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From Modern Recycling Bins to Old Medicine Chests

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 30th, 2014

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.


Have you ever heard the expression “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”?  Those words ran through my head when I processed a recently acquired scrapbook here at the WVRHC.  The individual who gave it to us got it from someone who rescued it from a recycling bin in a local building.  This scrapbook is now A&M 4065, Worthington Pharmacy Scrapbook, with contents dating from ca. 1926-1935.

According to History of Worthington, West Virginia, and Surrounding Communities, by Harvey C. Fortney and Heisel M. Fox (1968), Worthington Pharmacy was located at 278 Main Street, Worthington, WV.  At the time that this scrapbook was put together, the pharmacy was run by Virgil R. Hertzog (1896-1998), registered pharmacist.  Hertzog was also an alumnus and former instructor at WVU’s School of Pharmacy.


My favorite piece of ephemera from this scrapbook is an advertisement postcard from March 28, 1930 (edit: a family member confirms that Hertzog typed this himself and that he wrote the handwritten portion).  The front shows a list of “What Your Medicine Chest Should Contain,” with 48 important products that will help “insure immediate rendering of first aid in case of accident or sudden illness.”  At first glance, it seems like a lot, but perhaps Hertzog knew what he was doing—he did live to be 102, after all!  How many of these items do you have in your medicine cabinet?  I have 10 of them.


Front of Worthington Pharmacy postcard, "What Your Medicine Chest Should Contain"

Front of the Worthington Pharmacy postcard

One reason I enjoy this list so much is because it provides opportunities to look up old medical remedies and see how things have changed.  For example, item number 38, “sweet spirits of niter,” a cold and flu remedy, cannot be sold over the counter in the US (the FDA banned it in 1980—check the Federal Register for more details, and thanks to Wikipedia for the link).  I also learned that item number 7, silver teaspoons, is probably on the list due to silver’s ability to self-sanitize due to the oligodynamic effect.


The back of the postcard advertises Orpheus Radios, Easter supplies, the pharmacy’s soda fountain, and Imperial Ice Cream.  While not as visually appealing as today’s graphics-based advertisements, this postcard shows what people were interested in buying and selling back then, just as modern ads do.


Back of Worthington Pharmacy postcard

Back of the Worthington Pharmacy postcard


I’d like to leave you with this thought:  someone believed that this scrapbook full of old pharmacy ephemera was worth recycling, and someone else believed it was worth pulling out of the recycling bin and passing on to an archive.  Without our donors keeping an eye out, pieces of small town history like this scrapbook would be erased from the historical record.  I know we can’t keep everything, but I am grateful for all the amazing things rescued from obscurity by our donors.

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