Prof. Carol Ann Johnston

Author: ARobison

Foundations for Connection in The New Edinburgh Dispensatory

At first, the New Edinburgh Dispensatory appears dislocated from modern scientific relevancy. My email to a Dickinson science history professor before the bulk of my research started yielded no title recognition from her (Pawley). However, though the Dispensatory was not placed within a relevant book list, I was told that Edinburgh was a scientifically significant location at the time of its release, giving the first hint to this book’s place in a larger historical continuum after further research (Pawley). This theme does not stop there, though, as the people and knowledge behind the production and transport of the book have significance, even if the content does not. The most immediate link to this theme lies in the way the book was donated to Dickinson in the first place.

Figure 1- Donation Inscription and Date of Sale

Despite being noted as originally owned by Joseph van der Schot, the donation inscription also states that the donor was one Frank R. Keefer (Figure 1). However, all that is known about van der Schot from Dickinson records appears on the inscription within the book, describing his career as a military surgeon who died in service at Pittsburgh in 1805 (Figure 1). Interestingly, though morbidly, the above seller’s inscription cites 1805 as the sale year, meaning that we can infer that van der Schot must have possessed this book for only a brief time. The manner of his death is unknown, but probably unrelated to his service in the military, since early 1800s Pittsburgh was in an industrialization stage, not a combat one (“Pittsburgh”). Still, van der Schot is not the only relevant personal figure associated with this book.

Figure 2- Dedication from Andrew Duncan to his father.

Keefer’s life expands the story. Joseph van der Schot was Frank Keefer’s maternal great-grandfather, so this specific Dispensatory must have been an inherited family keepsake (Figure 1). My February interview with Dickinson archivist Malinda Triller Doran helped fill in the gaps in Keefer’s life. In addition to graduating as part of Dickinson class of 1885, Keefer was an “M.D.” at time of donation. Just like the author Andrew Duncan’s dedication to his doctor father, a family legacy of medicine was something also perhaps implicitly passed down (Figure 2). We also know the book was officially donated and processed on February 17th, 1950, based on archival records, meaning the book was in his family line for almost 150 years before donation (Figure 3). Keefer also donated books from his personal collection such as Military Hygiene and Alcoholic Drinks and Narcotics in 1952 (Malcolm). A November 1925 Dickinson Alumnus profile shows Keefer reflecting on his comparatively storied military career to what we know of van der Schot (“Ranks” 8-9). Still, Keefer and his great-grandfather’s military service implies a legacy in this family line, especially considering both served in medical capacities. However, a caveat must be made that the finer details relating to the emotional dynamics of this book are likely lost forever. For example, even though van der Schot only had this book a short time before death, there is no record as to whether this book was a treasured family keepsake lovingly passed down throughout the decades, or merely something left to grow dusty in an attic until the Keefers did some spring cleaning and decided to donate. We cannot know that, but the familial line alone tells us about how this book has traveled throughout the ages based upon a continuing familial line and legacy.

Figure 3-(Donations aside from Dispensatory crossed out for privacy)

Scientific legacies of mutable terminology and practice also represent another throughline of history within the Dispensatory. Page 5 in the “Epitome of Chemistry” section, for instance, discusses how radiation is a method to “repel” certain “particles of caloric” (Duncan 5). In other words, the Dispensatory states that heat can be transmitted through waves. Though we may associate the term “caloric” with calories today, the quote context signals the 18th century connotation of heat (“Caloric”). Similarly, the first modern use of X-ray radiation in 1895 was not discovered until almost a century after the Dispensatory’s publication (Fröman). The usage of radiation in the Dispensatory instead points to an older (and more obvious) definition describing “emissions of rays” or heat (“Radiation”). Thus, while technically correct even today, the terminology marks the content squarely as part of the past. On a similar note, there are many elements within the text, but their true significance and usage would not be realized until much later. For example, uranium’s short description calls it an “incoherent mass” and then briefly mentions its hardness and basic combinative potential (Duncan 27). Once again, the content is technically correct, but not in the same context we would describe how to handle uranium today.

