Wednesday, February 22, 2012

McCoy Schering Mortar and Pestle Cups and Holly, Ilex aquifolium

McCoy Schering Mortar and Pestle Cups and Holly, Ilex aquifolium
This installment in the pots and plants series features sort-of-a-pot - really a cup - with holly, Ilex aquifolium. These cups represent mortar and pestles, the traditional symbol of the pharmacy. The handle is the pestle and the cup is the mortar. The cups here were produced in 1965 by McCoy Pottery for the Schering Corporation. The Schering Corporation is now part of Merck but has roots going back to 1851 when it was founded by Ernst Christian Friederich Schering in Germany.

You can read a detailed story of these mortar and pestles in this article Schering Mortar & Pestle Series. In a nutshell, the Schering Corporation started producing these cups (in several different materials besides ceramics shown here) and other items (e.g. cufflinks, note pad and pen set, swizzle sticks!) in 1963 as promotional items.

The writing and imagery on the cups can be decoded as follows:

- On the handle, the word “Coricidin ®” refers to the drug, Coricidin

- On the base of the cup, the words “secundum artem” mean “according to the arts” - the techniques used and known only by pharmacists for compounding

- On the rim of the cup, the phrase “Galen 131-201 A.D.” refers to the accomplished medical figure of antiquity, Claudius Galen

- On the bottom of the cup the name of the company “Schering” is written, arching over a stylized mortar and pestle

- On one side of the cup is a bust of Galen and on the other side, the common pharmacist’s symbol “Rx”

We will never look at these cups the same after finding out this information in the process of preparing this post. We do use them in our medicine cabinet to hold various tubes and toiletry odds and ends.

On to the plant, it is holly - well to be more specific, our neighbor’s holly. Didn’t think they would miss a few leaves. Holly’s binomial name is Ilex aquifolium. Quattrocchi says that the generic name is from the Latin ilex (elex), icis, the ancient name for the holm oak tree, Quercus ilex. Perhaps due to the similarity in leaves? Curiously, the specific name, aquilfolium, means Holly-like leaves. Names can be confusing at times if you read too much into them without knowing how the name got applied. The name of the family is Aquilfoliceae.

Ironically, holly seems to be rarely used medicinally.

McCoy Schering Mortar and Pestle Cups Showing Bottom Mark
McCoy Schering Mortar and Pestle Cups and Holly, Ilex aquifolium


  1. I have a heavy brass mortar/pestle with a deaign of the Statue of Liberty and is dated 1986.

    The bottom of the mortar has a center hole of 1/4" or slightly larger in diameter. WHY?

    Milton Mersky

  2. Guess: it was used to hold a plant and drainage was needed so a hole was created?