Folk, Historical, and Patent Medicine: Creating New Access Points to Materials

So, as is the way of things, your usual archivist/blogger Kira has found herself a new project. (I want to talk about it, but it means a more text-based blog post this week–apologies for that in advance.) Good news: It’s for the benefit of everyone and it will provide a new access point to some of our materials–I think! Additional good news: It only took a set amount of time to accomplish and didn’t interfere with all the other projects. Bad news: Well, there isn’t any!

One of my favorite items relating to patent medicine, an advertisement for labels to bottle medicines. Featured on the blog in February 2017: https://whatscookinvt.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/medicines-patent-practical/

To explain: For folks interested in the history of medicine, there’s a really great resource out there from the National Library of Medicine: the History of Medicine Finding Aids Consortium. This resource brings together finding aids from institutions around the country that deal with aspects of medicine and allied sciences. Some of our food and drink, local/regional history, and Civil War materials touch on some related aspects of medicine, including patent medicine, folk/traditional medicine, practitioners, disease history/research, and even military medicine history. Which, it turns out, does make us good candidates to contribute content to this resource!

To further explain: In a case of perfect timing, we may also have some faculty and classes interested in history of medicine materials. So, I’ve spent a few hours this week identifying collections that relate to aspects of medicine and started working on a way to bring those collections together virtually. Namely, through the use of a new subject heading for this purpose: “Folk, historical, and patent medicine.” This heading itself is being used as an umbrella term to gather collections (I realize it’s a pretty wide scope). So, in addition, we are including more specific, and authoritative, headings in these collections, too. These are formal headings created by the Library of Congress for cataloging books (and, in our case, we’re using them to describe manuscript collections). For this project, we’re using “Medicine” (for collections relating to the history of medicine, medical practices, doctors, and patients, and the like), “Patent medicine” (for collections relating to the history of propriety, patented, over the counter “cure,” often plant and/or alcohol based), and “Traditional medicine” (for collections relating to home remedies and folk medicine). Because we also have some Civil War collections dealing the the military perspective, you may also see “Medicine, Military–History” appearing in collections.

This image includes two pages from the Hertford Receipt Book (Ms2008-027), which contains home remedies for various medical issues. This item is available in digital form online: http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/HFDMss/Ms2008-027_HertfordReceiptBook.

Getting these collections into the NLM consortia will take a little time, but the good news is that you can already access these collection using these headings through Virginia Heritage, the statewide finding aid portal! There are 41 collections already tagged with these subjects and I’m working identifying some more. Then I’ll also be setting up a “Sources for Selected Topics” page on our food and drink LibGuide about home remedies, folk medicine, and patent medicines! We encourage you to take a look–and check back. You never know what might interest you!

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Serial Domestication: Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book

Note: I scheduled this post to go out on September 1, but discovered this morning that never happened! So, here is it is (and apologies for the gap in posts)!


Among the history of food and drink materials, you’ll find quite a bit to say on the intertwined topics of cookery, household management, and domestic economy (later what we would call “home economics”). On the surface, that’s what Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book sounds like. It was a small serial publication that began in 1860 and ran until at least 1878 or so. Here in Special Collections, we have three different years: 1868, 1875, and 1877. This week, we’re looking at the volume from 1868.

It does, in fact, contain a lot of recipes for food and a short miscellany of household recipes and cleaners. And I love that the cover also states, “This book will be issued annually, with entirely new Receipts. By preserving them, and sewing them together, you will have in a few years the best collection of Receipts in the country.” It’s like an art project to build your own cookbook. It’s true if you compare editions, there are different receipts in them. But there’s something else going on in Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book, too.

ADVERTISING! It shouldn’t be surprising–we’ve seen that again and again in the collection–but it did sneak up on me in this case. As it turns out, Mrs. Winslow was a name used to sell a patent medicine (“Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup”), and was tangentially attached to two other products, produced by the same companies. There are small testimonials tucked in between recipes, as well as some full page ads for the three featured products.

It’s worth noting that Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was available starting in 1845, some 15 years before the receipt book first appeared in publication, and it was sold well into the 20th century. There’s a short history of it online (and yes, there was an actual Mrs. Winslow!). 1868 was still decades from the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 that would require labeling on medicines, so consumers weren’t likely to know that the main ingredients in the bottle were alcohol and some form of opioid (usually morphine). It certainly would help calm a child’s teething–and knock them out in the process.

The serial comes out of Boston, but the recipes included are fairly generic. They feature ingredients that would have been available east of the Mississippi, at least, and you’ll find corn breads, pies, pickled items galore, “a Ham better than a Westphalia,” and some uses for some less attractive cuts of meat. The recipe for “Pine-Apple Marmalade” stuck out, since pineapples weren’t really common yet and pineapple recipes in cookbooks remained a rarity through the end of the 19th century. They were hard to acquire and therefore, expensive. (And yes, I’ve stumbled down a rabbit hole of pineapple history I need to explore further!) Pineapples aside, it’s a collection of approachable and fairly basic recipes, which is good, since, like most cookbooks of the the time, they don’t include much in the way of directions.

