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Lanman & Kemp records

Creation: 1840-1925 Creation: Majority of material found within 1852-1879
Accession: 2328


Lanman & Kemp was a multi-generational family firm of wholesale druggists in New York City. Their records document the operations of the wholesale drug business in the years before the development of modern pharmaceuticals. They also show the importance of New York City as a center for the import, export and re-export business and of London bankers in financing international trade and extending credit.


  • Creation: 1840-1925
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1852-1879



40 Linear Feet

Historical Note

Lanman & Kemp was a multi-generational family firm of wholesale druggists in New York City. Lanman & Kemp was founded at 313 Pearl Street in 1808 by Robert J. Murray (d. ca. 1854), a Quaker merchant and member of the family for which Murray Hill is named. His grandfather, Robert Murray (1721-1786) had converted to the Society of Friends in Pennsylvania and with his wife Mary Lindley Murray and brother John Murray (1737-1808) moved to New York in 1753. The Murrays became extremely wealthy as merchants during the boom that accompanied the Seven Years War but were tainted by Toryism after the Revolution. Lindley Murray (1745-1826), who returned to England and became famous as a grammarian, was Robert J. Murray's uncle. His father, John Murray, Jr. (1758-1819) remained in New York as a merchant and was active in Quaker affairs, including abolition and the care of the poor.

Robert J. Murray was also active in charitable pursuits and appears to have retired from active business in the late 1820s. He was succeeded by his brother Lindley Murray (ca. 1790-1847). In 1835, Lindley Murray took David Trumbull Lanman (1802-1866) as a partner under the name of Murray & Lanman at 69 Water Street. Lanman was the son of Peter Lanman (1741-1854) and Abigail Trumbull Lanman (b. 1781) of a distinguished, Norwich, Conn., family. His uncle, James Lanman (1767-1841) was a Congressman and Mayor of Norwich., and his brother Joseph Lanman (1811-1874) became a rear admiral. On his mother's side, he was a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden of Plymouth Colony, the great-grandson of Colonial Governor Jonathan Trumbull (1710-1785), and grand-nephew of the artist John Trumbull (1756-1843).

Lindley Murray died in 1847, and the business was continued at the same address by Lanman alone until about 1853, when George Kemp, a young Irish immigrant, was admitted to the partnership under the style of David T. Lanman & Co. Kemp and his five siblings had been brought to the U.S. by his widowed mother in the 1830s or early 1840s. The firm became D.T. Lanman & Kemp in 1858 and Lanman & Kemp in 1861. Lanman died in 1866, but the business was continued by George Kemp, his brother Edward (ca. 1830-1901), and his sons Edward and William under the old name. It was incorporated as Lanman & Kemp, Inc., in 1920 and moved to suburban New Jersey in 1957. Several of Lanman & Kemp's traditional products are still produced and marketed by Lanman & Kemp-Barclay & Co., Inc. in 2006.

Lanman & Kemp engaged in the wholesale drug trade, buying and selling materia medica throughout the United States and worldwide. They sold their own patent medicines as well as those of other producers. Their most popular product was "Florida water," an all-purpose toilet water touted for cosmetic and restorative qualities, its name associated with Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth in company advertising. Florida water was introduced by Robert Murrary on February 14, 1808 and is still sold under its original brand. Lanman & Kemp also dealt in opiates, medicinal and culinary herbs, spices, liquors, flavorings and perfumery extracts, paint and pigments, medical apparatus and glassware. In addition, they acted as purchasing agents for overseas clients and traded in retail shop fixtures, books, guns, harness, and sewing machines.

Lanman & Kemp enjoyed a very large export and re-export business, particularly with Latin America, where David Lanman had traveled and retained a wide circle of correspondents. The firm employed traveling agents who covered the territory, taking orders, and also took direct orders by mail. The firm was also a large importer of raw materials from Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean, particularly opium bought through Turkish merchants. This import-export business was financed through London banking houses.


Correspondence is alphabetized by the firm name. In case of changes to the firm name, the file was alphabetized according to the first chronological name represented. Names with prefixes, such as "De" or "De La," are alphabetized by the primary name if the individual used spaces in spelling his own name in his signature or letterhead.

Example: Delapierre filed under D, de la Pierre filed under P.

The exception is names beginning with Van, which were all filed in V.

Foreign language firm names were used, such as Gomez y Hermanos. However, place names were Anglicized and modernized (for instance, Colombia instead of Republic of New Granada).

Miscellaneous documents (and groups of less than 5 documents related to a single firm or individual) were placed in Miscellaneous files. In the Foreign Correspondence, the miscellaneous documents are grouped alphabetically: for example, AB miscellaneous, AC miscellaneous, and so on. In the Domestic Correspondence, miscellaneous documents are grouped by state (for example, Florida miscellaneous), with a separate category for the very numerous documents from New York City (filed separately from New York State miscellaneous). It is recommended that scholars studying a particular firm in detail look through the relevant miscellaneous files, since scattered documents may also be found there. Miscellaneous folders are not alphabetized or placed in chronological order; any content lists may be incomplete.

