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Jots of Just What the Doctor Ordered

November 12, 1987|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Question: Your recent comments on patent medicine bottles got me to thinking about my small collection of physician prescriptions dating back to the turn of the century. I'd like to know if there's any interest in this rather narrow collectible category among your readers and/or whether these old prescriptions have much value.--H.T.

Answer: Old prescriptions jotted down by a physician or a pharmacist are collected by a small group of individuals, some of whom are into related collectibles, such as patent medicine bottles.

Prescriptions from the 19th Century appear to be high on the demand list of these collectors and, some say, the more unfathomable the scribble the better. In some cases, particularly in the days of the early American West, collectors add, a patient was given a prescription by a doctor, bought the ingredients from a druggist and then had to mix the medicine at home.

Collections of physicians' prescriptions, ranging from a dozen slips of paper to about 30 notes, have been sold for upwards of $75 in the last few years, according to dealer catalogues.

Q: My mother has a batch of old greeting cards, some of which are Christmas cards dating back to the 1880s that were passed along by my grandparents. Isn't this a pretty rare find?--P.B.

A: Not particularly. Greeting cards, even old ones, have such mass circulation that usually only those cards that have some particular artistic value--unusual lithography or a limited-edition drawing, for example--have high resale values. Fairly recent dealer prices show some Christmas cards printed in the 1880s have sold for no more than $5 each--hardly more than the price of an elaborately produced new card.

Greeting cards appeared to have become popular in the mid-18th Century when printers saw the value of what now seems obvious: selling envelopes along with the cards. Most of these cards had humorous poems or were elaborate lithographic productions designed around a quote from a popular writer.

In the latter part of the 18th Century, greeting card companies began producing gimmick cards with devices like pop-up centerfolds, which are popular.

If you have the original envelope with a postmark, the value of the greeting card can rise significantly.

Paper collectible questions have become one of our most popular categories of reader inquiry. Such collectibles are readily available in shops, flea markets and garage sales and allow collectors on a budget to enter a collectible field with a minimum outlay.

The big nostalgia kick of the past decade has propelled the prices of autographs, posters, labels, theater and railroad tickets, maps, menus, prints, correspondence of all types.

Veteran collectors warn that more and more paper collectible fakes are surfacing. Fake autographs have been a problem for years. But counterfeit "old" posters, prints and the like also are appearing on the market; clever fakes require an experienced eye to keep the unwary collector from being fleeced.

But experts can be fooled too. A hand-drawn map purportedly produced before Johann Gutenberg got his printing press cranked up in the 1450s surfaced in the 1960s and led some scholars to believe that other explorers had arrived in America before Columbus.

The so-called "Vinland Map" was bought by Yale University, which then performed extensive tests on the document only to find that it was fool's gold--a map drawn a few years earlier and expertly "aged" to appear as if it was a stupendous historical find.

Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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