Mercury bottle

Contributed by Cornwall Museums

THIS OBJECT IS PART OF THE PROJECT 'A HISTORY OF CORNWALL IN 100 OBJECTS'.

WITCHCRAFT MUSEUM, BOSCASTLE. Mercury or quicksilver was always regarded as a living mystical metal, beloved of witches and sages. This little bottle of mercury, with its ring of small shells, was used by a wise woman living in Penzance in about 1905. She earned money by using it to forecast the weather for the fishermen. Fishermen were very superstitious and used a system of replacement words when at sea e.g. cleeta or tower for a church tower because mention of church might foretell a funeral.

A Newlyn-based artist acquired this small bottle and treasured it as a totem, or house spirit charm which he swore brought him luck. He said the wise woman's name was Janie Rowe or Rouse; he was not quite sure which was the correct name. Similar bottles of mercury covered in grey leather were apparently sold commercially in London in 1916. They were carried as a cure for rheumatism. Copper bracelets are worn today for the same reason to help relieve rheumatism.

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c1905

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