It may seem we’ve gone a bit far a-field in this post (from patent medicines to pineapples), but it serves as a good reminder that cookery-related resources are rarely as straight-forward as we may expect or want them to be. Rather, they have a great deal to tell us about ingredients, techniques, and times–and they are well-worth a look.

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 Tea, a Counter-top Ad, and a Dead President

I know–that sounds vaguely like the start of a joke. And, after reading a little further, you might continue to think that’s the case. I promise, it’s not! This week, we’re featuring a newly-acquired piece of advertising ephemera. It’s a bit difficult to introduce. So, for the moment, I’ll let it speak for itself: The Garfield Tea counter-top advertisement…

Garfield Tea table topper, Stillman Remedies Co., likely c. 1885.
Garfield Tea counter-top advertisement, Stillman Remedies Co., likely late 1880s (maybe 1885?).

This 3-d piece has a flap that folds out in the back, so it would have most likely sat on counters to advertise. Judging by what we know of the company (see below), the product wasn’t sold until some years after the assassination of James A. Garfield. At the earliest, it probably dates to 1885, four years after his death. Which of course raises the question of why? (Or, as some of my colleagues and I said when we saw it, “Whaaaaa?”) There’s no obvious connection between the man or the man as President and a laxative tea, but that didn’t stop Stillman Remedies Co. We know the product came as a loose tea, a bagged tea, and in syrup form. Oh, and while there probably wasn’t actually a “Dr. Stillman,” there does appear to have been a medical man behind things.

Most of what I was able to glean of the Stillman Remedies Co. comes from now-digitized New York State documents, labor reports, and periodicals of the time. They were in business by at least 1888 (possibly sooner) and still around at least as late as 1910. For example, in 1897, from Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, Volume 18, we can tell how many male and female employees they had (2 male, 25 female) and that maybe manufactured a variety of medicines (patent or otherwise), but it’s hard to say for sure. Garfield Tea was the name that come up in conjunction with the business and the owners in the historical record. The periodical, The Medical World, Volume 16 offers us the best explanation of what was actually IN Garfield Tea: “Our examination showed it to contain chiefly senna leaves and crushed couch-grass. There are perhaps small amounts of other drugs present; but if so, they are relatively of little importance.” Hmm, not exactly inspiring, that last part. But, therein lies the danger of patent medicines of the time in the days before the Pure Food and Drug Act–no one was obligated to tell you what was in the box or the bottle. Most descriptions that exist in the modern age come from the small print on the advertisement itself or from one single contemporary description that was published word-for-word in multiple sources. There are some great images of other packaging through The Herb Museum’s website, though.

The Michigan Reports: Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Michigan, Volume 76 suggest that people behind Stillman Remedies Co. were actually Emmet and Helen Densmore, which opened up a new pathway for research. (This case was a battle between the Densmores and a former employee who had been authorized to distribute the product in certain locations. The Michigan Reports include an opinion that reversed the first decision, in favor of the defendant, but it is unknown how the new trial turned out. There was at least one other case later on, too, in New York.) Dr. Emmet Densmore (1837-1911) was a physician and author, as well as owner of Stillman Remedies Co. (which is occasionally also referenced as the “Garfield Tea Company”). He had originally been involved in oil in his home state of Pennsylvania and later worked with his brothers on early typewriter designs. His books related largely to food, diet (favoring raw foods and limiting starches), and hygiene. His last work, in 1907, however, dealt with the question of the equality of the sexes.

At which point, it seemed wise to quit digging. After all, what I had intended to be simple post about a strange advertisement turned into an even stranger exploration with way more information than anyone could want. Yet, despite all that, Stillmore Remedies Co. and the Densmore still have some secrets we can’t divine (at least not in a couple hours’ worth of research). “Why Garfield?” and “Why a laxative tea as your prime product?” and “Why use Garfield to sell a laxative several years after he was assassinated?” (I kept expecting to find a lawsuit on the use of his image!) While we all ponder those questions and more, the advertisement is destined to become a part of our Culinary Ephemera Collection’s series on patent medicines. And you’re welcome to see it in person. We’ll be here, right along with the late President Garfield.

 

Burdock Blood Bitters

Burdock Blood Bitters! You try saying that three times fast while we work on introducing it. This week, we’re back to bitters. Not the ale and not the cocktail kind (though we’ve talked about how THIS kind of bitters led to the latter before), but the wondrous, magical, spectacular, patent medicine kind! (Have we sold you yet? No? Then read on…we have testimonials!)

