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Orange County Focus

A Cure-ious Hobby : Old Pharmacies

December 04, 1990|LISA MASCARO

ANAHEIM — George Szabo is a happy man when he comes across an antique surgeon's tool or a 19th-Century prescription for aching joints.

Because Szabo, who operates an electronic shop in Anaheim, finds the stuff of bygone drugstores fascinating. A few years ago, Szabo began collecting outdated medical equipment and the entire stocks of long-past apothecaries.

"It's just my hobby. I enjoy reading about them, how much science has progressed," said Szabo, 48.

Szabo--originally from Gyor, a mid-sized city in Hungary--travels around Europe, especially to smaller cities where old pharmacies still stand, though updated with new instruments and prescriptions. He buys the contents of the pharmacies, and brings the items back to Anaheim to keep and sell.

One of his finds, a 19th-Century pharmacy from Inverness, Scotland, has been re-created as closely as possible to its original arrangement in a mall space he is allowed to use free in Anaheim Plaza.

Looking more like a cozy antique reading room than just another storefront in the mall, Szabo's 100-year-old drugstore offers holiday shoppers a short history lesson on the darker days of medicine.

Tall, deep-brown, oak cabinets line the walls, with row after row of wooden cabinet drawers. On glass shelves sit beakers, mortar-and-pestle sets and odd-shaped, green and blue glass bottles.

In glass display cases are Civil War-era doctors' kits and other surgical tools, which offer a grim glimpse into earlier medical practices.

"This kit's unreal," said Ginger Burns, a nurse who was holiday shopping in the mall and stopped by the display. She was looking at something called "Quack Doctor Shock Machine," which claimed to cause "body reinvigoration via electric shock."

Other boxes and containers once contained an interesting array of tablets, such as "Grasshopper Pills," "Female Pills," "Camphor Ice" and "Daisy Pills," claiming to cure everything from constipation to frayed nerves, with unlisted ingredients that Szabo said ranged from sugar to Peruvian bark.

"Some of the ingredients are really weird," he said. "And the claims were really outrageous."

A medical book offers words of wisdom about ills of the day, including one doctor's analysis titled, "Bad Effects of Thumb-Sucking," in which he concluded that the habit leads to mental feebleness because of the "weight of the arm on the thorax of the child . . . during sleep."

The same book suggested using opium and peppermint oil as main ingredients in a potion to cure a toothache.

"It's amazing what those people had to endure, and without anesthesia," Szabo said.

The display will continue until the end of the year.

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