Basel Pharmacy Museum: An Interview

The Recipes Project heads to Basel, Switzerland, to learn about the collections of the Pharmacy Museum. Laurence Totelin spoke with Philippe Wanner,  Barbara Orland, Corinne Eichenberger and Martin Kluge.

The Pharmacy Museum, Basel. Photo by Daniel Spehr.

Could you give us a brief overview of your collections? How and when were they gathered together?

In 1924, when the pharmacist and historian Professor Josef Anton Häfliger began teaching at the University of Basel, he donated his private collection of pharmaceutical objects and historical books to the university. Since then, and until his death in 1954, Häfliger worked hard to collect further objects and money to built up a pharmacy museum. He designed the museum to teach first his students, and, second, the wider public about the historically outdated aspects of the apothecary’s work. Materia medica obsoleta, for instance, is the name he gave the room that until today exhibits remedies, drugs and medicinal objects of the three kingdoms (mineral, vegetable, animal/human), folk medicine and exotica brought from overseas to Swiss pharmacies since the seventeenth century. Häfliger was lucky to purchase further private collections. For instance, he acquired the collection of the Basel apothecary Theodor Engelmann (b. 1851), who had specialized in mineralogy and mineral drugs. Moreover, he was clever enough to impose conditions on the deed of donation. Amongst other things, he determined that the museum should remain part of the pharmacy department and function as an object for study.

The herbarium, the Pharmacy Museum, Basel. Photo by Daniel Spehr.

You are located in a beautiful building. Can you tell us a little but about its history?

The museum is located in the so-called “Haus zum Vorderen Sessel”. This building was first mentioned in 1296 when it was used as a public bathhouse fed by water from the “Goldbrunnen” (Gold Well). The most famous part of the building’s history began around 1490, when the book printer Johannes Amerbach opened up a printing house, taken over in 1507 by another famous printer, Johannes Froben. A number of noteworthy humanist scholars, such as Erasmus von Rotterdam, resided and worked here. These writers were joined by recognized illustrators, such as Hans Holbein the Younger. Theophrastus von Hohenheim (commonly known as Paracelsus) practiced medicine in this house as the Froben family physician between 1526 and 1527. Subsequently, the house changed hands several times. In 1814, it housed the first public school for girls in Basel. More than 80 years later it became the Vocational School for Women. Finally, the University’s first Institute of Pharmacy was built up here since 1917 until the year 2000. The scientific collection, since 1925 open for the wider public, remained in the building.

You are a University Museum. What is your relation with the University of Basel?

As a donation of one of the pharmacy professors the collection belongs until today the Department of Pharmacy of the University of Basel. The large lecture room is used for history of science seminars and lectures, but it also belongs to the university facilities.

The Alchemy Room, Pharmacy Museum. Basel. Photo by Daniel Spehr.

The team working at the museum is interdisciplinary. Can you tell us a bit about how your work as a team?

In our museum we are used to work together over disciplinary boarders. Some studied biology some pharmacy some contemporary dance some history or medieval music. Most of the daily working fields like collection traffic, communication, pharmaceutical safety issues or scientific research are personalised and belong to the field of activity of one or two colleagues. For special events or special exhibitions these fields sometimes get newly organised. It is very fruitful to work in an interdisciplinary context where the borders are fluently between science, arts and humanities.

Pharmazie-Historisches Museum Basel

Can you give us a few highlights from your collections? Do you have favourites?

The museum is home to numerous exotic lures and unusual objects (like stuffed alligators, a porcupine fish, the enormous tooth of narwhal, or ‘unicorn’ horns) that apothecaries formerly used to attract the attention of their customers, but which also demonstrated their interests in natural history. The stocks of exotic drugs and objects that colonization brought to early modern pharmacies is quite large too.

What is the most ancient artefact you have? What is the most recent?

