I. Information for Researchers
A. Dates and General Characteristics
The William H. Helfand Collection consists of approximately 1,000 books, pamphlets, and advertisements relating to 19th-century American popular, patent, and proprietary medicines. Often referred to as “quack” remedies, these medicines entered the American market in the late 18th century. Advertisements of the sort represented in the collection first became common at the beginning of the 19th century. In essence, most popular medicines were completely ineffectual and almost indistinguishable from one another. This being the case, a product’s success depended largely on the ways in which it was marketed. Like the products themselves, which were regulated only after the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Laws of 1906, 19th-century advertisements for popular medicines were subject to little scrutiny; and as the Helfand materials show, manufacturers were free to make terrific, unsubstantiated claims about the curative powers of their various pills, syrups, tonics, and ointments.
The materials represented in the collection span more than a century, with c.1815 and c.1930 being the terminal dates. Most items, however, were published in the last quarter of the 19th century. More than 80% of the Helfand items date from 1870-1900; and of these materials, approximately half appeared in the 1890s alone. Of the materials dating from the 1820s to the 1860s, significantly more date toward the latter part of the spectrum; and the number of collection items dating within each ten-year increment rises with each passing decade. The war years notwithstanding, items printed between 1900 and the 1930s exhibit the reverse tendency.
The earliest item in the Helfand Collection is a small booklet bearing the lengthy title, Maxims on the Preservation of Health, and the Prevention of Diseases. Selected from the Best Authorities with the Way to Wealth, from Dr. Franklin, which was published by Lee’s Patent and Family Medicine Store in New York. While no official publication date is given, the customer testimonials, which are dated between 1799 and 1815, suggest that the booklet appeared around 1815. In many cases, publication dates are missing from collection materials; and in these instances, dated letters, telegrams, and testimonials (as well as calendars and references to current events) can provide helpful information. Users of these materials should be mindful of the fact that the dates suggested in the collection list are often estimations. If a project necessitates an unfailingly precise date, then additional research should be undertaken for the purpose of verification.
Despite its early date, Maxims on the Preservation of Health, . . . shares certain characteristics with the more standard representatives of the collection. In physical terms, it is both relatively small (approximately 4 x 6 in.) and brief (32 pages). Although the Helfand materials are extremely diverse in terms of content, they are, with few exceptions, quite uniform in size, length, and format. The vast majority of items fit easily into the 10 x 7 in. archival sleeves in which they are housed.
Like many of the Helfand materials, this booklet crosses traditional genres, using various types of texts and language (wit and wisdom, product descriptions, and customer testimonials) to promote health, in general, while selling certain products, in particular. Similarly, by evoking the name of a “great man,” this booklet anticipates others in the collection, many of which refer to important American historical figures. Insofar as it consists entirely of text, the booklet also resembles other early items, most of which lack the arresting visual imagery that figured so importantly in later advertisements (c.1870-1900).
While Maxims on the Preservation of Health, . . . is the oldest item in the collection, the publications of the Lydia Pinkham Company, which date well into the 1930s, number among the most recent. Although these advertisements are chronologically removed from the “average” Helfand item, the Pinkham materials still reflect certain tendencies exhibited by the collection as a whole. For example, these pamphlets effectively illustrate the extent to which terms such as “medicine,” “disease,” “health,” and “healthful living” were defined as broadly as possible. As with other firms, the publications of the Lydia Pinkham Co. clearly overstepped the traditional borders of scientific medicine, addressing matters concerning, but not exclusive to: beauty, hygiene, food and diet, exercise, child-rearing, dress, domesticity, home decoration, marriage, and familial, social, and sexual relations. Thus, the Helfand Collection may be of use to scholars interested generally in late 19th- and early 20th-century American social history, especially historians of women and children.
While the collection consists almost entirely of English-language publications, there are a few foreign language items, most of which are almanacs. Materials published in common European languages, such as French, German, and Dutch are included in the collection. Occasionally, more unusual items appear: for example, a pharmacy catalog published in Lithuanian, Apitekorius Groblevskis (c.1895). A few items were published in two or more languages; and the pamphlet Ayers’ Sarsaparilla (c.1880) included texts in eight languages.
