Drugstore treasures go on auction block

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2005

ANCHORAGE - On the auction block: Refined skunk oil, goose grease, a pack of medicinal cigarettes ("Promotes easier breathing") and empty bottles once holding cocaine, morphine and amphetamine multivitamins.

Thousands of quaint medicinal products from another time have been pulled from the basement of one of Alaska's oldest drugstores and will be offered to the highest bidders on Saturday, both in person and live online. Some of the estimated 3,000 items once lining the shelves of the Seward Drug Co. date as far back as the early 1900s, still neatly ensconced in their original containers.

"This is an absolute time capsule of Americana," said Anchorage auctioneer Duane Hill.

Most of the offerings are long defunct potions promising relief for common maladies like indigestion, constipation, muscle aches and lethargy. There are antique crutches in various sizes, jars of amber-colored petroleum jelly and tiny boxes of razors.

But among the encased lots are historical gems touting outrageous claims that would be unthinkable today. Often all the ingredients aren't even listed. And don't even bother looking for an expiration date.

Blosser's eucalyptus-tinged medicinal cigarettes, for example, were said to treat bronchial ills, asthma and hay fever - it says so right on the pack along with a warning to discontinue use for a few days should rapid pulse or blurring of vision occur. Wo-Wo Tablets, which went for $1 a box in 1906, were billed as a remedy for all kinds of problems, including sciatica, influenza, menstrual pain and for whenever "you are out of sorts."

Products containing controlled substances, such as cocaine and opium, were seized by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, but most of the containers were returned because of their collectible value, said Christine Hill, who owns the auction company with her husband.

Because of the delicate nature of the cache, buyers' names and contact information will be released to authorities, she said. Buyers also will have to arrange their own handling and shipping of many of the items sold. And, they caution interested bidders, the products are for show only.

"None of this stuff can be used or ingested," Christine Hill said. "It's for historical purposes only."

Most of the lot was stored for decades in the basement of the Seward Drug Co., which arose from the first apothecary shop established in 1904 in the young town of Seward, about 80 miles south of Anchorage. The store burned down in 1941, but present owner James Woern believes much of what was stored in the basement survived.

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