Antiques Roadshow: Jon takes a look at leech jars in 2010
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Scientific instruments and collectables expert Jon observed two rare jars that were once used by chemists to keep leeches for medical reasons on a recent episode of the BBC show. The Antiques Roadshow host observed the quality of the finds and stunned the owner by revealing one of them could be worth up to £3,000. He explained to the guest why they were so valuable as he admitted: “I had no idea.”
“How did you come by them?” Jon asked the owner of the strange jars.
“I’m a third-generation pharmacist,” he explained, “both my grandfather, my father and me.
“And these came from father’s father’s shop, he had a shop at that time.”
Jon was intrigued by the items and asked: “These would have sat on the shelf, and clients would come in and what, order half a dozen leeches? How does it work?”
“I think they used them in the shop as far as I understood it,” the pharmacist detailed.
“I don’t think they sold them, they used them to take swelling down from a boil or a lot more recently they’ve used them in skin grafts and things to take the swelling away while the blood supply mends itself, if you like.”
“Wonderful little creatures,” Jon quipped.
The guest to the BBC show replied: “They are, they’re quite pretty things actually, with an orange stripe.”
“Pretty things?” Jon repeated in disbelief.
The owner then explained how he used to have to feed the leeches or they would eat each other.
“You feed them on your arm,” he elaborated. Jon seemed stunned as he admitted: “Still not feeling very affectionate towards the leech, I have to say.
“But I’m very affectionate towards these jars because they are extraordinarily rare.
“Leeches went out of fashion in the beginning of the 20th century, there was just no need for these and so chemists just chucked them away.
“So it’s very rare to find them at all and very rare to find them in this sort of condition.”
Examining the differences in the items, Jon explained: “This one dates probably from around about 1830 and is made in Staffordshire.
“This one slightly later 1840/1850 and it has a mark on the base – just tip it over carefully and you can just see there the mark for Alcock, and I don’t know if you can see there, this charming little beehive with bees buzzing around it – a wonderfully strong design on the building and the lid which has the pierced top to let the poor little leeches breathe.”
“So, value – this one should’ve had a knob there but now it’s missing,” he commented about the older jar.
“It’s still a rare piece, probably sort of £600 – £800 at auction.”
“Really?” asked the guest, looking stunned.
But that wasn’t all, as Jon went on: “This one however is in a better condition, wonderful blue glaze, got the building on it and the label, a very strong design – £2,500 to £3,000.”
“Goodness,” the owner of the old medical supplies answered. “I had no idea really.”
Jon joked: “So maybe you don’t like leeches so much, but the pots they came in are still very desirable.”
Antiques Roadshow is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
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