Researchers interested in drugs and pharmaceuticals should note the Excel document, "L&K drug substances," which provides a fairly complete listing of common Lanman & Kemp products, with names in English and Spanish and a brief definition.

Scope and Content

The records of Lanman & Kemp document the operations of the wholesale drug business in the years before the development of modern pharmaceuticals. They also show the importance of New York City as a center for the import, export and re-export business and of London bankers in financing international trade and extending credit.

The collection is very rich for students of business history. Domestically, Lanman & Kemp's correspondence with other United States firms in the 1850s-1870s demonstrates the wholesale trade in drugs and chemicals, especially in New York City; the relationship of New York firms with small-town retailers. In terms of foreign trade, the collection highlights trade connections between New York and the rest of the world. There is much material with which to study banking and credit history, as the archives contain letters both from large banking firms and from countless small businessmen requesting credit or authorizing bank draughts. Businessmen in South America sometimes paid their bills with local produce, especially hides and coffee. Drug retailers in South and Central America can be studied through the letters, which often contain ornate letterhead describing what the store sold, discussions by the writers of their business experiences, and detailed orders naming many of the items required to stock a pharmacy. The large number of letters can also shed light on the material culture of international business: stationery, especially decorative letterhead and mourning stationery, and the use of formal business language. Long, sustained runs of telegraphic correspondence, especially between Lanman & Kemp and bankers in London or merchants in the Middle East, demonstrate the growing importance of telegraphy in the mid-nineteenth century. Many of the telegrams are written in code. Most of the letters are dated by the sender and by Lanman & Kemp, indicating when it was received; this can be used to calculate the time required to send international letters by steamers during this period. There is also evidence of Lanman & Kemp's forays into advertising: records of advertisements in foreign newspapers, and a few trade cards and newspaper advertisements are included.

The nature of the Lanman & Kemp business indicates the collection's use for medical history. Thousands of different drugs are mentioned in orders, from simple herbals such as arnica to chemicals such as gold nitrate, as well as preparations such as litargirio and opodeldoc. Many correspondents also request specific medical equipment and tools, and supplies such as bandages, glassware, etc. These letters can give an idea of the medical preparations in demand in South America, and the nature of medical practice and pharmacology in large cities such as Havana as well as tiny towns in Mexico and Colombia. There are some records of orders from North American druggists as well, although generally the letters are not as detailed. Letters for New York State and Wisconsin are particularly rich. The domestic correspondence also suggests the intense activity in pharmaceutical merchandising in New York City and in trade with the United States hinterland.

Certain specific commodities can be studied with this collection. This collection contains much information on the manufacture, international trade, and sale of opium. Lanman & Kemp purchased opium, mostly in Turkey, and sold it around the world; it was one of the firm's most popular items. Lanman & Kemp were also heavily involved in "patent" or proprietary medicines: the firm sold its own trademarked preparations (Florida water, sarsaparilla, worm pills, chest medicine) along with those of other American and European companies. The firm bought raw materials (spices, extracts, gums and resins) in India, Southeast Asia, and France, either to use to manufacture its own preparations or simply to trade.

The Foreign correspondence series, two largest files are for the London banking firm of William Henry Cole (4,222 items) and the Smyrna opium merchant Alexander Sidi (1,231 items). The majority of the foreign correspondence consists of folders with fewer than twenty-five items. However, many of these folders contain detailed orders that shed light on the foreign drug business, and on the nature of drug retailing in South and Central America. Many of the orders contained in letters from South and Central America are very detailed for everything needed to stock a drugstore.

The Domestic correspondence series has thirty-four states and the District of Columbia represented within the correspondence, but the bulk is centered on New York City, the Mid Atlantic states, New England, and the Upper Midwest. Correspondence with firms in New York City is mainly receipts and invoices from other wholesalers and manufacturers. Correspondence with firms outside the city is usually orders from druggists in other cities and towns. Domestic correspondence is almost entirely in English, with a few Spanish- and French-language items.

The Internal files series includes shipping documents, checks and bills of exchange, company inventories, banking and account books, and miscellaneous items. Also included are correspondence of Rear Admiral Joseph Lanman, brother of David T. Lanman, and records of Edward Kemp's role as treasurer of the Episcopal Church of St. Peter's in Galilee in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, which was located near his county estate at Rumson.

There are also two folders of photocopied reference material, left by previous researchers, that might be of interest to scholars of stamps, military history, or the California gold rush.

Language of Materials


Additional Description


Hagley purchased the Lanman & Kemp collection from a manuscripts dealer, who had purchased it from a philatelist, who wanted the envelopes for their many foreign stamps but had no interest in the letters.

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Lanman & Kemp records
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
Script of description:

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA