique


 with the instructions simply wrapped around the package

Or simply folded over as in this example

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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