'Dermabilia': Discarded items are doctor's treasure

September 1, 2009

When Carol Isaacs, M.D., was a dermatology resident, she started collecting what she calls "dermabilia" - "nothing particularly valuable, but nevertheless, interesting to me," says the board-certified dermatologist who is in private practice and on staff at St. Helena Hospital.

St. Helena, Calif. - When Carol Isaacs, M.D., was a dermatology resident, she started collecting what she calls "dermabilia" - "nothing particularly valuable, but nevertheless, interesting to me," says the board-certified dermatologist who is in private practice and on staff at St. Helena Hospital.

As a child, Dr. Isaacs says, she collected everything from old paper milk bottle caps to Victorian purses with glass-beaded fringe to arrowheads and stamps before moving on to dermatology artifacts.

"It started with some old texts and formularies that were being discarded from a dermatologist's library that I rescued from the trash. Then, a pathology lab was being cleaned out, and I picked up some old pharmacy bottles and alcohol lamps for warming slides," she says.

"I found most of this at flea markets, or - even easier, nowadays - on eBay," Dr. Isaacs says.

Her collection includes antique medical pictures and anatomical drawings, and has expanded, with the help of her patients, to include old doctors' bags formerly used when making house calls.

The collection adorns Dr. Isaac's office. Her favorite artifact is an old bottle for a dandruff cure, cork-stoppered, with its dark amber contents still inside.

"There's a round porthole in the front label, and if you peer through it, you can see a (naked) mermaid combing her long tresses - the mermaid drawing is on the inside of the back label," Dr. Isaacs says.

"None of this is very expensive, and it's not a large collection," she says, "but it's fun for all - and pure nostalgia for some of my senior patients."