Published: December 27, 2022
Review by Rick Russack, Photos Courtesy McMurray Auctions
KIRKWOOD, N.Y. – Terry McMurray and his company, McMurray Auctions, is 100 percent devoted to selling items that were used or sold in drugstores of the past. He has a life-long interest in the related collectibles and he has a museum devoted to that specialty in Binghamton, N.Y. His sales include drugstore/apothecary displays, soda fountain items, medical instruments, veterinary-related items, dental items, ephemera and books, labels, packaged patent medicines in original boxes, tins and bottles, glass dispensing fixtures and all related advertising. Most of the items in his sales date to the mid- or late Nineteenth Century or to the early to mid-Twentieth Century.
It’s a category that could go back to ancient times as “learned” men have always dispensed various cures in medieval times and earlier. Cures in early days included “Oil of Scorpion,” “Oil of Puppy Dogs,” “Oil of Earthworms” and hundreds of other “medicines.” Some of the items in the sale had very interesting claims made for them and for those curious about Nineteenth Century “medicine treatments,” an online search will return numerous results. Although many of these items were referred to as patent medicines, it was not because the mixtures themselves were patented, but rather the designs of the labels and bottles were. The ingredients were unregulated, and makers were not required to list the ingredients – or their amounts – on the label.
McMurray developed his interest in old drug store items while still in high school. He said that he and his father were “bottle diggers,” and his father encouraged his interest. Both his mother and father were in the antiques business and McMurray used the upper floor of their antiques shop for his growing collection. “I think that I probably now have one of the largest collections in the country. I’ve traveled all over the country and have bought the entire stock and fixtures of at least 25 drug stores. My first auction was in 1996 and this was the 79th I’ve conducted.”
As McMurray expected, the advertising items drew strong competitive bidding in the December 10 auction. You don’t necessarily have to be a collector of old drug store items to be attracted to the graphics and wording of these early signs. Collectors had about 25 from which to choose and three brought more than $1,000 each. Leading the category, realizing $1,495, was a large, lithographed, colorful poster with a portrait of President James Monroe, which was advertising two products,” Dr D. Jayne’s Expectorant for Coughs” and “Dr D. Jayne’s Tonic Vermifuge. A Sure Remedy For Worms.” The expectorant was also said to “treat asthma, lung and throat diseases, and was the strength giver for grown people and children.” The Dr Jaynes Company, based in Philadelphia, aimed its marketing at different levels of the marketplace. Colorful posters such as this might attract less literate customers, and the annual almanacs it produced, starting in 1843, would be aimed at a more educated consumer. As with many of the patent medicines of the time, some of the company’s medications, such as the expectorant promoted with this poster, contained alcohol, in this case 15 percent.
Bringing $1,208 was a sign advertising “Tippecanoe-The Best for Mal-Assimilation of Food.” The catalog noted that there were five matching posters produced in this set and that this is probably the rarest of the five. Another similar poster, this one for “Tippecanoe-The Best For Malaria, Tired Feeling” sold for $219.
Apothecary items, including counter jars, kicked off the sale and the first lot got things off to a good start. It was a large counter-top jar for the dispensing of sanitary packages of “Tip Top Nipples” a product of the Whitall Tatum Company. The glass container was clear, the lettering was done in blue and white and it had a patent date of 1912. Included were some loose and boxed bottle nipples. It sold for $604. An amber U.S.P. Parke Davis bottle, originally for tincture of opium, also known as laudanum, with a complete label with red lettering, earned $575. Although perhaps not known to customers at the time, use of this drug over an extended period could have been habit-forming. The label also identified it as a poison and listed antidotes. A boxed case with 26 original, corked bottles of homeopathic medicines earned $432, and a lot of four inverted Merck jars with painted labels earned $403.
About 20 veterinary items comprised a separate category. Most sought-after, realizing $633, was a large, colorful box with a large, unhappy looking white horse, which contained “International Heave Remedy.” It sold for fifty cents at the time and, according to the package, would also cure asthma, broken wind, coughs, etc. A large, sealed box of “Sal-Medico, The Guaranteed Worm Destroyer,” described in the catalog as “one of the best vet packages available,” had full-color graphics on all four sides, as well as the top and bottom, and it finished at $460.
The selection of bottles, pill packages and tins was topped by a cure for drunkenness and intemperance. It was made by the Hop Bitters Manufacturing Company of Rochester, N.Y., and the catalog noted that “it could be unique.” Some collectors apparently agreed, as it sold for $1,208. An open-pontil, labeled medicine bottle that originally contained “Christie’s Magnetic Fluid” also did well. It was copyrighted in 1848 as a pain-reliever to be used with galvanic belts or necklaces. It was an aqua bottle, just under 5 inches tall, with intact labels and finished at $863. The last lot of the sale, a box with seven individual bottles of “Ryman’s Pain Curer,” sold for a little less, $805. A bottle for “Lorimer’s Excelsior Hair Tonic-For All Scalp and Hair Trouble” sold for $776. The red label pictured an attractive, smiling young woman with a shoulder length, full head of hair.
After the sale McMurray said, “It was a good sale with aggressive bidders and everything finding a new home. Each sale brings new customers, and I’m glad to say that the new bidders were often successful. The market has been steady for this material, unlike some other categories. If there’s any softness at all, it’s with some of the more common items like pill rollers. Things like bottles in the original packaging are strong, the fancy glass display items are hot now and so are some of the simple, paperboard boxes with original contents. Our next sale will be early next year.”
All prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For more information, 607-775-2321 or www.mcmurrayauctions.com.
January 24, 2023
January 24, 2023
January 24, 2023
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