Friday, May 30, 2014

Grampa's Medicine

Every now and then I "stray to the dark side", as friend Rick puts it. Today I'm taking a break from the normal fare of bourbon and rye and am instead delving into the history of an interesting druggist bottle.


Grampa's Medicine

Years ago I had a digging partner. He had some, shall we say, "unusual" drinking habits. Most of my pals and I are what could be termed maintenance drinkers. You know, a few beers every night along with a glass of wine or two at supper.

This friend, on the other hand, was a binge drinker. He'd go for a couple of days and never touch a drop. And then he'd climb up on the diving board and take the plunge. I can recall getting emails from him on those binge nights time stamped 3AM. After the better part of a case of beer, they were generally unintelligible...

He didn't care for hard liquor either. Wine and beer were his refreshment of choice. He called it "Grandpas medicine".
At the time, my wife's folks were in their mid 80's. We've recently moved them into a senior retirement complex here in J'ville. Although originally from the south S. F. Bay Area, they'd lived in Mt. Shasta since Dicks retirement, many years ago. Their home in San Jose was a modest single story tract home. When they relocated to No. Cal., they brought everything (and I mean everything) with them. In the ensuing years, they continued to hoard. The place in Mt. Shasta had a 3,000 square foot two story home, a two car garage, a 1,000 square foot shop, two large outbuildings and a horse trailer. All packed to the rafters with... "stuff".

Since the move to the retirement center, we'd been tasked with the job of sorting through 65 years worth of; you name it~. Sadly, most of the "stuff" was fodder for the dumpster. There have been a couple of exceptions though (thank God). We found a few boxes full of fairly early beer openers, many from S. F. We also dug out an album stuffed full of pre 1900 San Francisco business and trade cards. Neat "stuff"!

One afternoon, while pawing through cases of empty "no - deposit / no - return" 1970's Pepsi bottles and pull tab Schlitz beer cans, I stumbled across an amber tooled quart blob beer. At first glance I thought it was a John Rapp or something equally unexciting. Instead, it turned out to be embossed "Franks Bros. / San Francisco". Turns out, it was a half way decent bottle.

A little while later, while tossing newspaper in the recycling, a small pharmacy bottle rolled out of the stack. My seven year old (at the time) grand daughter, Ali, made a diving save just before it hit the pavement. As she held up the prize, I said "neat medicine". Ali joked, "look, it's Grampa's medicine". She then commented about the color; a rich sun colored amethyst. (I recall my first bottle find - it too was purple).
This bottle was embossed. A mortar and pestle on one side with "Pure Drugs" embossed on it. To the right was embossed "Dr. A. A. Gilmour / San Francisco / 500 G. G. Ave.". 

I said "let's see what we can find out about this Dr. Gilmour" as I fired up the laptop. I explained to her that I might be able to find out who he was through the use of old city directories and newspaper articles. My inclination, based on the look of the bottle was to start in 1900, and then work both backwards and forwards. This would tell us how long he was in business and maybe a little more about him. She seemed genuinely interested. A budding young collector in the making?

Hmm... nothing in 1900. 1895? Bingo; but the address was wrong~

Here's a chronology of his appearance in the San Francisco / Crocker directories, starting in 1889.
500 Golden Gate Ave. matched the bottles embossing.




Looks like Angus Jr. (Angus D.) decided to join the family business in 1892, right after the big move over to McAllister.

A little more digging was rewarded with a brief history of his career through the year 1892. It rounds out a lot of the questions about his earlier years.

"The Bay of San Francisco," Vol. 1, page 491-492, Lewis Publishing Co, 1892.

 Angus A. Gilmour, M.D.
Angus A. Gilmour, M.D., proprietor of Gilmour's Golden Gate Pharmacy, at No. 410 McAllister street, San Francisco, has been a resident of California since 1868, and has been engaged in the practice of medicine for the past eighteen years. He was born in Three Rivers, Province of Quebec, Canada, in 1848, and received his early education in the public school of that place.
At the age of twelve years he was sent to Nicolet College, where he remained for five years. He then entered the medical department of McGill University, Montreal, Canada, where he graduated in 1868, receiving his degree of Doctor of Medicine and Surgery. He at once engaged in the practice of his profession, and was appointed surgeon of the Canada Active Militia, and in 1872, to the medical charge of the Shefford Field Battery or Artillery, Col. T. Amyreault commanding. After ten years he retired from active service, with the rank of Surgeon-Major. Meanwhile Dr. Gilmour had been engaged in private practice at Montreal and later at Waterloo, Province of Quebec, where his battery was stationed.
He came to California in 1878, on a leave of absence, and remained six months. He returned to Canada, leaving his wife, whose health required a milder climate, and after nine months spent in Canada he again came to California, where he has since remained, and engaged in the practice of medicine. The first ten years were spent in Modesto, Stanislaus county, where he practiced medicine ten years and owned a drug-store for five years.
In 1888 he sold out, and came to San Francisco, where he purchased a drug-store, which he now owns, in addition to his medical practice. Considering the time he has been in San Francisco he has done well. He is a member of several Scotch societies. He has been fortunate enough to receive the appointment of surgeon of Clan Fraser, numbering nearly 200 and growing very fast. The order was instituted in 1890 by Hugh Fraser and Rev. Mr. Easton, of Calvary church: John Elder as chief; Maxwell L. Crowe as Tanist; L. Drerer as treasurer; Wm. McCormack, secretary, F. L. Gilchrist as financial treasurer (some of the best Scotch blood in San Francisco). The Doctor is also medical examiner for the order of Knights of Honor, and physician of the Thistle Club, making some 500 or 600.
His parents were Dr. W. A. R. Gilmour, born in Glasgow, Scotland, and Helen Cresse, the latter the youngest daughter of Seigneur Cresse, of Nicolet. Her ancestors were born in France, and were prominent among the early French settlers in that part of Canada, Seigneur Cresse being the representative of the French government until the British occupation.
His father graduated in medicine and surgery at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and obtained the degree of F. R. H. S., Glasgow. Emigrating to Canada, he became a prominent physician at Three Rivers, Quebec, and was one of the medical examiners for the Province of Quebec. He is now eighty-three years old and still practicing in Waterloo, Province of Quebec.
Dr. Gilmour's eldest brother, Colonel A. H. Gilmour, is the colonel of the Sixtieth Regiment of Active Canadian Militia, and private banker at Stanbridge East, Quebec, Canada; another brother, James Gilmour, is a wholesale dry-goods merchant in Montreal, of the firm of Lindsey, Gilmour & Co.; two other brothers, George and Alfred, are prosperous merchants in Canada; George and Alfred are in Waterloo. Dr. Gilmour's wife was a daughter of Duke Roberts, a capitalist of Waterloo, Canada. They have one boy, Angus Gilmour, who is now attending school in San Francisco.