However, the Dispensatory’s most important representation of its continued scientific relevancy is its handling of the demonstration of science itself. From a commercial standpoint, a bookstore today selling a medical textbook that gives advice on deadly poisons and remedial balms would be unlikely. (Duncan 491-503). Still, the principles behind these actual recipes are still used practically today, even if some of the ingredients themselves are different. In the “Preparations and Compositions Section” concerning lead, the book gives instruction to “entirely…[reject]” ingestion (Duncan 476). Yet, it still advertises lead’s usefulness in treating external skin ailments (Duncan 476). While the lead in everyday life has declined significantly, using harmful materials for a greater destructive purpose remains a part of modern medicine like with chemotherapy (Pedersen, “Lead”). Despite chemotherapy’s proven negative effects, the continued usage reflects a similar principle to that found in the Dispensatory in which medicine does the best with the knowledge available at that moment in time (“Chemotherapy”).

While some of the Dispensatory’s content may be obsolete, the scientific and personal history found within still has relevancy. We now understand that lead should not be applied to the skin, but similar philosophies of taking the lesser evil are still present in modern medicine. At the same time, the Dispensatory’s personal history with the Keefers and van der Schots further shows how real people also continue and pass down legacies of knowledge, occupation, and blood to newer generations. In short, taking all the Dispensatory’s information to heart may not be productive because of the outdated content. Instead, appreciating the mindsets and continued legacies, whether personal or scientific, provides the key to understanding the Dispensatory’s rich nature.





Works Cited: 

“caloric, n.” OED Online, March 2023, Accessed 30 March2023. 

Dickinson College Library. Accessions ledger 70001-80000, January 12, 1949 to October 19,1953. Record Group 4/51 Library, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA. 

Duncan, Andrew. The New Edinburgh Dispensatory. Worcester, 1805. 

Fröman, Nanny. “Marie and Pierre Curie and the discovery of polonium and radium.” NobelPrize Outreach AB 2023,                   -polonium-and-radium/. Accessed 30 March 2023. 

“How Chemotherapy Drugs Work.” American Cancer Society, 2023,                                             Accessed 30 March 2023.  

Malcom, Gilbert. Letter to F.R. Keefer. Received by Frank Keefer. 25 June 1952. 

Pawley, Emily. “Re: Book Relevancy.” Received by Anna Robison, 27 March 2023.  

“Pittsburgh Becomes the City of Steel.” PBS, 2023,                                                                                  Accessed 30 March 2023. 

Pedersen, Traci. “Facts about Lead.” LiveScience¸ 6 October 2016, Accessed 30 March 2023. 

“radiation, n.” OED Online, December 2022, Accessed 29 March 2023. 

“Ranks High in Army Medical Service.” The Dickinson Alumnus. November 1925, pp. 8-10.

Triller Doran, Malinda. Personal Interview. 10 February 2023. 


Original Legacies in The Edinburgh New Dispensatory

The authorship of the Edinburgh New Dispensatory’s spans nearly a century. At first glance of the physical book, this would likely start with determining the identity of the “Duncan” described on the spine (Figure 1) Though the 1805 version’s title page lists Andrew Duncan Jr. as its author, further research reveals the multifaceted authorship of the book and positions Duncan Jr. as an editor and compiler of multiple works (Figure 2). As the name implies, the Dispensatory’s content originates in Edinburgh, and so the main contributors of William Lewis, Andrew Duncan Sr., and Andrew Duncan Jr. all hail from the city. More importantly, for the Dispensatory to earn the “new” title, there must be an original “old” dispensatory, in which William Lewis was the originator. Lewis worked as physician and chemist in his lifetime of 1708 to 1781. Though the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography does not say from which language, it does note that his translation of the 4th edition of the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia in 1748 also appears in the New Dispensatory (Page “Lewis”). Among many other publications, he edited and reworked John Quincy’s Compleat English Dispensatory into what would be the first 1753 edition of The New Dispensatory (Page “Lewis”). Quincy’s English Dispensatory also has a long lineage of success; the book was on published in its 12th edition in 1749 before the New Dispensatory’s publication (“Compleat English”).

Figure 1-The spine of the dispensatory- who does “Duncan” refer to?

