Roberts & Co., Chemists, Florence & Rome

H. Roberts was an English chemist and druggist that established a pharmacy in Florence, Italy in the mid-1800’s. The business was featured in “Murray’s Handbook of Florence and it’s Environs” published in 1867.

Apothecaries. – Mr. Roberts, an English chemist and druggist, at the Pharmacy of the British Legation, No. 17 in the Via dei Tornabuoni will be the best person to whom the making up of English prescriptions can be confided, as he has several English assistants; he keeps an extensive stock of English patent medicines, perfumery, teas, and a good supply of foreign and of the superior qualities of Italian wines. In addition to his business as a dispensing chemist, Mr. Roberts carries a large wholesale trade, supplying most of the apothecaries in the Tuscan and neighboring Italian towns. Groves, Borgo, Ognisanti (also English), Forini, Piazza della Signori.

The business was also mentioned in the 1863 edition of Murray’s Handbook. The fact that it was a business worthy of inclusion in a travel guide suggests that by the early 1860’s it was an established business so it probably dates back to at least the 1850’s.

A description of the pharmacy was contained in the February 27, 1892 Issue of “The Chemist and Druggist.” An English publication, they were doing a feature on “English Pharmacies Abroad.”

Florence boasts of two large and handsome English Pharmacies- the old established business H. Roberts & Co., and that of Henry Groves, the eminent botanist whose death in March last was so greatly lamented by his many English and Italian friends, and by the world of botanical science.

These pharmacies are located in two of the principal streets in florence, and, in comparison with the average english or continental shops, are remarkable for size and elegance. The shops are about twenty feet high with arched ceilings and walls decorated with that ornamental relief work in which the Italians are so skillful. The modern Italians have followed their progenitors the Romans in the style and substantial character of their buildings. Nearly all the floors are of marble and are supported by stone arches. The walls are usually three or four feet thick, hence the buildings have a grand, but rather heavy, appearance. Both of the shops referred to have handsome fronts of from 40 to 50 feet wide, with plate-glass windows. The laboratories and offices adjoin the dispensing establishment…

The main room of the Farmacia Roberts is probably larger than other pharmacy in England or on the Continent, and the principal room in Grove’s establishment is nearly as large. Both firms are compelled to carry a very varied stock, including nearly all medicines in general demand in England, owing to the large number of English visitors and residents. They also have large stocks of English perfumes, soaps, brushes, etc.

Meters. Roberts & Co. have developed a large trade in numerous specialties which they advertise in Italy. The Italians have great confidence in English drugs and medicines, and the firm does business with chemists in all the principal towns of Italy and endeavor to keep up with the times by procuring all the new preparations as they come out. The firm has a branch establishment in Rome.

According to the above article, prior to 1892 the company had established a branch in Rome. Subsequently, a 1905 item in the April 1 Issue of the Pharmaceutical Journal announced the opening of a Milan location and in 1908, an advertisement announced another new location in Naples.

It appears that at some point the business became Manetti & Roberts. According to “Manetti & Roberts has a rich history dating back to 1843 when it started operations in Florence.” This suggests that the Roberts of Manetti and Roberts was the same Roberts as Roberts and Co. It also establishes the start date for the company as 1843. Today, Manetti and Roberts operates as a subsidiary of the Bolton Group, B.V.

The bottle I found is a small (approximately 4 oz) mouth blown medicine. It’s embossed with the locations “Florence and Rome” so it possibly dates prior to 1905 when they added the Milan location. How it got to the south shore of Long Island is anybody’s guess.