The Helfand Collection focuses almost exclusively on the patent and proprietary medicine industry in America. This being the case, only a few items were published outside of the United States (these coming from England and Canada). Approximately half of the items were published in America’s major cities, most notably New York, Boston, and St. Louis. Surprisingly few items (66) were published in Philadelphia, which was home to several important firms including Dr. David Jayne & Co. Accurately reflecting what has been called the “democratic nature” of the popular medicine industry, numerous items were published in very small towns, such as Westbrook, ME and Enosburg Falls, VT. In several cases, pamphlets and advertisements were published in the same cities in which the products’ manufacturers had their factories or headquarters. Thus, industrial cities likes Lowell, MA (home to industry giants C.I. Hood & Co. and J.C. Ayer & Co.) are well represented.
The collection materials have been organized alphabetically by author. In most cases, the manufacturer of the product(s) advertised in a given publication is considered its author. For example, Keasbey & Mattison Co., the manufacturer of Bromo-Caffeine is listed as the author of the pamphlet, Bromo-Caffeine (c.1895); and the Quaker Herb Co. is the author of The Quaker Guide to Health (c.1890). In other cases, however, the connection between the manufacturer or author, the respective product, and the title or (ostensible) subject of a given pamphlet is less evident. The Helfand Collection contains a number of titles, which, upon first glance, appear to be general health books. For example, the title The New Method of Cure: Diseases of the Respiratory Organs (c.1904), disguises the fact that the booklet is actually an extended advertisement for the products of the Alpha Medical Institute. Similarly, the title A Treatise on the Most Prevalent Pelvic Diseases (c.1895) gives no indication of the book’s contents: advertisements for products named after Dr. V.M. Pierce (Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets) that were manufactured by the World Dispensary Medical Association (which would be considered the pamphlet’s author).
Questions of authorship are further complicated by the fact that wholesalers, pharmacies, and other retailers frequently “presented” promotional materials to sell products in their stock. In most cases, however, these vendors cannot be considered the true authors of the publications. For example, druggists in Fredonia, NY, Spartansburgh, PA, and Palmer, MA, issued pocket memoranda featuring advertisements for Petit’s American Eye Salve. While each druggist attached his own cover-page and customized the memorandum to suit his own business needs, the majority of the text was provided by the American Eye Salve Co., makers of Petit’s American Eye Salve. In this case, the manufacturer, and not the individual druggists, is more accurately considered the author of all three memoranda. Because authorship is occasionally unclear, researchers who are interested in the history of a particular proprietor, doctor, or firm are advised to approach their searches broadly, using both author and keyword.
Insofar as the Helfand materials were published by firms, individual proprietors, doctors, and druggists, etc., all of them can be considered advertisements to some extent. Advertising messages, however, were introduced to various degrees and appeared in numerous guises. In many cases, information that had nothing to do with health or medicine (such as current population statistics, and lists of actors and their stage names) appeared alongside product advertisements. By including such information, companies gave their readers an incentive to save pamphlets that might otherwise have been discarded. To the same end, manufacturers frequently issued publications that incorporated advertising messages into traditional genre formats. Thus, the Helfand Collection contains numerous examples of ABC books, cookbooks, and game books that double as product advertisements. Other genres represented include: almanacs, biographies, calendars, coloring books, comic books, dictionaries, dream books, etiquette books, fairy tales, floral albums, geography books, guide books, historical accounts, humor/joke books, indexes, ledgers, memoranda, name books, nursery rhymes, poetry, price lists, primers, question-and-answer books, reference books, sewing books, scripts, song books, travel books, and weather books.
The Helfand materials also shed light on the development of the printing industry in 19th-century America. With their success hinging on advertisements, makers of popular cures were closely connected to printers and publishers, who depended, in turn, on the revenues generated by lucrative contracts and the sale of advertising pages in newspapers and magazines. While even some of the earliest 19th-century advertisements featured striking black-and-white imagery, illustrations became increasingly important as the century progressed. Advances in the printing industry, including the rise of chromolithography, allowed advertisers to create striking color imagery that could be printed relatively affordably. The quality and diversity of the images appearing in various collection materials, particularly advertisements dating from the last quarter of the 19th century, makes them of potential interest to researchers of visual culture.