So, the Burdock Blood Bitters Almanac and Key to Health isn’t conveniently numbered or given editions. But, given the holdings of other institutions and the existence of other copies, it appears to have been published by a company in the United States (Foster, Milburn & Co. of Buffalo, NY) and a company in Canada (T. Milburn & Co. of Toronto, Ont.). Publication dates vary, and it may have been issued in Canada first, where the earliest one appears in 1866. The earliest date I could find for a U.S. edition was 1882 for the 1883 calendar year. And the almanac was still going strong in 1934! Whatever was in Burdock Blood Bitters, it was doing something (or at least convincing people it was)! We don’t get a nice clean list of ingredients (this was well before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906), but we are told that “B. B. B.” is a vegetable compound (pg. 2) and on page 10 (not pictured) that it “does not contain a particle of Mineral or hurtful drugs.” Vegetable compounds were not uncommon, made in the home or commercially, and we have talked about at one other producer of them before, Lydia Pinkham. Then there’s Charlie White-Moon, whose concoction was made of “roots & herbs.”

Despite the fact that patent medicines like this suggest they cure a lot of problems (hence the nickname “cure-alls”–though they often cured nothing), some companies might have admitted to limits, whether overtly or subtlety. Burdock Blood Bitters Almanac and Key to Health, for example, is loaded with testimonials and advertisements for not only itself, but other products, too. If you’ve been following us for a long time, you might recall our first post about patent medicines, back in 2012–“The Cure for What Ails You.” It featured a trade card for a product called Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil.

woman with fandescription of ailments cured

Although we still don’t know exactly how long “Dr. Thomas” (probably just a moniker and not a real person, as was sometimes the case) was in business, we know the product was sold from at least the late 19th century (and we can now confirm 1888) into the 1910s. So, imagine the exciting surprise of finding Burdock’s almanac advertising it, too!

Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil advertisement.
Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil advertisement.

And there are a few other full page ads for other products, including this one:

Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Hanson's Magic Corn Salve advertisement.
Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Hanson’s Magic Corn Salve advertisement.

While there may be a little bit of overlap between what Burdock Blood Bitter and Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil claim to cure, it isn’t much. And Hanson’s Magic Corn Salve is right out of both their wheelhouses. So, it’s fair to guess, if someone will buy one product to fix a laundry list of problems, they might be willing to buy some others. It’s good advertising…and good business.

Interested in other Burdock advertisements? At least one other edition of Burdock Blood Bitters Almanac and Key to Health, from the Canadian publisher in 1913, is available online through the Internet Archive. East Carolina University has one of Burdock’s trade cards in their digital collection from about the same time as our almanac. I’ll try to get the entirety of our 1887 scanned and posted  in our digital platform, Special Collections Online. In the meantime, you can check out the nearly 200 publications and 6 manuscript collections in the History of Food & Drink Collection represented there.

February is Black History Month and I hope to have one or two posts this month on that theme, starting next week. Until then, remember to avoid all those B. B. B. imitators!

Cowboys and Cure-alls?

Not long ago, we acquired this publication. At 49 pages, it’s not really a pamphlet anymore. While it is primarily at advertisement for a patent medicine/cure-all, we also learn some interest facts about production and the creator of Com-Cel-Sar, Charlie White-Moon. (Although on at least one page, his name is also spelled “Charley.”)

The majority of the publication is testimonials–and LOTS of them. From individual users and family members, young and old, male and female. Everyone seems to benefit from this product! We’ve looked at patent medicines before on the blog, but there is something that stands out about “Com-Cel-Sar” (well, one of many things, really). There’s a full list of ingredients and why they are included on the second page. Even more interesting, we’re given this explanation: “The components of COM-CEL-SAR, as published on every package, do not only more than comply with the PURE FOOD LAW, but are for self-protection, all being Copy-Righted, hence protected by the United State Government.” The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, among other things, required that active ingredients be placed on the label of a drug’s packaging. But you don’t often see patent medicine creators and suppliers complying so eagerly and/or pointing out their compliance. 

Our publication dates from 1912. Based on newspaper advertisements, however, Com-Cel-Sar was produced at least as early as 1903 and at least as late as 1916. The market was very localized in specific areas of Kentucky and Indiana (Charlie White-Moon’s headquarters were in Louisville). Nearly all the testimonials come from Louisville, Kentucky, and New Albany, Indiana (just across the Kentucky River), where it was heavily advertised and promoted.

On a side note, some of our department did have a conversation about the cover page when this item first arrived. What caught our attention wasn’t the picture or the title, but the small phrase in the bottom right: “Written for Human Beings Only.” We couldn’t come to a consensus about why one might label a publication that way, but it’s a good reminder of what makes working in Special Collections so much fun. Every day there’s a new surprise!

And, of course, I get to share some of those discoveries with you!