Monday, February 18, 2013

Palmetto State Druggist - G.W. Aimar & Co. - Part II - The Firm

G. W. Aimar & Co. - Red Cross Messenger - 1916
In this second of three parts on the G. W. Aimar & Co. drug firm of Charleston, SC, I provide some additional details on the company.

The company is interesting on several accounts:

Continuity - it was in business, and in the family, from 1852 to 1978!

Building - it remained at the same location in Charleston that entire time!

Documentation - for persons wanting to dig deeper, more than a century's worth of the firm's papers are now at the Smithsonian Institution

Products - the firm offered a wide range of products, including standard apothecary items as well as its own proprietary medicines.

Civil War advertisement for G. W. Aimar
The firm was founded by George Washington Aimar (1827-1877) in 1852; his brother, Charles, operated the store until 1903; Charles' son, Arthur P. Aimar, then took over; it remained in Arthur's son's hands until 1978, when - in their 70s - they finally decided to close the business.

Of the store, a newspaper article in 1983 (Charleston News and Courier) declared:

Theirs was an old-fashioned, yet extraordinary drugstore, where customers came not only for medicines, but for "dragon's blood," brimstone, frankincense, and lodestone. Latin-labeled old apothecary jars and tincture bottles, antique cabinets and display cases filled rooms that also contained mounted birds in cases, framed awards, and bottles of spring water. Their business thrived on supplying holiday spices, aphrodisiacs, spices for cooking, special toothpaste, sewing thread, and their own "Aimar's Premium Cologne Water," with an "oil of neroli" base that was concocted from orange blossom petals and musk.

Not surprisingly, Aimar also had a connection with the Civil War.  The same article declared:

G. W. Aimar served as a lieutenant in the Lafayette Artillery during the Civil War and was wounded, captured, an imprisoned before escaping and returning to Charleston. He could not re-enlist but helped the Confederate effort when his drugstore became the Confederate dispensary.  Three floors of the building served as a hospital.

If the story of his capture and escape seems too good to be true, that's because it probably is.  He did in fact serve with the Lafayette Artillery, but it appears he resigned his commission an received an honorable discharge so he could return to his business as a chemist in Charleston:

G. W. Aimar 1863 Letter of Resignation -

 Aimar certainly supplied the Confederate army and medical department with chemicals and drugs; the receipts below are from 1861 and 1864.  Note that in the early months of 1861 the Confederate medical department didn't even have its own stationery/letterheads/billheads: they were re-using United States government forms!

G. W. Aimar Supplies to Confederate States, 1861 -

G. W. Aimar Supplies to Confederate States, 1864 -

Another remarkable thing about the Aimar drug firm is that the building they did business in for 125 years still survives and has an even longer history!

Photo: Joan Perry - Charleston Daily Photo
From the Charleston County Public Library:

409 King Street

This substantial, four and one-half story building was built c.1808 by Lucretia Radcliffe, widow of Thomas Radcliffe and the developer of Radcliffeborough. Subsequently it was the Rev. Ferdinand Jacobs' Seminary for Girls. G.W. Aimar & Co., druggist, occupied the building from 1852 to 1978. The business was founded by George W. Aimar, who during the Civil War was a lieutenant in the Lafayette Artillery. During the war the building housed a Confederate dispensary and hospital. Later, a hotel known as the Aimar House was located on the upper levels. 

[You have to visit the website of award-winning photographer Joan Perry at Charleston Daily Photo; she bills herself as a "Sidewalk Curator."  Her photographs are astounding!]

For those wanting to learn more about the Aimar drug firm, the Smithsonian Institution holds more than 350 cubic feet (!) of Aimar records donated by the company, covering the years 1864-1972, documenting the day-to-day business: day books, ledger books, cash books, prescription books, invoices, letterpress copybooks, and formula books.

Part III will feature some Aimar bottles from my collection, kindly shared by other collectors, or found via my scavenging of the "interwebs."!

1 comment:

Mark said...

Great photos! Can't believe how many you have:) It's an often overlooked fact that the logistics of war, even then required so much material in terms of medical supplies and whatnot.