Numerous media are represented in the collection, including woodcuts, etchings, engravings on wood and copper, traditional black-and-white lithographs, chromolithographs, and photomechanical images. Additionally, the images vary greatly in terms of subject and genre: there are portraits, cartoons, caricatures, silhouettes, panoramic landscapes, religious and historical images, and scenes of everyday life in the home, at work, and on the street. Also common are scientific and anatomical illustrations, before-and-after pictures, microscopic imagery, and pictures of patients suffering from various diseases. While some images clearly aspire to clinical objectivity or scientific status, others are comical and patently sensational.
Among advertisers, pictures-within-pictures and advertisements-within-advertisements emerged as popular visual strategies. For example, the cover of Hood’s High Street Cook Book (1890) presents a domestic interior in which Hood’s Sarsaparilla calendar hangs visibly on the room’s rear wall. In some cases, a booklet’s cover illustration features a picture of one or more individuals reading the booklet itself. Examples include the cover of David Kennedy’s A Treatise on Diseases of the Skin, Blood, Liver & Kidneys (c.1875), which shows two women in a park reading a booklet that features them on the cover; and the cover of Hood’s Latest (1883), which features Uncle Sam reading a copy of the same issue.
As an introduction to the Helfand Collection, historians of art and visual culture may wish to consult a file of photocopied images reproduced from individual collection materials. The file includes images that are exceptional purely in terms of aesthetics and technique – those showing, for example, particularly skillful artistry or a mastery of new graphic media. The file has been organized, however, around broad categories of imagery defined by subject and theme. Within the collection, certain types of scenes predominate, so that one could speak of “standard imagery.” In general, the contents of the visual file are representative of the images found in the collection as a whole, both in terms of nature and number. That the visual file contains many images of children reflects the fact that a large percentage of the Helfand materials do so as well.
The following categories have been included in the visual reference file: images of disease and deformity; pain and distress; sickbed scenes; aging; death imagery; scientific and anatomical scenes; before-and-after; accidents and emergencies; operations and procedures; medical devices; bottles, boxes, packages, and labels; drugs and alcohol; representations of African-Americans; Native Americans; orientalist imagery; scenes of Egypt; depictions of doctors, nurses, and apothecaries; images of children; images of women; domestic scenes; architectural exteriors showing properties owned by drug manufacturers (including factories, laboratories, and headquarters); interior views of doctors’ offices, company facilities, and patient examination rooms; images of nature and the outdoors; cover illustrations; and patriotic imagery. The number of individual images included in each of these categories varies greatly.
The visual reference file is by no means comprehensive: in most cases, only one or two illustrations from each pamphlet have been reproduced and included. This being the case, the file is most helpful as a starting point; and researchers are always advised to consult the originals, most of which contain additional images.
II. Subject and Content Notes
A. Common Products and Complaints
Most advertised remedies took the form of pills, syrups, tonics, bitters, and ointments. Other cures were identified as oils, compounds, expectorants, coated tablets, drops, liquids, wines, waters, purifiers, balsams, renewers, balms, extracts, seltzers, preparations, vapors, and liniments. In addition to internal and external medicines, collection materials advertise various health-related devices, including electric and magnetic belts, kidney pads, abdominal and uterine supporters, inhalers, plasters, syringes, atomizers, hearing aids, and immersion tanks for hydrotherapy. Other products fall under the categories beauty and hygiene, such as toothpaste, talcum powder, antiseptics, mouthwash, shampoo, brushes, and even curling irons. Products related to babies, including formula, baby bottles, and baby washes were frequently advertised.
Not surprisingly, most advertised products were said to cure complaints of a general nature, thus leaving manufacturers with the widest possible base of potential customers. Such conditions included nervous prostration, debility, weakness, “wasting diseases,” and catarrh, a condition that caused inflammation of the tissues or mucous membranes. Although “catarrhal disturbances” appeared almost everywhere in the body (e.g. stomach catarrh, uterine catarrh, bronchial catarrh, etc.), nasal catarrh, the symptoms of which resemble those of a cold, was its most common form. Scrofula, a condition that caused small, hard swellings of the lymphatic glands to erupt into ulcerous sores, was another frequently addressed complaint. While the symptoms of scrofula were much more specific than those of exhaustion, general debility, and catarrh, drug manufacturers still managed to suggest that large portions of the population suffered from it. As J.A. Magee & Co., the makers of “Magee’s Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil,” suggested, “Very few, indeed, are entirely free from some taint of scrofula.”
