Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Civil War Druggist - Richmond, VA - Robert W. Powers

[Update, 31 JAN 2013 - At the bottom of the post I have added additional info from expert Virginia collector Tom Leveille, via Ferdinand Meyer, on the rarity of the Powers' "Arom. Peruvian Bitters."  Many thanks to Tom and Ferd.]

In this post I happily share an 1877 bill head in my collection from R. [Robert] W. Powers & Co., a druggist in Richmond, Virginia, and some interesting information on the business.

1877 R. W. Powers Billhead (James M. Schmidt Collection)

I like it for several reasons: 1) there are several named proprietary medicines: "Arom. Peruvian Bitters," "Compound Syrup of Tolu &Wild Cherry," "Hasting's Horse Powders," and "Bullock & Crenshaw's Sugar-Coated Pills," all of which could be researched on their own; and 2) because Powers was in business during the Civil War, and it provided an opportunity to look at some wartime business records in the National Archives available via my subscription to I hope the exercise will help other bottle and/or medicine collectors see the usefulness of the records for research.

[My friend and renowned bitters collector, Ferdinand Meyer V at Peachridge Glass, informs me that the Powers "Arom. Peruvian Bitters" is an extremely rare bottle]

With many thousands of bottles to collect, many people specialize their collecting by state, and Virginia seems to offer many collecting opportunities.  There are some expert Virginia collectors out there, including Tom Leveille of Newport New, Virginia, whose photos of rare bottles often appear on the "Bottle Collectors" page on Facebook. 

Another is Mike Cianciosi, who has an EXCELLENT Virginia Drugstore Bottles Page here.

Powers & Taylor Bottle - Mike Cianciosi
His listing are organized by city, then by the name of the firm.  Hyperlinks for each firm yield another page with information on the history of the druggist (if available) and photographs of bottles in Mike's collection.

Mike lists more than eighty (80!) druggists for Richmond from the 1800s to early- to mid-1900s!

For Powers, Mike has the following information:

Robert W. Powers, 1444 E Main St., Richmond VA (1861-1866)
Robert W. Powers, 1305 E Main St., Richmond VA (1869-1883)
Robert W. Powers, 9 S 13th St., Richmond VA (1878-1883)
Powers, Taylor & Co, 1305 E Main St., Richmond VA (1885-1920)
Powers, Taylor & Co, 9 S 13th St., Richmond VA (1909-1930)
Powers Taylor & Co, Richmond VA
Powers Taylor Drug Co, Richmond VA

Edgar D. Taylor started as a wholesale druggist with Dove & Company in 1862. Dove & Company's building was one of the buildings destroyed by fire on April 3rd 1864, so Taylor accepted a position with R.W. Powers wholesale and retail drug company. In 1872, Taylor was admitted to a partnership when the comany name changed to "R.W. Powers & Co". In 1890, the business was incorperated under the name Powers-Taylor.

Powers & Taylor Bottle - Mike Cianciosi
Mike has several lovely Powers & Taylor bottles in his collection, which he kindly shared for this blog post.

The fact that Powers was in business during the years of the Civil War made me wonder if any wartime records might exist for his business dealings with the Confederacy.

One of the best places to look for these kinds of records are the "Confederate Citizens Files," or - officially - "Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-65."  These papers are held at the National Archives, but are also available through the website

[Note: I have been a Fold3 subscriber for several years.  I receive no compensation for recommending them and have no financial interest in the company]. 

According to the website:

The images in this series are from National Archives Microfilm Publication M346, Confederate Papers Relating to Citizen or Business Firms. They are taken from Record Group 109, War Department Collection of Confederate Records. They reproduce a series of more than 650,000 vouchers and other related documents most of which date from 186 to 1865.

These documents relate to goods furnished or services rendered the Confederate government by private individuals or business firms. Most of these documents were created or received by the Confederate War and Treasury Departments. After the Civil War they were in the custody of the US War Department. These were later assembled by the Confederate Archives Division of the Adjutant General’s Office and used to establish the disloyalty of claimants seeking restitution after the war. The series of records is also known as the “Citizens File.” A descriptive pamphlet for this series of records can be found here

The records are organized by "Business" or "Citizen."  Even the Powers druggist form was a business, it is actually under the "Citizens" tab (papers are usually in the "business" tab if they are listed as "Company," "Co.," "... & Co.," partnerships, etc.):

After selecting "Citizen" I then have the chance to browse records alphabetically and go directly to "Powers, Robert W.," for which there were several record groups...these could be different people, or they could just be different record groups for the same person:

Selecting any one of the record groups gives a preview of the various records that are available (for businesses, this can include invoices, contracts, correspondence, etc):

Now - this is where the fun starts!  You can look at the records just as if you were looking at microfilm or paper records at the National Archives!

And, among those records are some real treasures!  For example, there is a great flyer announcing Powers business, dated 1860, so we now know that he was in business even earlier than noted on Mike's great page:

There are more than a hundred pages of documents Receipts among the papers show that Powers did business with several Confederate hospitals AND the Confederate States Nitre Service (which would have needed chemicals for making gunpowder)!  The invoices may seem boring - and frankly, some are - but close study would reveal what supplies were needed, and - especially - changes in prices from 1861 through 1865 because of rampant inflation!

Records are available for many similar businesses in the South during the war.  Similar records are also available for forms supplying the Union forces, but they are not yet readily available online.

Updated 31 January 2013: Expert Virginia bottle collector Tom Leveille, via Ferdinand Meyer, kindly provided additional information on Powers and the very rare Peruvian Bitters, and a scan from a book on Richmond bottles (Vernon E. Grant, Bottled in Richmond, 1811-1930: A Directory of the Antique Bottles and Stoneware of Richmond, Virginia and the Businesses that Produced Them, Grant Graphics, 2006):

"The bottle itself as listed in Bottled in Richmond: A 10" tall amber square with a tapered collar, beveled corners and 4 recessed panels.  It is embossed as follows: R. W. Power & Co.//AROMATIC PERUVIAN BITTERS//RICHMOND, VA.  The book lists it as "extremely rare, with one example known." 

(Me = Wow!)

Tom adds:

"As far as the Virginia community, the one example that is listed as known is in a long standing Richmond collection.  I know of no is certainly one I'd love to have."

Rare Arom. Peruvian Bitters (center) - Bottled in Richmond

1 comment:

Mark said...

I amazes me what was already available in this early era of manufacturing. And so much of it done with horse-drawn or locomotive transportation:)