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Bottles, vintage tins, Merrimack Journal from 1885 among local woman’s finds

Donna Johnson, of Merrimack, rarely misses an opportunity to share her vast collection of around 1,500 apothecary bottles, antique medicine jars and vintage tins of powders and ointments.

She also cherishes vintage advertising pieces. Her faded Merrimack Journal of Sept. 23, 1885, is rolled into a tube and bound at the waist with a cardboard ring impressed with black sealing wax. A yearly subscription was $1.50.

“I was in my teens when I discovered my hobby of collecting,” Johnson said, “My grandfather and I dug for hidden treasure on a barren beach left exposed after a dam broke at Crystal Lake in North Chelmsford (Massachusetts).”

Other ephemera harkens to the days when merchants wrote receipts with scratchy quill pens dipped into inkwells and many company logos were artfully adorned with flourishes of fancy script.

She and her grandfather unearthed discarded bottles, dishware and jars dating to the 1800s. Today, Johnson, a native of Chelmsford, has less time for exploring. She is the director for 13 years of Merrimack Community Food Pantry at St. James United Methodist Church in Merrimack.

The food pantry and the UMC Clothes Closet, a valued source for free clothing for anyone in need, are located off the hallway leading to the church’s function hall at 646 Daniel Webster Highway.

Johnson said she continues to enjoy occasional forays to local riverbanks and other likely places that may yield a found object. She uses a metal detector, a trowel, a rake, “or my bare hands.” Care is taken to leave no sign of any disturbance as good stewardship of the land.

Johnson said some of her favorite finds include diminutive Listerine bottles topped with corks and Halloway Joint & Rheumatism ointment jars. Cards of dark brown mourning pins used to secure a widow’s hairstyle in a modest manner call for a closer look. Another eyecatcher is a 10-packet box of NerveEase Headache Powder from 1940.

Some of Johnson’s elderly items come with assurances of their quality. A box of Brown’s Vermifuge Comfits or Worm Lozenges was manufactured circa 1870. Plain print on the label guarantees the product is gentle enough for any child’s stomach.

“We owe so much today to those who invented so many cures and comforts, especially the worm lozenges,” Johnson said.

The curious are invited to email Donna Johnson for more information at johnsondonna382@gmail.com.

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