The most ancient artefacts are supposed to be our mummy artefacts. Indeed, crushed and powdered chunks of Egyptian mummies were used as medicine for various illnesses such as ailments of the lung, of the spleen, stitches in the side and external wounds during the 15th century. However, the various vessels with the inscription Mumia vera aegyptica and Mumia vera and wooden boxes in the museum date back to the 18th century; a glass vessel from around 1920 bears the following inscription: “Engelmann ‘s pharmacy, Mumia vera, Basel Untere Rheingasse 2”. In addition, under the name “Mumia vera” the exhibition shows mummified body parts such as a foot, a head and upper and lower legs shown. Other vessels also contain volatile human brain salt (Sal crani humani volatile), small white and pebble-like chunks, which are marked as prepared human brain bowl (Cranium humanum preap.).  The Pharmacy Museum commissioned the analysis of such and similar fragments. An anthropologist has examined the substances. With respect to the brown chunks, he concluded that it is material that has solidified inside a skull of liquid form. The other Mumia specimens clearly contained coccyx bone, and parts of a human brain shell, which are filled with a shiny asphalt-like mass. How old these actually are remains an open question.

Some of the most ancient artefacts in fact come from Augusta Raurica – a Roman colony near Basel. Roman medicinal tools, a spatula and copies of Roman cupping glasses, in short, the most important equipment of a physician in antiquity, are dated around 50 AC.

The most recent artefact is a playmobil figure — a pharmacist version with the German pharmacy logo.(Original Packing from 2015).

Medicinal jar collections, Pharmacy Museum, Basel. Photo by Daniel Spehr.

How can scholars find out what is in your collections? In what ways can they work with your collections? 

The best way for scholars is to contact the museum staff. A direct conversation will figure out the possibility of working with our collection and archive.

 

Monkey Gland Cocktail

Lucy Jane Santos

Think of cocktails and, more than likely, imagery of impossibly glamorous people, smoky rooms, and bootleggers will pop into your head. Or perhaps it’s something closer to unsavoury bars with lurid coloured abominations masquerading as cocktails.

But these mixed drinks are so much more than that: they can also be used to tell stories of the past. They can be a window into many different types of histories, not least because they are reflections of the intentions of various peoples: the establishment that commissions them, the person that makes them, and even the customer who is meant to drink them.

Sometimes, the name of the cocktail itself can give us an insight into the most unlikely parts of history. For many cultures, the naming of something gave it power, substance, and meaning and it is no different for cocktails.

MONKEY GLAND COCKTAIL

Ingredients
One dash of Absinthe
One teaspoonful of Grenadine
Equal parts Orange Juice and Gin

Equipment
Cocktail shaker
Martini Glass

How to make this cocktail
Fill the cocktail shaker halfway up with gin, then orange juice to (almost) the brim. Add the Absinthe and Grenadine. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.

Strange, unappetising, name for a cocktail isn’t it – Monkey’s Gland?

There are two claims for the creation of this cocktail. The first, and most likely, is from Harry MacElhone, owner of Harry’s New York Bar, Paris. And the second is from Frank Meier of the Ritz, also in Paris. Both claim they invented this cocktail in 1922.

“New Cocktail in Paris,” Washington Post, April 23, 1922

Less controversial is what influenced the naming of it.

The name – Monkey’s Gland – refers to a rejuvenation treatment that was in vogue in the image-conscious 1920s.

Serge Voronoff, a Russian Scientist who had been studying the effects of castration on eunuchs, devised the treatment. Voronoff observed that the eunuchs were sickly and tended to die young. He concluded that this was because of their lack of testicles. The treatment he devised took this to what he thought was the logical conclusion. Voronoff transplanted thin pieces of monkey’s testicles onto humans to improve their health and vitality.

This testicular transplant procedure was not unique to Voronoff -– others had tried interspecies transplantation with sheep, goats and bulls. But Voronoff was the first person to attempt primate to human transplant. He reasoned that monkeys were the closest to humans and thus it would work best.

Despite some very suspect before and after shots in his book, Life: A Study of the Means of Restoring, Voronoff’s procedure was a hit. Through the 1920s, an estimated 4000 people had the procedure. This also included women when Voronoff extended the procedure to ovaries taken from monkeys. For men, Voronoff promised increased sex drive, better memory, and a longer life. While for women, he promised anti-ageing and the restoration of beauty.

Before and After Photos of Mr E.L from Serge Voronoff “Life: A Study of the Means of Restoring”

The treatment’s downfall came when the subjects aged normally – despite Voronoff’s intervention. At first, he claimed that it was because the glands died after five years and it was just a matter of having the treatment again. But, eventually, the treatment fell out of favour.

Voronoff died alone in his castle in Switzerland. Though he died a very rich man, he had lost his reputation. Nevertheless, the cocktail he inspired is still served across the world.

