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Here you'll find articles about museums that feature exhibitions on antiques and collectibles.

LATEST MUSEUM__________________________________________

Inside the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
by
Bob Brooke

 

The Creole-style townhouse at 514 Chartres Street in the heart of New Orleans's French Quarter looks similar to its neighbors, with a windowed storefront through which visitors to the Big Easy often stop to peer into a world of long ago—a world of old counters and shelves overflowing with bizarre instruments and bottles with strange labels. This is the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, also known as La Pharmacie Francaise, an 1850s apothecary shop.



The museum building, constructed in 1823 by America's first licensed pharmacist, Louis J. Dufilho, Jr., originally housed his shop and residence. Because Louisiana was the first state to adopt a U.S. pharmacy law, historians believe this shop to be the first pharmacy in the country run by a licensed pharmacist.
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The museum opened in 1950 to offer visitors a better understanding of Louisiana's 19th-century health care. Its collection features 3,000 articles, from the ordinary to the bizarre, including live leeches, pre-Civil War syringes and catheters, and cupping jars. Outside in the courtyard a garden, filled with medicinal plants such as ginger and althea and herbs such as basil and oregano, flourishes.

Dufilho’s most significant contribution to the history and integrity of the field of pharmacy occurred in New Orleans in 1816. In 1804, the State of Louisiana, led by Governor Claiborne, passed a law that required a licensing examination for pharmacists wishing to practice their profession.

Prior to this law and before Louisiana became a U.S. State, there were some informal territory licensing measures, but the state government enforced none of them. A person could apprentice for six months and afterwards compound and sell his or her own concoctions without any regulations or standards. As a result, the unsuspecting public received incorrect doses and erroneous medications. In 1804, Governor Claiborne established a board of reputable pharmacists and physicians to administer a three-hour oral examination given at the Cabildo in Jackson Square.

Dufilho was the first to pass the licensing examination, therefore making his pharmacy the first United States apothecary shop to be operated on the basis of proven adequacy.

The Pharmacy
The pharmacy part of the museum occupies the first floor of the town house. Visitors can take tours which explain how doctors and others used the various devices on display. Hand-blown apothecary bottles filled with crude drugs, medicinal herbs, “gris-gris” potions used by Voodoo practitioners and rare patent medicines speak of a time when pharmacists compounded their own medicines and modern medical theory was in its infancy.

The medicinal side of the shop features a large Victorian mirror and shelves that act as a screen for the pharmacist’s work area. Jars of natural herbs fill beautiful rosewood shelves. Behind the screen stands a complete work cabinet with scales and typewriter, and a glass tile on which to mix ointments and powders, and drawers filled with various sizes of empty bottles, much like in pharmacies today. And on the counter sits a huge marble mortar and pestle, the pharmacist’s primary piece of equipment which he used to grind up herbs and such to make medicinal compounds. Unlike today’s pharmacies that store prescriptions in a computer, he stored his in a large cloth-bound book.

But what makes this museum really unique is its collection of early medicinal remedies. For example, leeches, dispensed by the pharmacist, helped doctors and barbers, who did most of the bloodletting, to liquefy coagulated blood of patients' dismembered limbs. They’re still used in hospitals today for similar purposes. Cupping jars lowered patients' blood pressure by drawing their blood through their skin into the jar.

In addition, there are jars of kerosene, used in treating snake bite and for making kerosene “candy” by soaking a teaspoonful of sugar with it. Taken nightly, this supposedly treated the common cold. There was also cornsilk tea, a diuretic for treating heart failure. Plus, cooked okra for alcohol withdrawal, fresh strawberry leaves, eaten in salad, for treating anemia, and tonic bitters, with 21 percent alcohol. If a remedy didn’t kill the patient first, it may have somehow relieved annoying symptoms.

While its common today to buy over-the-counter medicines in drug and discount stores and even supermarkets, early pharmacists like Dufilho often compounded them from crude drugs extracted from plant materials. Dufilho also made his own pills and cut each one into an appropriate size, as well as molded his own suppositories.

Other Parts of the Pharmacy
Another feature of the shop is its 1855 Italian black-and-rose marble soda fountain. Visitors, often puzzled as to why it’s there, learn that it was because pharmacists knew the chemistry required to generate gas for carbonated water. They would mix phosphates and flavorings with bitter tasting medicines to make them more palatable. Eventually customers wanted the drinks without the medicine, resulting in the development of soft drinks. They used crushed ice and salt to cool the carbonated soda, creating nectar soda and fruit phosphates for customers.

The pharmacy also includes a cosmetics counter, where apothecaries dispensed women's perfumes, face creams, and rouges. As is true today, pharmacies in the past were a source not just of health care products but also of pens, dyes, shaving equipment, and hair preparations.

On the second floor of the townhouse is the re-created residence of the Louis J. Dufilho, Jr., including his bedroom, dining room, and office.

The Museum’s visiting hours are 10 AM to 5 PM, Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for students and seniors. Children under 6 are free.

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