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Aspirin
  1. M K DAVIES,
  2. A HOLLMAN

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    In the 17th and 18th centuries cinchona bark from South America was the preferred treatment for pain and fevers but in 1763 the Reverend Edward Stone of Chipping Norton found that bark of the willow tree,Salix alba, was an effective substitute. By 1829 the active compound had been isolated and named “salicin”. In 1838 salicylic acid was prepared from salicin and it was also prepared from the meadowsweet, Spiraea ulmaria. Salicylic acid was a good analgesic and antipyretic; by 1860 it had been synthesised and later 24 000 kilograms a year were being produced. However, it irritated the mouth and stomach and these side effects led to the search for a better compound. This was achieved at the Bayer laboratories in Leverkusen by the chemist Dr Felix Hoffmann (1868−1946) on 10 August 1897 when he produced a pure and stable form of acetylsalicylic acid. It was a tremendous success and Bayer’s trade name, “Aspirin” became world famous. The name comes from “a” for acetyl, “spir” from Spiraea, and “in” as a common ending for a drug.

     The only stamp issued on this theme comes from Uruguay in 1997 to mark the centenary of the synthesis of acetylsalicylic acid. A booklet of two stamps was issued and the front cover depicts Dr Felix Hoffmann, a branch of the willow tree, and his signature taken from his laboratory record of 10 August 1897. Bayer supplied aspirin to dispensing chemists in 250 g glass bottles (circa 1899), which are pictured inside the booklet, and the back cover bears the Bayer logo.

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