Taste Test (or should that be Taste Teste)
I am not going to lie; this does take some getting used to. The absinthe and grenadine, though, takes this to another level. If you have the time, I recommend making homemade grenadine (seriously, do it – it will change your cocktail making for the better). Also, absinthe is preferable to Pernod or Ricard, which are adaptations that have been around since the 1920s.

Did you know?
Other cultural products also refer to Voronoff’s experiments. For example, “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” (Strand Magazine 1923) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In this story, Holmes discovers that an ageing professor has injected himself with an extract from a Langur, a type of monkey. This experiment had some, let us say, unexpected consequences.

Other cultural products also refer to Voronoff’s experiments. For example, “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” (Strand Magazine 1923) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In this story, Holmes discovers that an ageing professor has injected himself with an extract from a Langur, a type of monkey. This experiment had some, let us say, unexpected consequences.

 

Lucy Jane Santos is a freelance writer and historian with a special interest in popular science and the history of everyday life. Writes & talks (a lot) about cocktails and radium. Her debut non-fiction Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium will be published by Icon in July 2020. You can visit her at  www.lucyjanesantos.com, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/santoslucyjane/, Twitter: https://twitter.com/lucyjanesantos_, Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lucyjanesantos_, Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/lucyjanesantos_

Vegetable Soup: A Friendship Revealed by a Recipe

Nikki Yutuc

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 

Margaret Chase Smith and Liz Hart at the Senator’s Skowhegan home c. 1980s. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.

Margaret Chase Smith’s recipe collection includes a recipe for Vegetable Soup credited to “Liz Hart.” Research reveals the recipe contributor was accomplished sculptor and artist from Dallas, Texas, Mary Elizabeth “Liz” Hart. Her obituary credits Hart with the creation of statues designed for the Boy Scouts Headquarters, the rotunda of A. Webb Roberts University, and figures for Sea World Texas. Her most well-known piece is a bust of Margaret Chase Smith in the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection. Her recipe in Smith’s collection preserves their relationship. More than just artist and subject, Liz Hart and Margaret Chase Smith were good friends.

The two women exchanged letters throughout the time that they worked together. The letters, kept in the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan, Maine, discuss the progress of the bust and details about their personal lives. Because Hart lived in Dallas, Texas, she was unable to see her subject regularly but managed to create a piece that truly captured the essence of Margaret Chase Smith. In a letter that Hart wrote to Smith, she said that “portrait sculptors throughout the ages have had different philosophies concerning their work. Mine lies somewhere in-between the Romans who pursued with fierce honesty the naturalistic notation of personal character, ‘warts and all’, and Michelangelo who observed, with respect to his idealized figure of Guiliano de Medici carved for the Medici Chapel in Florence, that likeness was unimportant in commemorating an individual, since a thousand years in the future, who would value the resemblance?” Her rendering of Smith captures her philosophy.  

Smith and the bust by sculptor Liz Hart. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.

The bust has her signature curly hair and wrinkles that show her age at the time. It accurately resembles Margaret Chase Smith, but its position is the most powerful. Her bust looks upwards as if she is looking forward to the possibilities. She is a powerful woman, and the bust represents her well. Liz Hart was aware of Smith’s strong personality, and the bust needed to symbolize her achievements. Hart described the image of Smith that she wanted to create in a letter to Smith saying, “I have been trying to capture your personality as I see it, alert, brilliant, self-assured, determined, yet very, very feminine….. I have not, nor will I show every wrinkle, hair, etc.” Smith was aware of her appearance, and Hart did her best to create an image of Smith that pleased the subject. Smith was impressed by the sculpture because of its resemblance and Hart’s expertise.

A copy of the bust from the collections of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.

During the presentation of the bust, Smith said, “The subject for a work of art is seldom pleased with what she sees, thus, my reluctance from the beginning to be the subject; but with the patience and expertise of Liz Hart, and her love and admiration for me, I did my best and was rewarded by what I believe to be a true likeness of me. Not a detail was missed; and after hearing so many oohs and aahs by friends and strangers and on close examination myself, I have come to believe that it is a true work of art.” Images of Smith standing next to her bust showcase Hart’s talent and attention to detail. Hart captured all of Smith’s prominent features and simultaneously replicated her determined personality. The original bust’s home in the Smithsonian, “is a testament to her importance. She inspired generations of women, especially in the mid-twentieth century when many women were expected to only serve in domestic roles, and her dedication to the public will forever be remembered through Liz Hart’s bronze bust of her” (Portraits of Women in the Western World).