Figure 2- Title Page

Thus, the publication of the Dispensatory represents another step in a long line of medical and familial history. According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Scientists, the end of the 18th century coincided with a rise in consolidating the meaning of “’clinical’ medicine” and moving towards diagnosis based on senses rather than humors (Cunningham, “History”). The city of Edinburgh also represented another step in printing evolution. Over 14,000 imprints were published across the second half of the 17th century in Edinburgh, making it the 3rd largest publishing city overall in the anglophone book production sphere (Sher 34). Thus, even if we cannot pin the specific numbers for the Dispensatory’s printing, we can at least know the cultural and historical moments surrounding its production. Despite being the physically edited work of Andrew Duncan Sr., his father seemed to have contributed as much in spirit, if not specific words. This is acknowledged by the dedication page, as well (Figure 3). Duncan Sr. was a physician and professor for the University of Edinburgh, eventually writing several medical journals, one of which was apparently discontinued to make room for his son’s similar medical publication (Bettany “Elder”). Out of twelve children, only Duncan Jr. followed the path of the father in medicine (Bettany “Duncan”) After gaining experience working with his father in Annals of Medicine, Duncan Jr. published the first edition of the Edinburgh New Dispensatory in 1803 (Bettany “Duncan”). As the ODNB website notes, the Dispensatory gained renown enough to be published in French and German, as well as in the United States (Bettany “Duncan”). Thus, the Worcester Press edition published in 1805 can be surmised to be part of this publication expansion in the United States.

Figure 3- Dedication Page

The publication transition to American from Edinburgh also reflects a similar patrilineal dynamic as seen with the Duncans. In the title page, the 1805 edition states its origins in uppercase from the “press of Isaiah Thomas Jr” (Figure 2). Though stated as a “first Worcester edition,” the type below the press section also notes in lowercase that the book was sold to him by “Thomas and Andrews, Boston, and Thomas and Whipple, Newburyport” (Figure 1). After further research, Isaiah Thomas Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, identical to the Duncans. Like Andrew Duncan Jr., much more information exists on their fathers instead of them themselves. When looking at the full life story of Isaiah Thomas Sr., the reasons why become clear.

Through his printing press powers, Thomas helped incite the Revolutionary War. In 1770, Thomas started publication of the Massachusetts Spy which was known for continual criticism of the government and favor towards revolution (Hixson “Thomas”). In 1773 he opened a printing house in Newbury Port where he also continued to publish a variety of works that were not specifically political (Hixson “Thomas”). However, the British takeover of Boston forced him to relocate once more to a location in Worcester in 1775, thus almost certainly being the place where the 1805 Dispensatory was published (Hixson “Thomas”). After the war and establishment of printing locations beyond Massachusetts, Thomas published and invested in over 400 titles in his printing houses, some of which included works by Rosseau, Paine, Noah Webster, and the oldest American edition of Mother Goose (Hixson “Thomas”). In short, Isaiah Thomas’ prolific printing acumen had impressive contributions to both the printing field and the development of United States as a nation. However, everything must end, and for Isaiah Thomas Sr.’s working life, this was his retirement at the start of the 19th century (Hixson “Thomas”). Starting in 1800, he started to transfer ownership of his printing businesses over to Isaiah Thomas Jr. (Knoles “Isaiah”). Thus, the Dispensatory’s publication situates itself in multiple scientific, political, and personally significant historical events.

Evidence of the Dispensatory’s success and legacy can still be seen today from the copies of this over two-hundred-year-old book still in existence. When examining the World Cat site, the Dispensatory has at least 69 copies in the United States in various editions (“Dispensatory”). The WorldCat does not have the Dickinson edition registered, which also implies there may be many yet still unregistered. Appropriately, they are mainly housed in college medical libraries, such as the Yale, Holy Cross, and Harvard medical libraries. The Dispensatory also appears in preservation organizations like the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford. These copies mainly are housed along the East Coast United States with a specific concentration in the Northeast, though copies cover as far as California and Texas. The farthest copy from Carlisle, Pennsylvania rests in Wellcome Library in London, though another edition (“Dispensatory”). The 1805 edition appears in 44 libraries according to Worldcat, also indicating popularity. Despite being published in Worcester, at least one 1805 edition traveled as far as the Canadian city of Alberta (“Dispensatory”). To have journeyed so far from the original publication in Boston signals this book to have at least moderate success and import. The fact the there are many editions also implies a demand to keep printing and updating, further insinuating at least moderate success. Overall, the Edinburgh New Dispensatory has a sizable material, political, and culture success as evidenced by the surviving copies and historical legacies and associations gone into creation.



Works Cited:

Bettany, G.T. “Duncan, Andrew (1773–1832), physician and expert in forensic science.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2004, https://www-oxforddnb-       9780198614128-e-8213?rskey=aqJK4e&result=3. Accessed 4 March 2023.

Bettany, G.T. “Duncan, Andrew, the elder (1744–1828), physician.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 11 August 2022,            9780198614128-e-8212?rskey=ZYJaVh&result=2. Accessed 4 March 2023.

