What's New?

At the Cotter Medical History Museum volunteers continue to assess and catalogue items in existing collections and those included in new donations. Inevitably some of these artefacts are historically significant and/or unsettling, a few of which are also in need of sensitive restoration. Some of these will be featured in occasional contributions to the Museum’s website.

An open box showing different weights


The oldest recovered weighing scales were in use in Egypt between 2613 and 2494 B.C. Wooden beam balances probably pre-dated these artifacts but were not preserved. The Egyptian balances were usually made of bronze or lead and were used to determine the weight of an object relative to a known standard, a measure essential for the progress of commerce and fair trading. During the era of the Roman Republic and Empire (509 – 476 B.C.), a complex universal system of weights was developed. The impact of this is apparent in this recently restored box of weights dating from the 1950’s.

One Roman ‘scruple’ = 20 grams.
One Roman ‘grain’ = The weight of a plump, dry grain of barley or wheat.
One Roman ‘uncia’ (ounce) = 1⁄12 of another unit, the pound.

Apothecary is an archaic term for a medical professional who formulated, created and dispensed medicines to physicians and surgeons (analogous to the modern pharmacist or chemist). The profession dates to at least 2000 B.C., but in Europe it was not until the 15th century that apothecaries were officially recognised as skilled practitioners.

The weights used by apothecaries were originally based on a modified version of the system used in the precious metal industries. That was abolished by the United Kingdom’s 1858 Medicines Act and replaced by the Avoirdupois system. In the United States, adoption of the modern and universally accepted metric system did not occur until 1971. In New Zealand, pharmacists continued to use the apothecary system until the ‘Weights and Measure Amendment Act 1976’ made the metric system the method by which we measure length, volume and weight.

The need for a universally recognised, standard system for determining the weight of an object is highlighted by the following:
In 19th century Italy, Spain and Portugal the values of ‘standard’ weights varied considerably – 1 pound in Venice = 301.2 grams, while in the Kingdom of Spain it was set at 345.1 grams.

Acupuncture – An Ancient Medical Practice

14/10/2023 – In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is seen as a technique whereby energy which flows through pathways (‘meridians’) is ‘rebalanced’, this then either stimulating or dispersing the flow of energy. 

Early use of Stereoscopic Imaging in Medicine

18/3/2023 – The anatomy of the human eye and the use of stereo-pairs resulting in a single, detailed three-dimensional image of the internal fabric of the eye.  

Keeler Vertex (UK) dioptrescope

22/10/2022 – This instrument is in effect a modified microscope and was developed to allow opticians to determine the corrective power of any unlabelled spectacle lens (c 1941-45).  

Leitz fluorescence binocular microscope

19/11/2021 – The recently-restored Leitz Laborlux (c 1965) binocular, fluorescence microscope in the Cotter Collection, uses a Leitz mercury vapour lamp to generate the UV light that excites specimen to glow (fluoresce).

The Stephen Clark/Cotter microscope collection

10/10/2021 – Kerry Swanson (Cotter volunteer) and Neville Petrie (retired Director of ‘Science Alive’) have collaborated to create a novel science outreach exhibition.

Porcelain in Dentistry

28/8/2021 – Along with the the K.H. Hubbert Muffle Furnace, the Hammond Pyrometer Model 113 was used to ensure ceramic implants were a close colour match to that of the existing teeth.


25/7/2021 – A polarimeter is a scientific instrument used to measure the angle of rotation caused by passing polarized light through an optically active substance.