In 2008, a ‘book’ was auctioned under the name ‘poison cabinet’, and images soon began to circulate online which showed a hollowed out 16th century book which contains hidden compartments and a ghoulish picture of a skeleton. The book was dubbed the ‘assassin’s cabinet’ and it was thought be some kind of James Bond-esque gadget used by assassins to hide their secret poisons. The truth may be a little less dark than all that, but it’s certainly just as interesting.
The book was sold at the German auction house Hermann Historica, who stated that the book was purchased by a private collector who paid €5,200 (£4,675/$5,860) for the odd tome. The book itself is indeed a hollowed out book from the 16th century, but its hidden content were more likely used to help people rather than hurt them.
The book opens up to reveal drawers in a number of sizes, each labeled to show which plants belonged where. Far from being the tool of an assassin intent on murder, this book is far more likely to have belonged to a traveling apothecary. While it’s true that a number of the plants can be poisonous, they can also be used as part of herbal remedies to cure various ailments. As MyModernMet reports, the draws feature labels for plants such as Opium Poppy and Bella Donna.
While Bella Donna can be used for poison, and often has been throughout history, small doses can be used to relieve motion sickness and as a muscle relaxer. Opium Poppy may be a key ingredient for narcotics, but it can also be used to treat asthma and stomach aches.