William H. Helfand collection of artwork and printed ephemera
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
William Helfand was a scholar of the histories of medicine, pharmacy and art, and collector of prints and ephemera related to all three. Born in 1926, in Philadelphia, to Minnie and Leopold, Helfand was exposed at an early age to pharmacy through his father's drugstore at Broad Street and Chelten Avenue. He graduated from Central High School in 1943 and served in the United States Army for two years.
After returning from military service, Helfand earned degrees in Chemical Engineering (University of Pennsylvania, 1948) and Pharmacy (Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, 1952), as well as honorary degrees of Doctor of Sciences (Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, 1976), and Doctor of Humane Letters (Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University, 1981). For more than three decades, he worked as an executive manager for the multinational pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. (including time as president of the French Division from 1970-1974), until he retired in 1987.
A historian of pharmacy and medicine, he is the author of many publications on these subjects, including the books Medicine & Pharmacy in American Political Prints (1978), Pharmacy: An Illustrated History (1990, with David L. Cowen), and several articles and catalogues of exhibitions on pharmacy and medicine prints, posters and ephemera.
Helfand was, himself, a collector of medicine and pharmacy-related material, and exhibitions of his posters, illustrations, and prints have been hosted at the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, the New York State Museum, and the National Library of Medicine, among other venues. Helfand has donated his collections to research institutions across the United States.
Helfand married Audrey Helfand in 1954 and they were the parents of Jessica and Rachel. He died on October 2, 2018 at the age of 92.
"William Helfand, 92, collector and authority on medical quacks," by Robert Moran, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2018 October 5.
This collection contains a fairly diverse set of artwork and printed ephemera collected by William H. Helfand. For the most part, the collection relates to pharmacy and medicine and/or fine arts. This collection should be used with other collections gifted by Helfand: William H. Helfand collection of medical quackery ephemera, 1736-2006, (Print Collection 34) and William H. Helfand collection of ex-votos and devotional painting on medical subjects, 1868-2002 (Ms. Coll. 1219).
Arranged in seven series, this collection provides visual evidence of the role of pharmacy in the everyday world over the past several hundred years. Series I. Advertisements (largely for pharmaceutical products) includes ads for remedies in newspapers or magazines, posters, metal plaques, and wooden cribbage boards, from countries including England, Italy, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United States. While the bulk of the remedies are for humans, Santivan advertises that their product "Means Health for Sheep."
Series II. Artwork is believed to be original artwork (reproductions of artwork can be found in Series VII). As much as possible, artists have been identified, although in a few cases they are either not listed or are illegible. For the most part, this artwork relates to pharmacy, dentistry, and health, more generally.
Series III. Brochure and posters for art exhibits are largely posters (only one brochure) for exhibits that do not relate to pharmacy, medicine, or health. Instead, it is presumed that Helfand collected these posters because he attended these exhibits or simply like the artists. Several of the posters are signed, but there is no evidence that Helfand had any specific connections to the artists or the exhibits. They are arranged alphabetically by the museum or gallery that hosted the exhibit.
Series IV. Posters for exhibits relating to medicine and pharmacy were presumably collected because of Helfand's very specific collecting interests in medical quackery and pharmacy. While most do not have a direct connection to Helfand, one exhibit, "Medicine and Pharmacy: 100 Years of Poster Art," was made up of material from the collection of William H. Helfand, and commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the Albany College of Pharmacy (1881-1981). These posters are arranged alphabetically by the museum or gallery that hosted the exhibit.
Series V. and VI. Periodicals or bound volumes and Extracts from periodicals relate largely to the image of pharmacy and medicine in printed works. These groups of material contain caricatures and comics, as well as ads for surgeons and remedies.
The final series, Series VII. Reproductions of artwork, include posters and prints of material, much of which was probably widely available for purchase. These items are largely (but not entirely) related to medicine and pharmacy, and are arranged alphabetically by the artist, when known.
This collection, when used in conjunction with other collections containing material regarding pharmacy and medicine, provides images that portray the evolution of pharmacy in history--from the farcical portrayals of doctors and remedies to the much more respected image of a field that saves lives. It is important to note, however, that this collection is, by and large, a collection of Helfand's; and not the tightly curated groups of materials donated by him on previous occasions (Ms. Coll. 1219 and Print Collection 34).
Gift of William H. Helfand, 2017
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Holly Mengel
- Finding Aid Date
- 2021 July 23
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.