Our inventory of the Berks History Center is nearly complete, but we still continue to discover amazing artifacts such as this 200 year old apothecary scale which belonged to Reading pharmacist Gerhard Gottlieb Bischoff. (1775-1856). A native of Thuringia, Germany, Bischoff studied pharmacy under his father and then subsequently worked as an apothecary assistant in both Germany and Switzerland. In 1817, he immigrated to Reading where his brother, Frederick Christopher Bischoff, was already a well established artist.
Gerhard Bischoff opened an apothecary shop on Penn Street, midway between Sixth and Seventh Streets, and by all accounts was still working when he died in 1856 at the age of 81. Bischoff had a keen interest in Botany and Zoology. In addition to a large collection of plant specimens which he had assembled over the years, estate records reveal that he also possessed “19 cabinets of insects”.
We are fortunate that such an unusual artifact survives after two centuries.
“There is only one man in the United States that I envy,” spoke Chinese General Pei-Fu-Wu, “and that is Henry K. Deisher.” The wealth possessed by this well-known Berks Countian, that stirred the envy of the Chinese, was a garden of 40,000 ginseng roots, growing in Berks County. To the Chinese the root of the ginseng weed possesses healing powers of great and varied strength. In the hills of Manchuria the natives go out in mass each autumn searching for the roots which contain the elixir of life. The older the roots the better, say the Chinese, and Pennsylvania Roots found mostly in Perry County, are best of all. Modern medicine has not as yet clothed the ginseng with curative powers and its only practical use is as a demulcent. Even then it is not officially recommended.
Henry K. Deisher dug all of his roots in the Blue Mountains and in the back country of Perry County, transplanting them in his home garden in Kutztown until they were ready for market.
When marketing time came Deisher packed his roots in two trunks and set out for the offices of the exporters in New York. His choice of trunks as packing cases was forced by a strike of express men in New York and express companies refused to handle freight. Trunks were baggage and when he reached the Reading Station in New York he was able to hire a wagon. When the driver of the wagon began to move the trunks a group of strikers approached menacingly, but the baggage master explained that it was merely luggage that was being moved.
When the trunks were opened in the headquarters of the wholesalers the prospective purchasers gasped.
“Why the old empress of China would turn in her grave if she could see such ginseng roots,” one of them exclaimed.
Deisher was disappointed at the price he received for his prize roots, even though it netted him almost $5,000. In good humor he accepted the check, declaring that at some later time he would bring some really big ginseng roots. Unfortunately for Deisher, a blight struck his plants the next season and all of them died. (Information largely from Col. Henry W. Shoemaker).