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02 November 2018
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Revisiting John H. Winn

John H. Winn, the chemical emporium of my youth in New York City, is a never-ending source of reminiscence. My written version began with a 2006 blogitem in which I semi-seriously doubted Winn's existence. My doubts were reduced in the following September update, and further by this blogitem in 2011. By then I was convinced that either my own dain bramage had turned into mass hysteria or there really was a Winn. I recently sustained an email from one Ely Silk affording further confirmation. It was accompanied by the photos below.
How do you turn marble chips into calcium carbonate? Use a grinder and a felt-tip pen. Iodide to iodate? If only chemistry were that easy!

Ely Silk's Email

I don't know if this email will get to you, but I was looking up John H. Winn (New York) and came across some early postings by you.

When I was a kid, I would often buy chemicals (some of which I still have) from John H. Winn at 124 West 23rd St., in New York.

You had to laugh at getting bottles of chemicals where parts of the chemical names were crossed out and corrected.  For example, I had a bottle labeled Potassium Iodide where the "ide" was crossed out with "ate" written in red above. 

Right now,  I'm looking at a bottle of Calcium Carbonate with "AR" lightly stamped on the label and the words "marble chips" crossed out in blue ink.  After all, it was analytical reagent grade Calcium Carbonate!  Right?

Yes.  I very fondly remember John H. Winn.

Best regards,

Ely Silk

I responded, in part:

I don’t remember anything but workmanlike labels on my Winn chemicals.  Fortunately my parents never read them. Thanks for writing. 

Nowadays I get my calcium carbonate from Tums.  More palatable than marble chips.

All this reminded me, as I mentioned to one correspondent, that my Winn blogitem has received more correspondence and, presumably, interest, than anything else I've written over the last decade-plus. Here's another, from Chris Ypsilanti, one of many...

I, too, was an "employee" at Winn Scientific. I started there in 61 or 62. Dorian was the manager and Robert Chambers was the owner, I believe. The lab I assembled in in my parent's basement became the center of incredibly dangerous experiments, although at the time it just seemed like good, clean fun. Some of the experiments we did back then would now make the 11 o'clock news. Well those were a lot more innocent days when chemistry was considered a hobby. It was interesting reading your blog, as I had similar experiences working there.

Virtually all of the emails, including correspondence with my old buddy Jon Paul, mentioned—tangentially or crucially—magnesium powder, potassium chlorate, and various strong acids. Ah, to be young again. With unwitting parents.

How About Some Anti-Nostalgia?

I bought a box of Sudafed the other day. Sudafed is an "over-the-counter" drug. On the one hand, it requires no prescription (a tirade for another day) but does require:

  • That you be an alleged adult, as I appear to be.
  • That you present government-issued identification.
  • That you wait while the pharmacy checks to make sure you haven't abused your right to purchase it by having purchased two more boxes in the recent past.
  • That you sign and pay for it.

Why "two more boxes"? After going through this procedure, I suggested that I might purchase a second box since the process was so burdensome. The pharmacist thought about it for a while, asked his assistant to calculate whether that would put me over some limit, and decided that it wouldn't and so I could purchase a second box. I decided against since I had wasted enough time already.

Sudafed is a medicine that alleviates symptoms of "the common cold." Many, perhaps most, people get colds every year or so. If they have to go through this each time they purchase this or a similar medicine, we are burdening the economy with a billion or so person-minutes every year. No wonder productivity isn't improving, as the headlines like to whine.

OK, Nostalgia, too. As I was writing the above, I got a frisson of deja vu, almost as if I had written it before. Turns out that I did, that time with illustrations. Six years ago. I don't get a lot of colds, obviously, but once I get an idea in my head there's no shifting it!

Have I mentioned bananas recently?

No, it's been over a year! But an associate recently returned from Italy with this exemplar of European Ingenuity.

If I transported my daily semi-banana instead of eating it at home, I would surely purchase one. And I wouldn't have to go to Italy, either. I checked Amazon and it seems you can get one from Canada.*


* Were it not for the asterisk above referring to the one at left, this would be an asterisk-free blogitem.

 
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