Following up on last week’s “things left behind” post, here’s another item that contained bonus artifacts.

This beaded purse belonged to Sarah Austin Walter (1858-1932) of Kensington.  It was saved by her daughter Julia Walter Linthicum (1904-2000), and donated in 2006 by Mrs. Linthicum’s friend Mary Hertel.  Several things were inside the bag upon donation: a handkerchief, a thimble, a rosary, a Sacred Heart badge, and a note that read, “Dated back to 1908, these were Mother’s.”

Sarah “Sally” Deborah Austin grew up in Barnesville, one of the younger children of John and Jerusha Ann Rabbitt Austin.  In 1882 she married Robert Bruce Walter of Frederick, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Barnesville; by 1900 the Walters had moved to Kensington, where Robert worked as a carpenter.  (Fun fact: Sarah and Robert were the parents of Malcolm Walter, a local photographer who’s responsible for many fabulous 1920s-30s images of Montgomery County people and places; his photograph collection now resides at Peerless Rockville.)

DSC06377Unfortunately, Mrs. Linthicum’s note doesn’t explain the specific date of 1908, though it’s a reasonable one for this style of handbag.  The frame is marked “G. Silver,” or German (nickel) silver, and features both floral and geometric designs; the bag exterior, and the handle, are made of a red knit decorated with dark blue Bohemian beads. Though not necessarily an everyday handbag, it seems to have gotten a fair amount of use; the heavy beading is pulling away from the frame, and the lining, a dark pink silk faille, is a replacement.

DSC06381The silver thimble, and the simple wood-and-metal rosary (marked only “FRANCE”), are difficult to date, though they could also be from the 1908 era.  The two-sided paper-and-felt badge measures 2″ tall and reads in part, “The Apostleship of Prayer in League with the Sacred Heart.”  The printed copyright date is very faint, but looks like 1915. Sacred Heart badges are similar to scapulars – both are sacramentals worn by some members of the Roman Catholic faith. The presence of both the rosary and the badge make me wonder if this was Mrs. Walter’s going-to-Mass handbag.

t2582-2The linen handkerchief is likely much earlier than the other items here. It shows considerable wear from both age and use, and has Mrs. Walter’s maiden name cross-stitched in the corner.  Almost certainly, it was made by or for Sally before her 1882 marriage, but evidently she continued to use it (or at least carry it) for many years afterward.

One of my favorite questions, as a ‘stuff person,’ is “Why was this saved?”  What meanings did these pieces hold for the Walter family?  Are the pieces tied together by an event or a memory? Did Sally deliberately place these pieces in the handbag, or did her daughter Julia select them later as reminders of her mother’s life? It can be easy to overthink a little collection like this one, however; perhaps the purse was a just convenient vehicle for storing a few treasures, or the pieces were simply left inside the last time Sally used the bag.  What do you think?  What stories can you take away from a fancy beaded bag, a youthful handkerchief, a silver thimble, two well-worn religious pieces, and a daughter’s note?


Today for your edification: A toothache remedy, purchased from the Kensington Pharmacy.

DSC04286This small (three inches tall) cardboard box originally contained a vial of Alpar Ache Drops – essentially a bottle of chloroform.  The box promises that the drops will “Relieve the Ache and Quiet the Pain” of toothache and neuralgia, and they will be “prompt and effective, reliable and safe.” All for only 25 cents!


Happily for us, the dispensing pharmacist slapped a label on the box, letting us know that it was purchased from J.A.I. Parker at the Kensington Pharmacy.  James Allen Ireland Parker (1905-1964) was born in Frostburg, Md., attended pharmacy school at the University of Maryland, and spent some years in Baltimore (as a pharmacist) and Riverdale, Prince George’s County (as the manager of the men’s department at Sears) before moving to Kensington in 1944. He and his wife Miriam took over the old Trowbridge Drug Store, and in 1949 they moved to a storefront on W. University Avenue, where the Kensington Pharmacy is still located.  The medicine was purchased, and later donated to MCHS, by Elizabeth Buck of Kensington.

