I thought I’d share this online article on a curious 17th century cabinet book. Though it contains no cipher, its secret contents would definitely have been a surprise:

The (almost all poisonous) substances its eleven hidden drawers contain include:
* henbane
* opium poppy
* monkshood (wolf’s bane)
* Cicuta Virosa
* Byronia Alba
* the Devil’s snare (jimsonweed)
* valerian
* February daphne (spurge laurel)
* castor oil plant (Ricinus communis)
* Autumn crocus
* belladonna (deadly nightshade)

6 thoughts on “A cabinet book to die for (literally)…

  1. Fascinating! Thanks for posting.

  2. Good to see such precautions were taken. No chance of a poisoner claiming to have picked up monkshood ‘by mistake’. Lock and key, Not just skull and crossbones, but the whole Skeleton and scythe, and presumably kept as if it were another book in the physician’s library. We don’t secure poisons any better now.

  3. The Skeleton and spade was taken from Andreas Vesalius first book on anatomy. The doctors that actually touched people were called Barber surgeons.

  4. xplor
    Yes, of course. It might have been owned by a barber-surgeon. By ‘physician’ I meant to include any professional involved in physic – what we’d call a chemist, or a doctor, or a surgeon.

    You comment sent me looking for some information about the history of poisons control and legislation. Remarkably late arriving, apparently. The history of controlling pharmaceutical preparations comes much earlier – as early as the 14thC in France.

    Just btw – here’s a link to one overview

  5. Sorry – I forgot to mention that the first landmark legislation in England was only passed in 1868, so Nick’s ‘poisons book’ must reflect an informal effort to secure the pharmaceutical poisons, rather than something imposed on a practitioner or householder by law.

  6. Little doubt that this is a fake.

    Burke and Hare they were a pair,
    Killed a wife and didnae care,
    Then they put her in a box,
    And sent her off to Doctor Knox,
    Burkes the Butcher,
    Hares the thief,
    Knox is the yin that buys the beef!’

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