Thursday, January 5, 2023

 Art.Ology: Apothecary and Druggist Bottles

     A lot of the bottles I’ve found are tiny. Some are perfume, but others have a most curious ambiance.

   Prior to family doctors, health care or the DEA was the apothecary. These holistic Pharmacy's were generally the only option for those in pain. It’s wild to realize that historically speaking, our contemporary health care system is relatively new. But back in the day, the pharmacist was the only one in town to address medical needs from dentistry and eye care to surgeries and sickness.

   Old time prescriptions mixed up some curious concoctions. A blend of tradition, innovation and inebriation. Maybe you would like a swig of old Dr. Goulds Pin Worm Syrup? Stomach out of wack - try some 33% Alcohol “Homestead Tonic”.

Natural ingredients such as Sarsaparilla’s would be mixed with alcohol, morphine, opium, cocaine, heroin, alpha or beta eucaine, chloroform, Cannabis indica, chloral hydrate, and/or acetanilide.

All these tripping patients needed to know which “medicine” they were taking, so each container had a different shape, color and form. Labels included

“These medicinal compounds would have been distributed solely based on a doctor or pharmacist’s diagnosis and prescription. While the heyday of such proprietary druggist bottles existed between the 1870s and the 1920s, earlier examples certainly existed, and typically bore embossing featuring some combination of the name of the druggist, store, and location. Such bottles have also been termed pharmacy, drugstore, or prescription bottles.”
- Digging I-95

   One of the largest collections of old apothecary bottles is in Tucson, AZ at the Coit Museum of Pharmacy & Health Sciences. It’s a hidden local curiosity that might just alter your. Interpretation of history.

   It made me wonder if there was a neighborhood apothecary nearby. During the early history of our neighborhood, called Dunbar Spring, many worked in the mines, walking a few blocks to the railroad where trains would pick up workers. Some elders recalled the vendors selling lunch foods, fresh tortillas and drinks. I can imagine some tonics were available to ease a working person’s pains. Following World War 2 my house was inhabited by a vet, who perhaps used the various tonics to ease battle wounds. Who knows. The earth hides many clues, and mysteries.

   So as you're out there digging up treasures, beware those tiny tonic bottles and objects surrounding them. If you do find some cool bottles the Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes blog may be able to help you.

   Another great source are the The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) who put together a cool site called Digging I-95 which documents many of the artifacts they are finding, including druggist bottles, their uses and history. This site is great and helped me identify a Methanol Inhaler Tube and syringe. 

   Happy Digging!

White metal syringe and Cushman’s Menthol Inhaler tube. Source Digging I-95

White metal syringe and Cushman’s Menthol Inhaler tube. Source: Digging I-95

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Archiving the Pre Digital Alternative Press

 I’ve always loved small press zines. Mailing parties, bulk mail permits, getting everything off to the printer on time. The smell of freshly printed newsprint strapped together neatly in bundles.

As technology developed the job was made much easier, but we lost that hands on look, the opportunity to work face to face in the same room for hours. The art of hand making a magazine, the collaborations between editors, writers, artists and audience is dynamic and exciting.

(1979-1985) The Delaware Alternative Press
was my introduction to the world of alternative publications. This collective put everything together by hand, typewritten, cut and pasted. The office was cozy and professional. Picking up the freshly printed offset web press, driving them back and having a distribution party was all the reward we wanted. DAP articles were well written, edited and facts checked.



(1980-1994) Cultural Democracy Magazine
The Alliance for Cultural Democracy (ACD) recently reconvened on-line to organize archives of the organization. ACD was an important organization, a vast national network of artists and cultural workers dedicated to cultural democracy and equity. 

(1989-90) The Campus Slant  had two issues printed on newsprint. It was the newspaper of the Students for Creative Action Now (SCAN). We were a phenomenon of sorts, a student activist group famous for challenging The University of Arizona  to stop the Mt. Graham telescope monuments to Columbus on Sacred Apache Land. We organized one of the only student referendums in the history of the university. While we lost 48-52% we succeeded in shining a spotlight on the issue, and among our many cultural rights victories, forced the UA to formally recognize the existence of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

(1991-2) Student Artist Call was a collective chap book containing materials submitted by participants and distributed through the mail. As a working group of SEAC (the national Student Environmental Action Coalition) pulled off three issues and succeeded to inject radical artistry, puberty, theater and prop making into an emerging social justice movement.

(1992) The Postal Art Broadside was a publication documenting the Postal Art project. The project featured walk up art stations, exhibits of all work submitted, and emailing of hundreds of works worldwide - feeding etc works back into the postal art movement. The project included a series of newspaper boxes converted to distribute Postal Art Kit’s and works of art for a quarter. 

(1997 - 2001) A/Rise was the newsletter of the Tucson Arts Brigade. There were (8) issues published before switching to an online version. TAB was a community arts collective, that established a city wide Mural Movement that hired artists to work in schools, neighborhoods and community centers.