Published: August 9, 2022
Review by Marty Steiner, Photos Courtesy McMurray Antiques & Auctions
KIRKWOOD, N.Y. – You may want to check your grandmother’s medicine cabinet for old real or quack remedies. A recent McMurray Antiques & Auctions sale on July 23 sold 167 lots of such various collectible patent medicine, apothecary or drugstore and veterinary items along with advertising signs. McMurray Auctions specializes in advertising and other apothecary items, usually conducting three sales each year. This most recent absentee, phone and mail bid sale was his 78th such sale.
The July 23 sale underlines the fact that there are collectors of almost everything that exists. Many of the items in this sale came from the Jerry Phelps collection. This is the ninth sale with Phelps’ items and there will be a few more. Like many other great auctions, great collectors and their collections drive this activity. Phelps and his wife have reached the point in life where they have decided to begin downsizing. This is not your usual three bedroom home with an incidental collection displayed here and there but a 63-acre lakeside village with a jam-filled country store and apothecary museum in Mount Eden, Ky. This store houses Phelps’ lifetime advertising and apothecary collection.
The auction opened with 20 lots of apothecary jars, other containers and a – massive at 721 pages – 1886 druggist catalog that is both a collectible and a valuable reference. All but one lot met or exceeded catalog estimates. Top lots in this group was the 1886 Peter Vanschaak and Sons Illustrated Druggist Catalog at $690, and a cylindrical container of rat poison – with contents – for $575. A few colorful examples in this group included a blue ceramic ointment jar ($161), an amethyst drug jar with gilt Cassi label ($460) and green ribbed jar with red Zinci Sulphas label ($184). Two different size W.N. Walton 1862 patent cobalt recessed lug jars with virtually identical labels brought $403 and $321.
Dr Kilmer’s material are among the more sought after drugstore collectibles. Generally regarded as quack medicine, Kilmer operated in Binghamton, N.Y., not far from McMurray’s auction house. Beginning in the mid-1870s, Kilmer became a household name primarily for his “Swamp Root” Kidney, Liver and Bladder Cure Specific elixir. Thirty Kilmer lots included containers (vials, tins and bottles) and advertising items, including blotters, booklets, almanacs, trade card and even an office hours card. Although the creation of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 1906 required Kilmer to drop the word “Cure” from the product name, the company and brand continued until 1943. Kilmer auction prices ranged from $12 for a small vial still containing Dr Kilmer’s Prompt Purilla Pills to $1,103 for a rare early embossed Indian Cough Cure Consumption Oil bottle. This bottle topped estimates of $300/500.
Twenty-eight lots of advertising followed with some items framed. The first advertising lot – Dr D. Jayne’s Tonic Vermifuge – became the top dollar item in this sale at $1,668 and was right on target with an estimate of $1,2/2,000. The tonic promised a cure for coughs, colds, asthma, lung and throat disease, for “grown people and children,” as well a “sure cure for worms.”
All but three advertising lots met or exceeded their catalog estimates. Two different sized tin signs embossed “Lemon Chill Cure, No Cure – No Pay 50 cts” drew strong bids at $575 and $316 against estimates of $100/200 and $80-$150, respectively. A few low end items including shipping crates with advertising labels doubled their estimates.
Twenty-four veterinary related items, with a smaller following and associated lower estimates, performed as expected. Here, another vintage catalog, the 1910 edition of the Max Wocher & Son Veterinary Goods, that can serve as a great reference brought $316 against its estimate of $100/150. At $431 a framed, colorful canvas sign for Dr A.C. Danials Wonder Worker Healing Lotion for Sores, Cuts, Wounds, Etc., was right on target with its $200/400 estimate.
Dental items followed with nine lots. Pointing the way was an arrow shaped lithographed sign for Philadelphia’s Dr Hyman Painless Dentist, No Pain-Little Cost. This sign topped the dental group and its estimate of $120/250. A rare cone top tin container of Burwal Tooth Powder with Peroxide left the sale squeaky clean at $276, on target with $120/250 estimate.
Next up were 22 lots of tins and pills. “Jayne’s Expectorant Tablets (with) Opium One Grain To Ounce” hinged top tin didn’t put anyone asleep at $345, and actually produced a high over the $60-120 estimate. No one would question the motives of the successful bidder for a pocket tin of Parke, Davis & Co samples of hypodermic tablets at $253, well over the $60-120 estimate.
Bottles closed out this sale. In general, the group of 34 lots of bottles was the strongest of any category on offer. Half the bottle lots exceeded their high estimates with another ten meeting the estimates. An amber Life Plant bottle with complete eagle label soared to $949, well over its $100/200 catalog estimate. Equally impressive was a clear glass Radium Radia bottle with front and back labels accompanied with its original box which sold for $431 versus its $120/200 advance estimate. Likewise for the same winning bid of $431, Warner’s Safe Rheumatic Cure amber bottle offered “for Sciatica, Lumbago, and Gout” on its label. With an original price on the label of $1.25 and an estimate of $150/250, not a bad return on original purchase. Equally as impressive was a Yager’s Sarsaparilla bottle with colorful box and original flyer in the box. An estimate of $120/200 was blown away with a $374 winning bid.
Other bottles with their original boxes and inserted booklets included Dr Shoop’s Cough Syrup at $345, well over $60/90 expectation. Another bidder coughed up $276 for a completely full clear bottle, complete with labels and original box of Papillon Catarrh Cough Cure with an advance diagnosis of $100/200. If all this bidding action caused epileptic-like shakes, perhaps Dr Kline’s Epileptic Remedy will help at only $546 compared to its $80-$120 prescription.
“Terry [McMurray] and I go back many, many years. His apothecary shop/museum and mine (before disbursement) are two of the largest in the continental United States,” Phelps told Antiques And The Arts Weekly.
Phelps, a retired anesthesiologist, and his wife Imogene have spent their “vacations” cruising the countryside looking for drugstore and country store collectibles. They attended shows, auctions and traveled to New England, Canada, and as far as California. In the process, they also began Van Buren Village. The Village honored the town of Van Buren, Ky., which was submerged during the creation of Taylorsville Lake in Mount Eden. Their country store replica built in the village became home for their collection.
“It has been quite a journey traveling, acquiring, hauling and restoring so many artifacts and buildings…it is time to pass the baton to new owners!” Phelps added.
Bidders successful in winning a substantial portion of the Phelps collection should also consider an outstanding opportunity to purchase a home for that collection. Currently available is the replica country store and apothecary which has been the home of the Phelps collection. This 63-acre lakeside Van Buren Village with historic Kentucky log cabins and barns is priced at $1.98 million. Think about it!
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
For additional information, www.mcmurrayauctions.com or 607-775-5972.
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