Medicine Chest Video and UC Public Records

Watch the film to see Polina, Head of the UCSF Archives & Special Collections, show off a medicine chest we recently accessioned from the California Historical Society. Medicine chests were once things of beauty: hand-written labels, silver leaf coatings for pills, delicate bottles. The chest belonged to the family of Joseph Donoghue of San Francisco and was used during their travels to Hong Kong and Europe. We’ll bring you a longer post of the history of the chest soon.

 

The chest includes 19th century pharmaceutical drugs from a pharmacy owned by a figure important in UCSF history– William Searby— that was located on Market Street. Searby was was a key player in the founding of the California College of Pharmacy (later UCSF School of Pharmacy). In addition to being the school’s first professor of Materia Medica, and later professor of pharmacy, he was also the second dean of the college. (We recently conserved a portrait of Searby from the 1880’s– read about that process here!)

The University of California Public Records project is on a quest to celebrate UC’s bevy of unique treasures. The University of California houses an incredible diversity of museums, libraries and other collections. Some are small and eclectic; others are recognized as world-class. Many are open to the public, and all are cared for by passionate curators, historians and scholars. Take a behind-the-scenes peek at UC’s incredible collections.

 

Robert L. Day Collection: Anatomy of an Archival Project – Part 3

Conservation treatment of a portrait of William M. Searby

William Martin Searby (1835-1909) was an important figure in the founding of the California College of Pharmacy (later UCSF School of Pharmacy). In addition to being the school’s first professor of Materia Medica, and later professor of pharmacy, he was also dean of the college for many of the school’s early years.

William Martin Searby (1835-1909), crayon enlargement. Portrait before treatment.

William Martin Searby (1835-1909), crayon enlargement. Portrait before treatment.

A portrait of Professor Searby in the UCSF archives, taken perhaps in the 1880s, was found in disrepair. The portrait was done in a format known as a crayon enlargement, which is a photographic image enlarged onto paper and enhanced by painting over in various media including airbrush, watercolor, or charcoal. Crayon enlargements were introduced in the late 1850s with the introduction of the solar enlarger—a means for enlarging negatives using the sun. They continued to be popular into the early 20th century and can be found on the walls of your local antique shop, often in large numbers. They can be oval shaped and mounted onto convex boards and placed in oval frames, or like the Searby portrait they can be lined with fabric and then mounted onto a wooden strainer. The Searby portrait had a silver-based photographic image as its base and was worked over primarily with charcoal. It was still housed in its original 5” Florentine gilded frame, but the portrait had suffered over time due to light exposure, variations in relative humidity, a poor-quality paper support, and the wooden strainer. These led to losses, yellowing of the image, embrittlement of the paper, and large tears.

Searby portrait before and during treatment.

Searby portrait during treatment.

The portrait was brought to the photograph conservators at Gawain Weaver Art Conservation in San Anselmo, CA. The first step was to unframe the portrait and cut it away from the wooden strainer and then remove its fabric lining. The loose areas of the lining fabric were cut away with a surgical scalpel. However, the lining fabric was strongly adhered to the fragile print along the edges with a very stubborn adhesive. An enzyme poultice was used to weaken the starch component of the adhesive, but it was still very difficult to remove and had to be slowly mechanically separated after softening with enzymes. The print was then free from its support but the paper was still very brittle, yellowed, and in multiple pieces. The next step was to wash the paper to remove degradation products and restore some flexibility to the print and to light bleach the print to remove the overall yellowing and discoloration.

Light bleaching uses the free radicals generated by light interacting with water molecules to gently remove staining and discoloration in a print while it is being washed. Light bleaching was developed in Marin County by pioneering paper conservator Keiko Keyes in the early 1980s and since that time has been widely adopted by both paper and photograph conservators.

The pieces of the print were placed on a support and washed and light bleached until the discoloration was sufficiently removed and some flexibility had been restored. The fragile print needed mending and physical support, so these were accomplished together by lining the print with a thin and strong sheet of Japanese paper attached with wheat starch paste, the most stable and commonly used adhesive in the conservation of photographs and works on paper. The mended cracks and remaining losses were then filled and retouched to make them all but invisible to the viewer.

William Martin Searby (1835-1909),crayon enlargement.Portrait before treatment.

Searby portrait after treatment.

The original aesthetic of the portrait was perfectly flat. To achieve that flatness and to provide further physical support, the newly lined print was mounted overall to a sheet of 4-ply rag museum board. The glass was replaced with UV-filtering acrylic to eliminate the danger of breaking glass and provide protection from ultraviolet light. The old nails keeping the two parts of the frame together were dangerous and often very loose, so they were removed and the frame and print were assembled more securely to be put on display for the first time in many years outside the UCSF archives.

Gawain Weaver
Photograph Conservator
Gawain Weaver Art Conservation
http://gawainweaver.com/

Robert L. Day Collection: Anatomy of an Archival Project – Part 2

A Processing Prescription for School of Pharmacy History

Have you visited the 5th floor of the UCSF Library lately? If so, you might have seen the latest UCSF Archives and Special Collections exhibit featuring items from the new Robert L. Day Collection. With photographs, scrapbooks, letters, books, and dozens of curious artifacts, the collection illustrates School of Pharmacy history from 1872 to the present day.

When School of Pharmacy Associate Dean Robert Day retired after a distinguished 50-year career at UCSF, his office was bursting at the seams with historical items he had collected. From 19th-century faculty meeting minutes to recent academic plans and reports, from the School’s 1873 Inaugural Address to the research that pioneered the Clinical Pharmacy Program in 1966, his collection tells the story of more than a century of education and innovation in pharmacy practice at UCSF.

Show globes containing colored liquid were displayed in shop windows to identify the business as a pharmacy or drug store. This show globe belonged to Otto A. Weihe (1896-1961), an alumnus and instructor of the California College of Pharmacy. It contains the original colored liquid used by Weihe family when the globe was  installed in the Modesto, CA pharmacy in 1911.

Show globes containing colored liquid were displayed in shop windows to identify the business as a pharmacy or drug store. This show globe belonged to Otto A. Weihe (1896-1961), an alumnus and instructor of the California College of Pharmacy. It contains the original colored liquid used by Weihe family when the globe was installed in the Modesto, CA pharmacy in 1911. Robert L. Day Collection, MSS 2011-23, UCSF Archives & Special Collections.

In addition to papers and photographs, Professor Day gathered enormous pharmacy ledgers containing prescriptions from the 1930s and 1940s, reels of 16mm film and audio tapes, and curious artifacts like a liquid-filled glass show globe. He generously donated these materials to the UCSF Library in 2012.

I joined the Archives and Special Collections staff from November 2012-May 2013 as a Project Archivist to process the Day collection and to prepare it for research and exhibit use. It was fascinating to peruse items like 19th-century textbooks from “Materia Medica” courses and to examine boxes of patent medicines for ailments like “dyspepsia” and “pleurisy.” I cataloged leather-bound volumes of faculty meeting minutes and reviewed letters from dozens of alumni recounting colorful stories of their early-twentieth-century student days and later careers. (A complete collection description and research guide is available on the Online Archive of California.) Continue reading