Back to the directories;
1893 (phone directory)
 Another move, this time to 404 Golden Gate Ave, just down the block from the old place at 500 G.G.
Angus Jr. is still at it.
Oops, looks like Angus Jr. decided that the family business wasn't to his liking after all.
Angus Jr., back at the store again.
Or maybe not... And now a quick hop, skip and a jump to 408 Van Ness. Ave.
Looks like Jr. finally decided that being a machinest was "the ticket" after all.
And yet another move. This time to 1236 Market.
The "ol doc" hit a bump in the road this year. Seems that his wife headed for greener pastures as this article from the San Francisco Call will attest to.
Once again, a move. This time back to McAllister.

The year 1899 was obviously the capstone of Dr. Angus A. Gilmour's career. He was now a well respected surgeon, catering his skills to the elite gentil of San Francisco. Unfortunately, the year of 1899 was also his last.
Now that I had all the pieces of the puzzle neatly in place, I pulled Ali aside and asked what she could deduce from what we'd found. She's a smart cookie. "Well Grampa",  she said, "He moved a lot!".  "And the address on the bottle only matches the address in the books for three years, 1889, 1890 and 1891. That means that the bottle must be pretty rare. And it's pretty too."
With that, I handed her the bottle. And Grampa's medicine, became Ali's medicine. Her first antique bottle.
(Here's hoping that the fire stays lit~)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Wine Country Weekend!

Kid's and candy canes.

When I was little, the Portuguese half of my family had huge get togethers at my Uncle Johnnies place out in the country on Tully Road. He and my Aunt Dot had a huge spread. Acres and acres of walnut orchards surrounded the corrals and a huge hay barn and stable. Johns favorite saddle horse Goldie, (she was a Palomino), called that magical whitewashed rough sawn outbuilding "home". She was a great horse and I remember vividly, the occasional treat of helping saddle her up and "taking her for a spin". And there were also the obligatory cattle, chickens, rabbits and other standard barn yard fare present. The spread is gone now, long since transformed into a subdivision in the City of San Jose, but the memories remain.
Another of my fond memories at Dot and Johnnies are of Christmas's past. Every year a huge Christmas tree occupied most of the living room of their 19th century farm house. It was decorated with bubbling antique ornaments that I now know were blown in Germany a half century before my young mind marveled over them.

And it was trimmed with lead tinsel (that would melt if you held it next to a light bulb when the adults weren't paying attention). It was also festooned with candy canes. Now mind you, these weren't the run of the mill red and white candy canes like we had at home. No sirree, these were colorful. The ones that really caught my eye were the red and orange ones. Not sure why, since they tasted like the "standard issue" red and white ones, but the red and orange ones were special to me.


I'd recently been in contact with a person that had a whiskey bottle, but they couldn't really describe it in detail, and couldn't take decent pictures of it. Now I knew that the bottle said Jesse Moore (along with a bunch of other stuff) and it had antlers on it, but that was about the long and short of it. Uncle John wasn't a gambler, but on occasion, he'd stray out of his comfort zone. He used to say, "Columbus took a chance"... Another old saying in the family that I've always liked, is that "you pay your dues and you takes your chances".

And so I did. Imagine my surprise a couple of days ago when Christmas came early.


Like those candy canes of nearly sixty years ago, the bottle was swirled with red and orange. And like the ornaments, it was from Germany. Funny how some things in life come full circle. A friend who saw the bottle asked what I planned on doing with it, hoping that he'd be the proud new owner.

My reply; "I think I'll hang onto it, to remind me of Uncle Johnnie, Aunt Dot, and Christmas past".
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