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Hot Blood and Cold Steel

By E. S.

One of the least pretentious store fronts in Harvard Square is that of "Billings and Stover, Apothecaries." Two simple panels, each supporting a wooden mixing jar and twin glasses of chemically colored water, are all that adorn the "show" windows. The fact is that the firm of Billings and Stover doesn't have to advertise or dress up in order to attract customers; it has been going strong ever since 1854.

Founded by one A. S. Wiley for the avowed purpose of selling "legitimate drugs," the store passed in 1898 to the now renowned Elmer W. Billings and Charles A. Stover. Mr. Stover, longer lived of the two, remained active until 1929, when he turned the business over to its present owner, Mr. Jeremiah J. Mahoney.

A great many famous people have traded with Billings and Stover. Nearly all the big names in Harvard history for the past eighty-five years are recorded in the prescription books, of which there are 112. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had a prescription filed once for stomach trouble. All the Roosevelts, too, from the elder Kermit and Teddy on down to our contemporaries, have been regular customers. Mr. Mahoney speaks of Norman Prince, who was the first American to die with the Lafayette Escadrille. And Mr. Justice Frankfurter, though now in Washington, still keeps his account at Billings and Stover. Only a few days ago a mail-order prescription was filled for Dorothy Thompson.

Ninety-five percent of Billings and Stover's business is professional prescription work. Mr. Mahoney considers his soda, cigarettes, and candy supply only a necessary evil. There aren't any swivel-stools in front of the soda fountain. But business along that line is good enough to warrent the presence of two great barrels of Coca-Cola syrup among the "reserves supplies" down cellar.

"No, we never sell any patent medicines these days," observes Mr. Mahoney, "but they're on hand too." If you look long enough on the thickly packed shelves you'll even find a relatively mild and subdued form of youth restorative. A woman could almost have a baby in there all by herself. The complete apothecary--that's Billings and Stover. The six registered pharmacists employed there fill out over 200 prescriptions every day. And at 10:02 last night the total number of prescriptions filled since 1854 had reached exactly 700,000.

This number, of course, does not include such desireable services as the sale of bloodsuckers. According to A. S. Wiley's original circular issued in 1854, "Foreign Leeches of recent importation will always be on hand." And they were on hand until the early part of this century. Mr. Mahoney remembers them well. They were used to reduce the swelling on riotous Harvard student's black eyes, and sold for twenty-five cents apiece. "Slimy things," recalls Mr. Mahoney, "Damn, I'd rather have a black eye any day."

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