This week is a sort of mini double feature. As is often the way of working in Special Collections, looking at one item reminds you of one (or six!) more. So, while scanning Dr. S. J. Sears’ Domestic Receipt Book, I was reminded of the trade card for Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric [No, that’s not a typo, I promise] Oil. Suddenly I had patent medicines on the brain [I blame the book I’m reading on the history of bitters]! There is plenty of history on patent medicines out there, so if you’re interested, I encourage you to go looking. But in the meantime…
Dr. S. J. Sears’ Domestic Receipt Book, produced in 1868, combines baking recipes, advertisement for Dr. Sears’ cough syrup, and testimonials into a neat, if someone puzzling, package. On a single page, there are pudding recipes, directions for making horse liniment, and treatment for infections in the finger. The focus of the little pamphlet, however, are the testimonials. Written by the general public, physicians, and even a minister (and admitted long-term friend) of Sears. Of course, no one could have a bad word to say about the cough syrup, though in the modern age, one can’t help but wonder about the contents of a bottle. Samuel J. Sears (1815-1894) was a real physician in New York, though, which is more than can be said for some producers of medicines, legitimate or not. Dr. Sears’ syrup, at least, has specific claims and intentions–it is meant for coughs, colds, and a series of other lung-related complaints.
When it comes to Dr. Thomas, the claims are not so humble. Eclectric oil apparently cures it all!
Although the actual date of the trade card is unknown, Dr. Thomas’ oil was marketed from the mid 19th century well into the 20th century in the US and Canada. While it seems unlikely a blend of botanicals (and probably more than a little alcohol) would cure deafness in only two days, it seemed to do something for someone!
In addition to more patent medicine materials, there is also a great deal of information in our collections relating to home remedies. In fact, few 19th century cookbooks with complete without at least a page or two for dealing common injuries and recipes for useful household products. There are a whole range of books devoted in full or partially to the correct foods to feed the sick or invalid, too, but that might just be a blog post for another day…Until then, here’s hoping you don’t require a remedy of any kind.