If the American population was ill, in general, then women were diseased in particular. In the Key to Health Devoted to the Better Instruction of Women (1896), the Novita Co. boldly stated that “Nine-tenths of women are sick” and that “probably not one woman in one thousand enjoys perfect health.” Not surprisingly, many of the Helfand materials address “diseases peculiar to women,” including menstrual problems, uterine prolapsus, and other disorders of the reproductive organs. Similarly, pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum condition were frequently discussed topics. While less common, male complaints were also addressed, particularly ulcers and rupture. Generally speaking, men’s conditions were approached with greater discretion.
In specific terms, most of the Helfand materials advertise proprietary medicines, which were not patented. Although patents would have been easy to secure (the manufacturer was not required to submit any proof of a product’s novelty or utility), few were issued. The patent application process demanded full disclosure of a medicine’s ingredients; and most manufacturers were unwilling to reveal their secrets. Rather than patenting the medicines themselves, manufacturers secured trademarks on their products’ names and logos, and commissioned artists to execute detailed engravings for product labels. By making their labels distinctive and difficult to reproduce, manufacturers tried to protect themselves from copyists who sold cheaper versions of their medicines. As a result, many labels featured sophisticated graphic imagery of notable quality. Numerous examples of these labels can be found in the collection materials; and many publications include official, true-to-scale reproductions of product boxes, bottles, and containers.
In many cases, it was the bottles, rather than the medicines themselves, that were patented. This practice led to great innovation and diversity in product bottling and packaging: for example, Warner’s Log Cabin Remedy was sold in a squat bottle resembling a log cabin; and C.E. Davis and Son, makers of the Wiesbaden Table Sauce boasted that their product came in “the most attractive and convenient bottle for shelf or table now upon the market.” According to a customer’s wishes, Joseph Burnett and Co.’s Cologne Water could be purchased in a variety of bottles: one with or without a wicker covering, with a glass or a cork stopper, and in four different sizes. In most instances, the same logic that led manufacturers to publish promotional materials in traditional genre formats encouraged them to package their products in attractive and reusable containers. By selling products in colored or decorative bottles, manufacturers increased the likelihood that customers would save the bottles for re-use or display in their own homes.
By the third quarter of the 19th century the market was flooded with “universal remedies,” thus leading to intense competition between companies. Within the medical industry, firms took various approaches to advertising and to establishing a corporate identity. For example, in its promotional materials, the Alpha Medical Institute assumed a serious, pseudo-scientific tone, the apparent objectivity of which was obviously meant to impress readers. Other firms, including the Arlington Chemical Co., used colloquial language and folksy imagery to reach out to potential customers. In terms of audience, it is often clear to whom various companies were advertising. The American-Swiss Milk Product Company, the manufacturers of N. Gerber’s Celebrated Milk Food (from which Gerber’s Baby Food is descended), aimed their literature at middle-class women. Hoping to sell baby formula by disparaging wet nurses, the company claimed that “wet nurses are generally uneducated women, liable to prejudices, and often tend their little wards totally wrong.” Thus, the authors deemed it “fortunate” that the “pretensions of wet nurses are usually . . . only accessible to rich people; that is to say the great minority of children.”
Interesting, too, are the firms’ own responses to growing public sentiment against the proliferation of advertisements for popular medicines. In Mind Cure and Other Humorous Sketches (c.1895), the Manhattan Therapeutic Co., makers of Cascaria (“the best medicine in the World for all nervous diseases . . . diseases arising from disordered Liver or Kidneys . . . ”) spoke directly to the public’s concern. They noted, “The public has become tired, if not disgusted, with the common methods of advertising patent medicines. Pictures almost obscene, and glaring, unsightly cartoons, deface not only newspapers and magazines, but also fences, barns, rocks; and the thoughtful looker-on must see that medicine sold by such means must be made of the cheapest sort of ingredients.” In its own defense, the company emphasized that Cascaria was not a patent medicine, and suggested that its preferred method of advertising (short stories in which various protagonists were cured of illness) would be welcomed by the public.
