Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Patent Medicine Almanacs-Really Bad Ideas

Before the Pure Food and Drug Act came along in 1906 you could pretty much put anything you wanted to into a bottle, and make any kinds of claims for its efficacy.  And you were under no obligation to divulge what was in it.

This was a recipe for trouble, and many of the nostrums advertised in these almanacs contained liberal amounts of alcohol.  Or of narcotics.  Good marketing I suppose, it encouraged repeat customers.

The result was a fair amount of genteel tippling.  Folks in "dry" counties would purchase bitters and elixirs by the case.  Women who would not be caught dead in a saloon would have their daily dose of "Vegetable Compound".

Most of this was glossed over by the almanac makers, but a few hints peek through....

This is from a 1908 Ayers Almanac.  By this time the company was forthcoming about the ingredients in their nostrums, either from a sense of openess or from the mandates of the new law.  It's really great that they can advertise that they are "NON-ALCOHOLIC".  But lets just zoom in a little closer on that first ingredient, shall we?
Yup, its heroin.  Well, that's much better.  Of course it was a fairly new compound at that time, so it had perhaps not acquired a, shall we say, reputation by then.

Here's another flavor of bad idea:

Sure, if you think you have appendicitis just start taking a concoction called Tubbs Bilious Man's Friend.  That will go well.

And yet another gem:

The print is a bit small here, but the Fumigator Cigarette was a treatment for asthma as well as for the ambiguous condition "Minister's Sore Throat".  The ad says absolutely nothing about what is in these little stogies, but it is hard to see how inhaling any kind of smoke will help.  Oh, and the leperous looking horse in the bottom half of the page has nothing to do with the Fumigator, just an unhappy juxtaposition.

Given the potential for mood alteration inherent in many nostrums from the Golden Age of patent medicines it is entirely possible that the chap below had not been to a party, but to a drug store:
This is from a "Green's August Flower" almanac, one of the worst offenders with respect to inappropriate humor at the expense of, well, most everybody.  More on this in my next post.  Brace yourself.

1 comment:

The Old Man said...

Gotta love "Uncle Pennybags" waving his cane.
"Both you kids get offa my lawn!"