Liz Hart’s recipe for vegetable soup in Margaret Chase Smith’s recipe collection.
Liz Hart’s recipe for vegetable soup continued.

The relationship between Hart and Smith was more than professional. The two had become good friends, and Hart gave Smith a recipe, Vegetable Soup, to keep in her collection. According to Angie Stockwell, a collection specialist at the Margaret Chase Smith Library, Senator Smith never made the recipe. Mrs. Stockwell speculates, “I suspect she might have had her housekeeper make it for her, as by the time Senator Smith met Liz, she would have been older and perhaps not too inclined to cook.” With many ingredients and an enormous yield, the recipe seems poorly suited to Smith’s lifestyle during her final years. However, for Liz Hart, as an artist with a family who worked from home, the long-simmering soup may have ideally suited her work and family’s needs. The recipe may have served as a reminder of a dear friend rather than practical instructions in Smith’s collection.

Nikki Yutuc is a fourth-year Finance and Management double-major and member of the Honors College at the University of Maine. 


  1. “Elizabeth Hart Sight and Sound Sculpture.” 20c Designhttp://20cdesign.com/product/elizabeth-hart-sight-and-sound-sculpture/
  2. “Elizabeth Hart Wall Sculpture – Entendons Nous.” At 1stdibswww.1stdibs.com/furniture/wall-decorations/contemporary-art/elizabeth-hart-wall-sculpture-entendons-nous/id-f_383654/.
  3. “Margaret Chase Smith.” Smithsonian Institutionwww.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.84.160?destination=sisearch%3Fedan_q%3Delizabeth%252Bhart&width=85%25&height=85%25&iframe=true.
  4. Halliday, Robin Rominger. “View Mary Hart’s Obituary on DallasNews.com and Share Memories.” Mary Hart Obituary – Dallas, TX | Dallas Morning Newshttps://obits.dallasnews.com/obituaries/dallasmorningnews/obituary.aspx?n=mary-elizabeth-hart-liz&pid=104222734.
  5. “Portraits of Women in the Western World.” 24, engl10524spring2017exhibitions.web.unc.edu/portraits-of-women-in-the-western-world/
  6. Stockwell, A. (2019). Email. Margaret Chase Smith Library

Exploring Class and Social Ties in Chocolate Crunch Cookies

Caitlin Hillery

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel A. Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 

“Chocolate Crunch Cookies” is the last recipe in the “Cookies” section of Margaret Chase Smith’s personal recipe box. Though entirely handwritten, it is absent from any sign of a contributor’s name or the date added. On the back of the recipe card is the first half of another handwritten recipe, this one for hermits—scratched-out, upside-down, but still legible. The contributor has added several personal comments after the customary instructions: “very good and something different,” she writes, and laments over the rising costs of semi-sweet chocolate—farmore preferable, she confides, to the cheaper but less satisfactory “sweet chocolate.” 

Smith’s personal recipe collection at the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library in Skowhegan, Maine. Photography by Rachel Snell.

After a first glance, this recipe clearly relies on staple ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, shortening, baking soda, vanilla. The most expensive ingredients are the nuts and the chocolate (and these, of course, are entirely up to the individual baker’s discretion). Easy-to-find ingredients, yes, but not universally affordable. Upon initial analysis of this recipe, its apparent similarity to a chocolate chip cookie was immediately noticeable, and the original Toll House cookie recipe seemed to be a rational jumping-off point for research. “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies,” as they originally appeared in the 1938 edition of Ruth Wakefield’s Toll House Tried and True Recipes, are, in fact, almost identical to the “Chocolate Crunch Cookies” in Smith’scollection. Theonly differences between the two recipes lie in the type of fat, the amount of chocolate, and theoven temperature. While the Smith recipe providesfar more detailed descriptions for how tocombine the ingredients, the similarities in the type and quantity of ingredients speak volumes.[1]

Smith’s recipe for Chocolate Crunch Cookies. Courtesy of Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.

