Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cache of Relics Revealed During "Shop Life" Construction

It's been just over a month since we gave you an update on the construction of our "Shop Life" exhibit. Last week, our intrepid staff opened up the first of two boarded up fireplaces in the basement level of 97 Orchard Street. This is where we'll be re-creating the kitchen of John and Caroline Schneider's 19th century German beer saloon.

As Collections Manager and Registrar Kathleen O'Hara sorted through the dirt, soot and plaster debris that had accumulated behind the boarded-over opening, she encountered a number of finds. Some were pretty mundane: lumps of coal, clothespins here and there, and scraps of paper.

Kathleen at work on the fireplace

Others were a little more surprising – like the front of a cigarette vending machine, and a couple of ceramic doll heads.

Spooky! Our Facebook friends suggested some creative names for this little darling...

We also hadn’t expected to find so many cosmetics! Our discoveries included nail polish, musk oil, several cases labeled in French that looked like they once held makeup, and close to a dozen labels for “Exquisite Cold Cream.” Strangely, each blue and white label was perfectly clean, as if it hadn’t just spent decades in a sooty fireplace.

A strange assortment of artifacts

The evidence was mounting that someone had once used 97 to make or sell cosmetics, but we didn’t know who until we found a receipt from Scher’s Jobbing House (a wholesale merchandise business). On March 24, 1933,  Scher's sold merchandise that included nail polish and cold creams by the dozen. The receipt lists 12 different items, all being sold in bulk.

Scher’s Jobbing House was run by Willie Scher and employed Max Marcus for many years. In the 1930s, Willie Scher turned the business over to Marcus, who then ran an auction house in the same location until he moved to Essex Street Market in the late ‘30s.

Check back for more updates soon. We have a lot more to do, and no doubt more stories to uncover, in the weeks to come!

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