Darlings, it is always so fascinating what delightful little historical oddities turn up at international auction houses. This most recent find, dating from the 17th century, is a secret poisoner’s cabinet, a simple book carved out to hide an array of medicines and deadly compounds. Originally bound around 1600, the parchment pages of this large, finely-embossed book were glued into a large block, which was excised with a deep rectangular cut to make room for a miniature cabinet of poisons.
Precisely crafted to appear completely intact when closed, the open book reveals a finely made set of eleven drawers covered with silver knobs, ebonized wood, and hand-written paper labels bearing the Latin names of various medicinal plants, such as datura and belladonna, lethal in the hands of an experienced poisoner. The cabinet also holds a green glass bottle bearing the pragmatic momento mori inscription “statutum est hominibus semel mori” (“It is given to man to die”). Facing this deadly collection is a copy of a skeletal wood block engraving from De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem, an anatomical text by Andreas Vesalius first published in 1543.
While this piece may seem a bit rich with a final auction price of €5200 ($7650), that’s a mere $5 for every furtive year this jejune book has quietly smuggled its lethal cargo. And when you consider the going rate for holding on to someone’s darkest and most deadly secrets, that’s really quite a bargain, kittens.