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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Rare Lead Medical Panacea Medallion

Sale: CNG 78, Lot: 2093. Estimate $300. 
Closing Date: Wednesday, 14 May 2008. 
Sold For $575. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

ITALY, Venezia (Venice). 17th century. PB Theriac box seal (41mm, 20.96 g). Produced by the Alla testa d’oro pharmacopia of Venice. TERIACA·F·ALLA·TESTA·D’ORO·IN·VENET·, Laureate and draped right; to right, small winged lion; all within blossom-wreath and border-ornament / Blank. P. Voltolino, La storia di Venezia attraverso le medaglie (Milan, 1998), pp. 271-2 and no. 1295; C. Martin, “Les capsules de theriaque”, - Museés de Genèva 99 (Geneva 1969), pp. 11-13; U. Klein. “Von Paradies zu Paradies: Theriak und Theriak-Kapseln,” SM 218 (June 2005), 38-41, figs. 3, 9, 11; Peus 364, lot 734 = Peus 367, lot 2086. VF, surface a little rough, otherwise nice gray patina. Rare.

Theriaca (also known as ‘Venice triacle’) was an ancient medicinal compound, employed as a traditional medicine since the time of Mithridates VI of Pontus, and was used as antidote against any poisonous bite. Nero’s physician Andromachus, as well as the medical author Galen discussed its medicinal value. Containing more than 64 ingredients, including viper flesh and opium, as well as herbs, cinnamon, agarics, and gum arabic, it was mixed with honey and wine to complete the compounding process. During the Middle Ages, it was considered a panacea. Theriac became a valuable article of commerce, with Venice, Padua, Milan, Genoa, Bologna, Constantinople, and Cairo all competing in its trade. It was expensive and hence available only for the rich (quality theriac cost one German taler in 1580s). By the time of the Renaissance, the making of theriac had become an official public ceremony, especially in Italian cities. It is first mentioned in England in 1538, and it gained popularity in Germany around the same time. Pharmacists sold it as late as 1900.

Venice regulated the production and trade of theriac beginning in 1258, and by the fifteenth century controlled its distribution throughout Europe. About 40 pharmacy shops in Venice were officially allowed to produce and sell theriac. One of the most renowned factories was “La farmacia alla testa d’oro,” which operated on the Rialto since 1565. The pharmacy kept detailed records on the amounts of its annual production. Curiously, this pharmacy still exists and operates in Venice.