Retro Drugstore Score: Mark Twain’s 1906 C.O. BIGELOW Ledger

Birchbox Man recently recovered Samuel Clemens’ pharmacy charge account ledger from 1906. Turns out he was a regular customer at America’s oldest apothecary. But what was he buying?

The short answer is that we don’t know. “It doesn’t show what he bought,” explains C.O. BIGELOW CEO Ian Ginsberg. “It could have been drugs, aspirin, homeopathic remedies, some cream. Who knows? But it does shows he paid his bills on time.”

Twain’s monthly bill from July 30th,1906 only came to a whopping 39 cents, but we’re still impressed that he never missed a payment. After all, the guy had serious financial woes. In the late 19th century he sunk $300,000 (almost $6 million today) of his book profits into the failed Paige compositor, a machine that used a mechanical arm to replace the human typesetter of a printing press. The invention never took off, and was quickly made obsolete by the Linotype machine.

Living at various addresses in New York’s West Village during this time, Twain was likely spending the better part of his days at home composing his autobiography. Beginning in January 1906, he dictated his life story in 242 sittings. He published selected chapters from this dictation in the North American Review. As for what he was buying at BIGELOW, we like to think that all that dictation resulted in some very chapped lips, and he was dropping by the country’s oldest apothecary for frequent chap stick replenishment. Just a theory.

Check out the full-size image of Twain's charge account here.

For a full list of Birchbox Man’s Retro Drugstore Scores, go here.

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