When I was around 20, I was accepted into University of Florida College of Pharmacy. I had been dying to be a pharmacist, and knew the academic demands would leave little time for recreation. In between reading chapters on my bed, I would watch some light television to break up the hours of the day. One of my favorite channels was TLC, and they had a show about treasure hunting. One episode featured privy-digging, where bottle diggers would locate former privy sites, which were also used as trash dumps, and dig holes around six feet deep. In these holes they would find beautiful turn-of-the-century bottles, a lot of them medicine related.
I had always been fascinated with antiques and American history, so when I watched the host of the show pull out beautiful colored medicine bottles out of a dirty old hole, my mind raced with thoughts of what it would have been like for people back then, taking the contents of that bottle, then throwing it out back by the privy. How long would it take for them to take all those bottles? Where they affordable? Did they work? How many more did they have that didn't survive 100 years in the dirt? And where did they get them... from a doctor? From an apothecary? Would I have been one of those apothecaries?
And that is when I realized how awesome and unique American pharmacy history would be... I searched on my local craigslist a few weeks later and found three small bottles for sale- a small amber listerine bottle with glass stopper, a small cobalt blue jar, and a clear tincture bottle with glass applicator tip. The ad stated it would be $10 for the lot, so I contacted the seller and met them at a local retirement home, and thus were planted the seeds of my pharmacy collection.
As the years passed, I moved into "larger" spaces (from a shared 3-bedroom apartment to a studio), my collection slowly grew. I went to junk yards and gathered unmarked medicine bottles by the dozens, paying $1 per bottle... even though I now know they are of no value, each was a treasure to me... each was significant in the history of my profession. I went to the antique shops in the small towns surrounding Gainesville- each possible source of gold. I would walk through the stores for hours, contemplating whether the green poison was worth $20, and what more, if I even had the $20 to spend! Most of the times, prices were ridiculous, and I would settle on a $4 bottle, unlabeled or, if I was feeling rich, a $15 bottle with original contents from the mid 20th century.
My first foray into higher end bottles came during an estate sale in northeast Gainesville... I had stumbled on to the property of some healthcare professional who collected, and there was this one bottle I saw in the garage that caught my eye.... Vernal Saw Palmetto.... a TALL bottle, with box and paperwork, from the late 1800s. It was beautiful! I was horrified at the thought of how much someone would be asking for this... I had shopped at enough antique shops to know it would be horrendously out of my budget, but yet I had never seen such a specimen before! Bravely, I approached the estate sale ladies, who told me $45. I paused, thought, and ran to my car, driving to the nearest ATM, yelling that I would be back. Driving home with that bottle in the front seat, I felt so rich.
Now my plentiful collection of plain, unmarked maybe-medicine/maybe-perfume/maybe-pickles bottles seemed so unimportant... I was headed to the big leagues of medicine collecting and I wasn't looking back! During my third year of pharmacy school, I had a professor named Dr. Tony Palmieri. He taught a class, the subject of which is lost to me now, where he began each lecture with an item from his own antique medicine collection. He would educate us on the item and pass it around. On special days, he would even give us pieces from his collection- trade cards and almanacs! While the classmates around me took a trade card and passed the bunch down, I would be shaking in my seat, eying the lot from my row, begging for a trade card I would value and cherish. I ran up to him after his first history session and told him I collected as well, and had never met anyone else before who had... And when American Pharmacy Month came around that next year, I ran for, and won, seat of American Pharmacy Month Chair in the student chapter of APhA. I put up a display of my collection at the front of the health sciences library, where pharmacy, nursing, dental and medical students could gaze at in curiosity. I received a lot of compliments after putting it up, and after I told Dr. Palmieri to check out my display, he recommended me for a certificate of student recognition with the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy.
I also took the opportunity to educate my classmates on the history of pharmacy with a presentation as the grand finale of the month... attending by the Mayor, who officially recognized on behalf of the city the contributions of pharmacists to the community.
I wanted to meet other people who shared my passion, and had seen the only two collections local to me (one at the UF college and one at NSU college of pharmacy). I had a book that listed pharmacy museums in the country, but all were associated with a college, which meant the items were aggregates if multiple private collections, hidden in cases, and very little details about the items were available. That is when I decided that when I was able to, I would open my own pharmacy museum! I began collecting rarer, higher quality items. I discovered ebay, and have bought many items from a fellow collector I met on the site. I can now afford better items and now, since becoming a new homeowner, have space to collect the volume of items I would need to supply a proper museum.
But I am still young, in debt with student loans (and now a mortgage!), and fear "hoarder" status... so the physical museum will have to wait until retirement. But until then, I have decided a virtual museum would be the best way to share my collection. This site is dedicated to those fellow young pharmacists and would-be pharmacists, who love and understand the significance of the history of american pharmacy and just want to check out a fellow professional's collection.