The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary — A Collection Within a Collection

Ken Lopez
Posted by Ken Lopez on May 16, 2021 9:54:23 AM

A unique museum exists in Alexandria, Virginia, that many people have never visited, and when it reopens in the fall (post-COVID), you MUST go. It's a National Historic Landmark, and for good reason. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary is fascinating because of its longevity, its connection to our founding fathers, and the frozen-in-time nature of the place. 

It was opened in 1792 and operated until 1933, when it was abruptly closed. The contents were preserved nearly in place, and the museum was opened in 1939, funded in part by the American Pharmaceutical Association. Today, the main level and the attic feel like a real-life Professor Snape potions classroom from the Harry Potter series.

From the City of Alexandria's website: 

An apothecary is like a drugstore or pharmacy. The word apothecary refers to both the business itself and the person trained to make medicines. In addition to medicine, the apothecary sold a variety of chemical products, including cleaning supplies, dyes, and bug exterminators. Until the 1930s, a doctor’s prescription was not required for any drugs. Patients often skipped the doctor and described symptoms directly to the apothecary, who determined treatment. 

Spurred into action to save the historic collection for future generations, a plan was crafted by concerned Alexandria citizens and the American Pharmaceutical Association to purchase the collection and archives with private buyers. The majority of the contents and archives were purchased at auction on July 19, 1933, by L. Manuel Hendler, a Baltimore ice cream merchant with an affinity for the history of pharmacy. The following year, the newly formed Landmarks Society of Alexandria purchased the buildings at auction. Hendler then donated the contents and archives to the Landmarks Society. 

With the buildings and collection secured, the structures were conjecturally returned to their 18th-century appearance by noted restoration architect, Thomas Tileston Waterman. The museum was officially reopened in 1939, free of charge thanks to the financial support of the American Pharmaceutical Association. After an extensive renovation adding a fire suppression system, and restabilizing the structure, the Landmarks Society donated the museum and its contents to the City of Alexandria in November of 2006. 

OurHistoryMuseum has many items related to the apothecary, some of which are shown below.

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An 1827? order for Senna from the Ball family involving a Mr. Mason. I wrote about this letter in more detail here.

StablerDrugsBallLtr-letter

A bottle of Paregoric (used to relieve diarrhea) and its box. I think it's fascinating that there is a children's dosage for a product that contains opium.

paregoric stapler in Leadbeater apothecary

paregoric box stabler Leadbeater apothecary

An 1898 receipt for a large variety of items.

LeadbetterRCPT

A bottle of vanilla flavoring.

Vanilla Stabler Leadbeater apothecary

A souvenir mortar and pestle.

Souvenir from Stabler Leadbeater apothecary mortar and pestle

An authentic mortar and pestle known to be from Stabler-Leadbeater's.

Mortar and pestle from Stabler Leadbeater apothecary

A 1908 calendar used for advertising.

leadbeater1908calendar

An 1897 receipt for what appears to be Wyeth's elixir and quinine.

Stabler-Leadbeater-apothecary-1897

A bottle of quinine from the Stabler-Leadbeater apothecary shop. Quinine is used to treat malaria.

Quinine sulfate Stabler Leadbeater apothecary

A bottle of Arnica used to treat everything from pain to dandruff.

Arnica Stabler Leadbeater apothecary

Witch hazel was used to treat eczema and psoriasis, although there is little evidence that this or any of these herbal remedies had any effect.

Witch hazel Stabler Leadbeater apothecary

Here's a short video primer to the museum from Historic Alexandria. It will reopen fall of 2021.

Topics: Alexandria, VA, Fairfax Street, Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, Pharmacy, Places

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