The similarities between the two recipes suggests “Chocolate Crunch Cookies” made its way into Smith’s collection somewhere between 1938—when the pivotal edition of Ruth Wakefield’s cookbook was published—and 1940—when Nestlé began producing “chocolate morsels.” On March 20, 1939, Ruth Wakefield sold her aforementioned recipe to Nestlé for $1 and, reportedly, a lifetime supply of chocolate, immediately making “Chocolate Crunch Cookies” available to a much wider audience. Nestlé introduced “chocolate morsels” in 1940 for greater ease of making the cookies, though the contributor of the Smith recipe still specifies chopping a chocolate bar into pea-sized pieces—an indication that the “morsels” were, perhaps, a luxury item, too expensive, impractical, or even not yet invented at the date of contribution.[2]

Comparison of Smith’s Chocolate Crunch Cookie Recipe with Wakefield’s original recipe.

Expense, in particular, is a notable focus in the analysis of this recipe due to several factors that suggest the possibility of the contributor’s low socioeconomic status. She substitutes the butter in the original Toll House recipe for shortening, a less expensive and more shelf-stable fat; the scribbled-out recipe for hermits on the back of the cookie recipe suggests that she recycled recipe cards to avoid waste; much of her commentary surrounds the price of chocolate and her disappointment at not being able to afford to make this particular recipe anymore; and she cites substituting a cheaper chocolate, sweet rather than semi-sweet, in an endeavor to prepare the cookies nonetheless before dismissing that “it isn’t quite the same.”

Having grown up in a working-class family herself, living in Skowhegan and working her own job by the age of 12, Margaret Chase Smith probably cut a less intimidating figure to the women with whom she associated—indeed, itis even likely that women of lower economic status would have felt more comfortable sharing their recipes with her, even on previously used cards. The question still stands: who may have contributed this recipe to Smith’s collection? Assuming, for now, that the 1938-1940 hypothesis is correct for the submission of the recipe; it would make the most sense that Sen.Smith received this recipe from someone in the Congressional Club, the only women’s club in which she was active during those years. The scratched-out hermit recipe challenges this interpretation. Hermits are a uniquely regional food, containing northeastern/Canadian traditional elements such as raisins, molasses, and brown sugar. Would the same politically connected wife have submitted two such commonplace, simple recipes, on reused recipe cards, nonetheless?[3]

Photograph of Margaret Madeline Chase in 1927 while she was President of the Maine Business and Professional Women’s Club. Courtesy of Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.

The other most likely possibility as to the recipe’s contributor is a member of either Maine’s Sorosis Club or Business and Professional Women’s Club (PBW), the two women’s organizations in which MCS was notably active throughout her life. Such an origin would explain the hints of regional tradition, the congenial tone observed in the commentary, the indications of a lower-class contributor, and—perhaps mostnotably—the shareable nature of both recipes. The BPW, in particular, had a “downtown clubhouse” that members who worked in the city would use as an area to eat lunch—a prime excuse to have quick, easily distributed treats on hand.[4]

Smith’s Chocolate Crunch Cookies, adapted and prepared by the author.

It’s not surprising that this recipe retained its spot in MCS’ recipe box; as her personal secretary Angie Stockwell recalled, the senator “always liked to have some sort of crunch cookie on hand.”  Her former housekeeper remembered how, on her weekly shopping trips, she was always instructed to buy Pepperidge Farm cookies, which, apparently, “disappeared somewhere!”  Did she ever make these cookies?  We may never know—but if she tried them even once, I’d bet that they remained a favorite.[5]

Caitlin Hillery is a third-year Food Science and Human Nutrition major with a concentration in Food Science and member of the Honors College at the University of Maine.


[1]Carolyn Wyman, The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book: Scrumptious Recipes & Fabled History From Toll House to Cookie Cake Pie(New York: Countryman Press, 2013). 

[2]Wyman,The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book; Jon Michaud, “Sweet Morsels: A History of the Chocolate-Chip Cookie.”The New Yorker, 19 June 2017. 

[3]Janann Sherman, No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001). 

[4]Jeannette W. Cockroft, “The Transformative Power of Work: The Early Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith,” Maine History47:2 (July 2013); Diane Tye, Baking as Biography: a Life Story in Recipes(Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010).

[5]Email correspondence with Angie Stockwell, Archivist, Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library.