Cunningham, Andrew. “The History of Medicine.” The Cambridge Dictionary of Scientists, edited by David Millar, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2002. Credo Reference,                                                                                                                                             dicscientist/the_history_of_medicine/0?institutionId=2613. Accessed 10 Apr. 2023.

Hixson, Richard F. “Thomas, Isaiah.” American National Biography, February 2000, https://www-anb- Accessed 4 March 2023.

Knoles, Thomas. “Thomas, Isaiah (1749 1831).” The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment, edited by Mark Spencer, Bloomsbury, 1st edition, 2014. Credo Reference, Accessed 08 April 2023.

Page, Frederick G. “Lewis, William.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 30 May 2013, div1-d790392e383. Accessed 4 March 2023.

“Pharmacopœia officinalis & extemporanea: or, a compleat English dispensatory, in two parts, theoretic and practical. Part I. In two books. Book I. Of the Definition, Subject, General  Intentions, Media, Instruments, and Operations of Pharmacy. Book II. Of the Distribution into proper Classes, General Nature, and Medicinal Virtues, &c. of Simples. Part II. In  five books. Book I. Of the Preparation of Simples. Book II. Of Saline Preparations. Book   III. Of Metalline Preparations. Book. IV. Of Officinal Compositions; containing all the      Prescriptions of the London and Edinburgh Pharmacopoeias, according to the last Alterations thereof ; together with those of other Authors, and the present Practice, which claim any Notice. Book V. Of Extemporaneous Prescriptions; which are therein disposed              into proper Classes according to their several Curative Intentions. By John Quincy, M.D.” World Cat, Accessed 4 March 2023.

“The Edinburgh new dispensatory: containing, I. The elements of pharmaceutical chemistry. II.  The materia medica … III. The pharmaceutical preparations and compositions; including complete and accurate translations of the octavo edition of the London pharmacopoeia, published in 1791; Dublin pharmacopoeia, published in 1794; and of the new edition of the Edinburgh pharmacopoeia, published in 1803. Illustrated and explained in the language and according to the principles of modern chemistry. With many new and      useful tables. And several copperplates, explaining the new system of chemical characters, and representing the most useful pharmaceutical apparatus.” WorldCat, Accessed 4 March 2023.

Sher, Richard B. “Corporatism and Consensus in the Late Eighteenth-Century Book Trade: The Edinburgh Booksellers’ Society in Comparative Perspective.” Book History, vol. 1, 1998, pp. 32–93. JSTOR, Accessed 11 Apr. 2023.

The New Edinburgh Dispensatory

The faded exterior of The New Edinburgh Dispensatory gives little note of the remarkableness of its content aside from the golden lettering and scarlet background remain the only part of the outside still with color (Figure 1). The definition of a dispensatory according to the Oxford English Dictionary as “a book in which are described the composition, method of preparation, and use of medical substances” clarifies the book’s content without having to read within (“Dispensatory”). Though published in 1806, the book remains in strong condition, despite the pages’ consistent age tanning (“Aged Tanned”). The thick pages and covers are all still attached as shown from the bottom of the internal spine (Figure 2). Though faded, the book’s back and front cover are sturdy boards, as defined by the ABC for Book Collectors (Carter 47-48). Based on the quality of the non-vellum paper and boards, the book likely was bound in the 1780s-1830s edition binding style (Carter 86). Overall, the Dispensatory’s accessibility occurs because of the book’s good construction.

Figure 1: Dispensatory Spine

Figure 2: Internal Spine

The Dispensatory’s inside also shows a similar high quality, whether from the pages’ physicality or actual meaning conveyed. The only exception occurs for a couple of pages near the middle where the pages display intense brown stains across the pages (Figure 3). This phenomenon of foxing occurs in cases of age or excess humidity or fungus (“Foxed”). Additionally, typographic markers of age include the use of the long “s” sound in modern day that otherwise appears as an “f” in older texts (Johnston). Finally, the book’s content situates itself in broader early 19th century scientific understanding. For example, scientific debate reflects through discussion of the element mercury, stating, “[Mercury] has no action on the body…It is not poisonous as was vulgarly [supposed],” which is no longer recognized as fact (Duncan 225). Thus, diverse markers of age are displayed throughout the book’s content and physical features.

