4th Stop: Territorial Pharmacy

The fourth stop on the Pharmacy Museum tour is a trip back more than 100 years in time, as you enter into a recreation of a territorial pharmacy, complete with a massive mirrored frontispiece, surrounded by stained glass and ornate wood­work. A pharmacist would work in privacy behind the mirror, compound­ing medications and preparing pre­scriptions for patients, all the while peeking out through the clear glass sides of the frontispiece to keep an eye on the customers. The marble shelf orig­inally was deeper and was used to display sale items. In the window dis­play next to the yellow show globe is a vintage label dispenser.

The frontispiece was built around 1870 in Tennessee for use in a drug store there. When the store closed, the structure was sold and moved to Columbus, New Mexico, near the Mexican border. Pancho Villa and his men attacked the town of Columbus on March 9, 1916, after which most of the residents left the area permanently. The frontispiece moved out, too: it was sold at a bankruptcy sale and moved to the Tombstone Drug Store in Arizona, about 70 miles southeast of Tucson. It was later donated to the History of Pharmacy Museum by a former owner of the pharmacy and refinished to its original condition.

The walls surrounding the territorial pharmacy display are covered with embossed glass bottles dating from the 1880s to the 1920s. Today, these bottles are a unique record of pharmacies from that time period. William Reinhardt, who owned the Town and Country drug store in Tucson and was an avid bottle collector, donated this collection. His dedication to pharmacy history resulted in a series of bottles collected from pharmacies in Tucson, Phoenix and other Arizona towns, as well as California and elsewhere in the West.

Another common item found in pharma­cies around the turn of the 20th century was a box of homeopathic medicines such as the Humphrey’s Specifics in the display case window opposite the label maker, next to the red show globe. A small amount of each substance was used to treat a different malady. Customers ordered by a number printed on the display box. The col­lection of 48-star flags in the copper bowl commemorates Arizona becom­ing the 48th state of the Union on February 14, 1912.

Most medications today are sold as pre-manufactured pills, but prescriptions in territorial days were often compounded from plant materials. Around the back of the pharmacist’s window are a plant press for producing extracts, a drug-grinding mill, a pill press, a check-writer, and a wrapping paper dispenser. 









In another display case is a small collection of inverted Rexall jars, with the cork on the bottom. Also shown is a device used to make pills and cut each into an appropriate size. The cork press squeezed a cork to about half of its original diameter; it was immediately placed on a jar where it expanded to form a tight seal.

The lobby’s north wall boasts the Schering Collection of mortars and pestles. These pieces were given out almost every year from 1963 to 2009 as promotional items from the Schering Corporation. When pharmacists purchased a given year’s store display from Schering, they would receive the corresponding mortar and pestle as thanks for their business. Depending upon production cost, Schering gave out between 3,000 and 10,000 in a year. Schering stopped production of these mortars and pestles in 2009, when the company was purchased by Merck. In total, there are 44 mortars and pestles in the main series, of which the History of Pharmacy Museum has 42. They have become highly sought after among collectors.

Originally posted: August 21, 2013
Last updated: December 15, 2014
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