Ephemeral Medicines (Patent and Practical)

Earlier this week, I got to spend a little quality time with the Culinary Ephemera Collection (Ms2013-028). There was a folder full of items waiting to be added. Items for this collection pile up a bit slower than for the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, so I don’t need to go back to it quite as frequently. But, despite some beliefs, many times, manuscript collections aren’t “done” when a finding aid is posted. They can become living entities that accrue new materials, require additional attention, or end up in need of corrections. Given the folder for items I had, in this case, it made sense to give the finding aid a little depth. If you’ve looked at it before, it was listed in series, but there wasn’t much detail in the contents list. This week, I was able to itemize some series and even given some historical background on a few of the more substantial and unique items. While I love all the items in the collection, I have talked about a couple of my absolute favorites before (Garfield Tea and the J. F. Lawrence Printing Company prospectus), this particular week, I was distracted by folder 14, which contains ephemera and items relating to “Medicines (Patent and Practical).”

First, a Latin lesson. I don’t know how good yours might be (mine’s there, but not nearly as strong as I would wish). “Non multum sed multa” is your classic “not quantity, but quality.”

The pages that follow are the history of and advertisement for “Kola-Cardinette,” a medicine made up of kola-acuminata (or, more modernly cola-acuminata aka the plant that produces kola nuts), cod liver oil, and cereal phosphates. The main effect of kola or kola nuts is caffeine. While I couldn’t discover exactly what cereal phosphates are or were, it does seem to have often been combined with kola to boost its effectiveness. The National Museum of American History, for example, has a bottle from a similar product, and you can find a number of digitized resources talking about other products. This particular Kola-Cardinette was the work of The Palisades Manufacturing Company in Yonkers, NY, and the pamphlet comes from about 1895!

ms2013_028_b1f14_eusoma

Another compound from about the same time, was this echinacia compound called “Eusoma.” The inside is a reprinted lecture given by Dr. C. S. Chamberlin in 1904, extolling the virtues of the product through a series of case studies, all of which used echinacea lotion and resulted in the healing of all sorts of skin issues and small cuts. Not a cure-all, but a cure-some? Other products are a little more targeted:

ms2013_028_b1f14_hollis

Thomas Hollis’ Bitters are specifically aimed at curing issues with certain parts of the body. They seem to have come in a powder form to be mixed with liquids, which isn’t the kind of bitters we might think of today (or even the kind of patent medicines!), but where else can you make a beer that will cure what ails you!

Last up is an ad on cardboard that was likely attached to packaging for cases of the products:

ms2013_028_b1f14_morse

Many patent medicines also came in pill form. While this item doesn’t tell us a whole lot, we have another item in Special Collections related to Dr. Morse: an almanac from 1908, full of advertisements, testimonials, and information about the year itself. The pills were touted as a “great blood purifier,” but in the context of the time, that meant a lot. Contaminants in the blood were believed to be the root of all illness, so something that could purify could, in theory, cure everything. Of course, we know that cure-alls were anything other than that, but plenty of people were on board with the theory.

Dr. Morse’s pills are among the more documented of 19th and 20th century patent medicines, thanks to a lot of research done on the family behind it, the Comstocks. The article is can tell the story better than I can, but it’s worth pointing out that some form of of these “Indian Root Pills” was available from the 1830s until the 1960s!

While we don’t recommend you go looking for a patent medicine to cure your ills today, if you’d like to learn more about them, we’re certainly happy to help. We have sponsored almanacs, pamphlets, and advertisements galore to give you insight into this lucrative and historically fascinating business.

A Quick Link (#1): Victorian Cookbooks Were Stuffed with Costumed Roosters and Sphinx Cakes

Just a quick link to share, in an effort to get back to sharing news, recipes, or fun food stories on Mondays. It’s a short article, but includes some amazing, elaborate illustrations of cakes from mid-19th century British cookbooks and cooking encyclopediae: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/victorian-cookbooks-were-stuffed-with-costumed-roosters-and-sphinx-cakes. The images come from the New York Academy of Medicine collection and reveal just how decorative you can get with “tinted fat”…

Appalachian Oral Histories at JMU

I’m thinking about a post for this week (welcome to 2017!), but in the meantime, something awesome happened this morning. Through the power of social media and happenstance, I discovered a resource I didn’t know about (but really should have). It relates in part to food, drink, agriculture, cocktails, medicine and other aspects of Appalachia, so I though I’d give a shout out to the great work of the folks at JMU! What is this amazing collection? The Shenandoah National Park Oral History Collection! There’s a page for the collection, that includes short summaries of interviewees/topics, along with transcripts and audio files. And for those of you who love a finding aid, there’s a larger description of the collection, too. Whether you’re interested in food preservation, education, or folk life, you might find something about Appalachia you didn’t know before!

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from Virginia Tech Special Collections! We don’t have a new feature for you this week, but we did pull an older post out of the archives(originally posted in . You  know, in case you have those last minute fruitcake needs…


In 1980, Albondocani Press produced a Christmas card with Eudora Welty’s White Fruitcake recipe. The cover art, by Robert Dunn, was an hand drawn image that actually looks quite appealing!

WhiteFruitcake

This fruitcake used bourbon, which would be a nice compliment to the pecan, crystallized cherries and pineapple, and lemon peel. You can find the recipe online in a number of places, including the Cookbook of the Day blog. Welty’s recipe may not have been created by her, but she did give it quite the boost. This recipe may be a little late for this year, but you can always start fruitcake planning for next year…

Food in the News: Rubenstein Test Kitchen Blog(#6)

A quick shout out to another great blog: “The Devil’s Tale” (the blog of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University). They just put up a post today on one of my favorite topics: food & advertising. Check out “From Hawaiian Pie to Mustard Meringue: The Role of Test Kitchens in Modern Advertising,” which talks about a collection at the Harman Center. This is a great post, a fun topic, and I’ve had the good luck to meet the people behind this particular post, too!

The blog also has a subset for the Rubenstein Test Kitchen, which focuses on their food materials! And makes me jealous because I wish I had the time to do something similar here. If you don’t already, you should be sure to follow them!