Figure 3: Foxed Page

An examination of the book’s content matter reveals a comprehensible and sensible layout regarding all things medicinal. The book divides into three sections of the “Elements of Pharmacy,” Materia Medica,” and “Preparations and Compositions.” The “Elements of Pharmacy,” as shown in the depiction of the principles of electricity, presents a numbered list detailing scientific principles (Figure 4). “Materia Medica” then moves to detailed description of plants and their medicinal usage (Figure 5). Finally, “Preparations and Compositions” describes creation and handling chemical concoctions (Figure 6). Unique appendixes follow each. For Section I, this includes tables explaining elemental affinities, tables describing chemical reactions to hot and cold temperatures, weights of measurement, solubility tables, illustrated diagrams and explanations, and a chemical symbols table (Figures 7-14). Comparatively, the second section appendix notes substances that have not been included in the British pharmacopoeias, but still exist abroad (Figure 15-16). Finally, a Latin index and English index complete the book’s end (Figure 17-18). A small illustration of a cherub also appears on the book’s last page appropriately holding a “Finis” banner (Figure 17). To help the transition from previous editions, the Dispensatory also clarifies a list of updated terms for reference (Figure 19). Overall, the page layout creates a thorough guide to contemporary scientific theory and methodology.

Figure 4: Aged-Tanned Elements, or Section I

Figure 5- Materia Medica, or Section 2

Figure 6-Preparations and Compositions (Section III)

Figure 7- Element Affinities (Appendix I)

Figure 8- Freezing Point Table (Appendix I)

Figure 9- Temperature Table (Appendix I)

Figure 10- Weight Table (Appendix I)

Figure 11-Solubility Table (Appendix I)

Figure 12- Illustrated Diagram (Appendix I)

Figure 13- Diagram Explanation (Appendix I)

Figure 14- Chemical Symbols (Appendix I)

Figure 15-Appendix II Overview Page

Figure 16- Section II Appendix

Figure 17- Latin Index

Figure 18- English Index

Figure 19- Names Changed

Discussion with Dickinson College’s Archival librarian also revealed more information about the book’s surprises and mysteries. Though the signs of use and damage are limited, they are not altogether gone, but rather few and far between. The front page appears to have water damage, but that is relatively the only place occurring at great extent (Figure 20). Page 474 appears to have some unknown dark substance stuck to a page, too (Figure 21). Amusingly, pencil doodles of some sort of animal are drawn on the unmarked blank backside of the illustration page next to page 115 (Figure 22). However, Pages 166-167 appear to have a tear, which the archivist identified as what would likely come from putting fingers through the page (Figure 23-24). However, there were also strips of paper affixed to both side ends. The paper had cursive writing, making the initial deciphering difficult. But with further help, the archivist theorized the strips of paper to most likely be an attempt at repair, as putting the strips at the end would not obscure the text itself (Triller-Doran). Yet, the repair came at a cost to the book, as stains from the glue can be found having bled over to other the other pages (Triller-Doran). It’s also hard to determine who made these repairs, for though the strips speak of a request, there are no records to show if this corresponds as a marker of the actual repair or mere coincidence (Triller-Doran).

Figure 20- Title Page with Water Damage

Figure 21- Substance-marked page

Figure 22-Doodles

Figure 23- Page 166 with the tear and failed repair

Figure 24- Page 167 with the tear and failed repair

Of course, the preface tells another interesting historical and personal tale. The most recent inscription tells us that this book was a gift to Dickinson College from alum Frank Keefer, and in the original possession of his great grandfather Joseph van der Schot (Figure 25). This theme of familial legacy also appears in the book’s authorship. The Dispensatory’s three parts were compiled by Doctor Andrew Duncan junior, hence the spine title of Duncan’s Dispensatory. On the dedication page, the author dedicated the book to his father, Dr. Andrew Duncan senior (Figure 26). This leads to interesting questions about implicit intersections of personal relationships in this book, such as was the son inspired by the path of the father? Or was the career something expected of the son? Whatever the case, The Edinburgh New Dispensatory provides many fascinating personal, material, and informational questions and even mysteries starting from its base physical features.

Figure 25- Original Purchase Inscription

Figure 26- Dedication Page


Works Cited:

“Age-Tanned.” Biblio, Inc., 210.html.  Accessed 11 February 2023.

“dispensatory, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2022, Accessed 3 March 2023.

Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors. Oak Knoll, 1998.

Duncan, Andrew. The New Edinburgh Dispensatory. Worcester, 1805.

“Foxed.” Biblio, Inc., Accessed 2 March 2023.

Johnston, Carol Ann. History of the Book, Dickinson College, 2 February 2023, Carlisle, PA. Lecture.

Triller-Doran, Malinda. Personal Interview. 10 February 2023.


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