Home remedies and patent medicines for toothache abounded in the days before over-the-counter extra-strength painkillers and modern dentistry.  For example, The New Family Book, or Ladies’ Indispensable Household Companion and Housekeepers’ Guide (1854) includes three toothache remedies: “Equal proportions of Cajeput Oil and Olive Oil;” “Make an extract from white poplar bark; mix with it a little rum;” or “Mix alum and salt together; or powdered alum and spirits of ether.”  If that sounds like too much household compounding for you, you could buy a patent medicine like Dr. Carey’s G.E.S.S., from the 1890s, which – probably due to a high alcohol content – “cured” toothache, as well as sore throats, coughs, colds, sprains, lameness, and (added bonus!) “bellyache, colic, bots &c. in horses.” (Click the photo to enjoy the full text in a readable size.)


Based on a few pharmacist guides – here’s one from 1893, and another from 1915 – the ‘official’ remedies were not very different. Chloroform was a common ingredient in drops and tinctures, but was far from the only option; others included camphor, oil of cinnamon, oil of cloves, oil of lavender, oil of peppermint, ether, alcohol, opium, etc.

The directions for use in most or all cases involve soaking the medicine on a bit of cotton, and applying it to the suffering tooth.  Today we might pop a few painkillers rather than putting something directly on the cavity, but all these remedies, old and modern, have one thing in common: they might kill the pain, but they’re not fixing the underlying problem. For that, you have to actually go to the dentist. And we’ll save that trip for a future post.

Today’s artifact is an early 20th century baby scale, by the Pelouze Manufacturing Company of Chicago. It is a spring scale; the dial is marked “Pelouze Family Scale Deluxe,” and it measures up to 24 pounds. The wicker basket affixed to the top is original, as is the pinkish-tan paint.

This piece came to the donor, Eleanor M. V. Cook, from the family of her husband, Fraise Anderson Cook. Unfortunately (for us) she couldn’t be sure if it was given to her by Mr. Cook’s mother, or by his father’s parents. Mr. Cook was the son of Raymond F. Cook (1893-1923) of Ohio and Norma Amelia Anderson Cook (1896-1988) of Kensington. As far as I can tell the Pelouze Mfg. Co. began making scales in 1894 (Pelouze scales are still being made today), so this example may be old enough to have belonged to either of Mr. Cook’s parents. Since the company name appears to be one that was used a little later, in the early 20th century, I suspect it was used when Mr. Cook himself was a baby; he was born in 1915, and grew up in Kensington.

A variety of “household” and “family” scales can be seen in early 20th century mail-order catalogs. Most of them have a flat metal top, with an additional metal “scoop” that could be placed on top, and were intended for general household use; the wicker (or, in some cases, enameled metal) basket is what makes this a baby scale. Judging by the number of vintage/antique pieces to be found on internet auction sites, the plain-topped spring scale was a common kitchen implement. Not being any kind of cook myself I can safely say I have never used a scale in my kitchen, so the idea of needing one at hand is a little foreign to me. A survey of the old advertisements proves how wrong I am, however. For example, the 1908 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog declares, “Every family in the land ought to have one of these scales [shown below], and at the prices we quote [$1.12, including the “heavy tin scoop”] you cannot afford to do without one. Saves ‘guesswork’ in making cakes, mincemeats, preserving fruits, etc. With one of these scales you do not have to take anybody’s word, but can verify the weight of every package you buy.”

As for the benefits of weighing your baby or child at home, Dr. Richard M. Smith, author of The Baby’s First Two Years (1915), includes scales in his list of essential nursery furniture, to keep track of Baby’s health and progress. (However, he does caution, “Do not buy spring scales; they are often inaccurate and are not satisfactory after the baby grows older.” He recommends “ordinary, standard balance scales,” or “standard platform or scoop scales,” as the scoop holds the baby quite nicely.)