Gapers in Nederland

These strange looking heads are known as gapers. A gaper is a stone or mahogany wooden head mounted on the front of a building in the Netherlands, used since the late 16th century to indicate that inside the store is a pharmacy.  At this time, not everyone could read and write, so this was a convenient way to indicate what type of store was inside. In addition, it was also a quality indicator for the store. Only the best pharmacies would have the gaper on display out front.

A ‘gaper’ is sometimes referred to as a ‘yawner’ due to the fact that the figure always has an open mouth. Actually, he isn’t yawning, but rather opening his mouth to take medicine. Sometimes you can see a pill resting on his tongue. The grimace of many gapers is said to be due to the bad taste of the medicine.

Nowadays these gapers are rare. Outside of museums, fewer than 50 can be seen on buildings in the Netherlands. Most of the surviving gapers are almost all of Moorish or ‘exotic’ in appearance (dark skin, turbans, bright clothes etc.) which actually indicated the exotic origin of the medicines. At that time there was a fondness for exotic things from Turkey, China, Japan, and Africa; spices from these countries were highly valued and therefore imported by the Europeans. Some of the older gapers now in museums, also have white faces.

 

Van-der-Pigge-Haarlem.jpg
This Gaper is located on the front of the ‘Van der Pigge’ Chemist in Haarlem (this chemist declined to move for a new V&D department store in 1932, so can still be seen in Haarlem today.

 

gapers-van-apotheken
The Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen has an interesting collection of original gapers on display.

 

Does your local chemist still have a gaper out front?

Kristen

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