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‘Mortar Willie’ – Drug Grinder, Edinburgh, 1815

© 2021 Royal Pharmaceutical Society


Coloured engraving “WILLM. WILSON. Commonly called Mortar Willie. Aged 107”
Drawn, engraved and published by John Kay in 1815.

William Wilson (1709-1815), also known as ‘Mortar Willie’, came to Edinburgh in 1778 where he found employment as a drug grinder. He worked as a drug grinder for various apothecaries and chemists and druggists in Edinburgh until 1815, the year of his death at allegedly 107 years old.
In this charming print William Wilson is shown seated, using a large pestle and mortar.


Drug grinders were employed by apothecaries and chemists & druggists to prepare drug material to be used in medicinal preparations.
Drug grinding involved reducing the medicinal substance to a fine powder. This labour intensive work was normally achieved in a mortar and pestle, using a revolving, shearing action.