Thursday, 1 January 2015

Drug Store Ledgers - December, 2014

December 21, 2014

Porter House Register
Example of prescription page

Recently, three large, heavy ledgers were donated to the Kings County Museum in Kentville Nova Scotia from a local family.  Inside are literally hundreds of prescriptions filled by the earliest drug stores in the town and pasted on the pages.  The prescriptions date from 1868 to 1899.  One ledger is labelled Porter House Register as shown in the photograph but inside is prescriptions written by Dr. W. S. Woodworth a "specialist in women's diseases".  There are also a few pages near the end that list names and dates of visitors at the Porter House.  Another is from the L. J. Cogswell drug store,  the first in Kentville opened on Main Street in September 1868.  The third is from the R. S. Masters drug store also opened on Main Street and active from 1884 until 1899.  These ledgers represent an important record of medical practise at the time which was much different from modern times.

All of these ledgers have condition issues particularly with the covers.  Only the Porter House Register ledger has a relatively good cover.  The others are loose and very worn.  An assessment found the following condition issues:
  • white mould and dust (mould is no longer active)
    Insect holes in ledger binding
  • insect holes (insects are no longer active and none were found)
  • debris such as cement and solder in between some pages!
  • small leaves and branches in several pages
  • tears and folds
  • water staining and ink smearing therefrom
  • rust coloured patches
  • black dust
  • writing on inside cover
  • torn binding
  • dried, loose adhesive
  • mouldy, musty smell
These ledgers represent a considerable challenge in conservation.  There are a few basic things that we can do with a limited budget but the best course of action would be to contract a paper conservator to rebind and stabilise all three ledgers.   Essentially restructuring each ledger to handle the weight and fragility.   Given that we are a small community museum with a very limited budget this work would be outside our budget.  The challenge for us will be to find an organisation that would be willing to fund this work.  Perhaps a pharmacy or a medical organisation?  However, I was able to vacuum each page with a soft brush attachment using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.  There was a considerable amount of dust removed and all this work was done with a mask and gloves.  Several researchers have looked at these and needed to wear this protective gear.  Once it was vacuumed the mask is not necessary unless the individual has allergy issues but I do recommend it in all cases.  Secondly, we can put a sheet of acid free paper in between each page to facilitate long term storage by isolating each page from the other.  This reduces the influence of acids used in the paper making process from leaching into other pages.

These ledgers are a fascinating read of the drug store dispensing practises of the time.  I leave you with a photograph of my favourite thus far.  A recipe for a
liver pill using widely available ingredients dated from 1891 made up of rhubarb, dandelion and Podophelium (extract from the fruit of the Mayapple plant).  All parts of this latter is poisonous except for the fruit which can cause "unpleasant digestion".  Please don't try this at home!!!!