Similarly, the Athlophoros Co., manufacturers of plasters, pills, and rheumatism remedies, offered its own response to public criticism of their advertisements. In visual terms, the company’s promotional materials are among the most attractive in the collection. The colorful photomechanical prints featured in their booklets show cherubic children displaying and pouring bottles of their remedies. Countering claims that their advertisements were “needlessly expensive,” the company assured its audience that these materials were “in perfect keeping with everything we do.” By way of explanation, they added, “Our remedies are admitted to be the cleanest and the most neatly put up of anything in the market. Our powder (put up in a neat box, with a puff for its application) is one of the most delicately perfumed toilet powders in the world, absolutely pure, and harmless to the skin of the most delicate babe; and at the same time it is the most valuable specific for one of the most distressing diseases know to man of woman . . . . For these reasons, we offer no printed matter that does not correspond.”
III. Common Themes and Images
A. Race and Ethnicity
Many of the Helfand materials depict and refer to members of various racial and ethnic groups, especially African-Americans and Native Americans, and, to a lesser extent, Irish-Americans and Jews. Representations of African-Americans, in particular, adhere closely to negative stereotypes; and these images are often inserted into so-called comic texts, including the titles in the five-part series Barker’s Komic Souvenir and Taylor’s Riddle Book (c.1890), the latter of which used the racist cartoon “Uncle Plato and the Watermelon” to promote “Dr. Bigger’s Huckleberry Cordial.” Similar imagery can be found in contemporary advertisements for “Sanford’s Gingers,” published by the Potter Drug and Chemical Co.
Popular medical advertisements often included domestic scenes featuring white, upper-class families in which African-American women occasionally appeared as cooks, maids, and nursemaids. One such image can be found on cover of the Charles A. Vogeler Co.’s Cookery Book (1897), which shows a black maid attending to a white, well-to-do family of four. Images of black male servants were also common. Frequently, these figures were made to look small and child-like, and they often occupied a marginal position in the image (both spatially, and in terms of status). An interior scene shown on the cover of Perry Davis and Son’s A Family Medicine (c. 1880) introduces several stock characters who appear throughout the advertising literature. To the right, an African-American man dressed in a servant’s uniform holds the door as a doctor leaves an upper-class home. The scene also includes a mother holding her infant child, and a “cured” husband who triumphantly raises a bottle of “Perry Davis’ Vegetable Pain Killer.”
In many cases, advertisements for cosmetics and hair products employed a racist vocabulary. For example, one booklet published by the manufacturers of “Hay’s Hair-Health” included an image of two African-American girls: one with straight, and one with curly hair. The caption underneath the image read: “This little colored maid you see/Has hair as black as it can be./Rude people pass remarks and wink/And criticize the ‘kinky kink.’/ But Hay’s Hair-health she’s used of late/Has made it grow both long and straight.” Similarly, advertisements for skin care products often favored racist imagery. One such advertisement for “Magnolia Balm” (“The Secret of Fair Faces”) published by the Lyon Manufacturing Co. included a before-and-after picture in which a black woman represented the “before” state, and a white woman represented the “after” state. In other advertisements, racism subtly informs the idea of “color,” “good color,” or “pinkness” as a marker of good health. When Zielin & Co. (c. 1888) published an image of an African-American man lifting a barbell with a caption underneath that read, “A strong bit of color,” they may have been playing on this idea.
While they appeared less frequently, images of Irish- and Jewish-Americans also followed negative stereotypes. For example, when the New York Pharmaceutical Co. warned its customers to beware of “the substitutor,” that “mean and unholy wretch” who sold authorized copies of its products to the sick and the dying, they included an image of a man whose facial features were stereotypically Semitic. According to another traditional stereotype, Irish-Americans were frequently portrayed as drunkards.
Images of Native-Americans appear throughout the Helfand Collection. While stereotypical and patronizing, many of these scenes, particularly those of women, were clearly meant to present a flattering portrait of Native Americans, who were portrayed as physically attractive, “natural,” and close to the earth. The label for “McElree’s Wine of Cardui,” manufactured by the Chattanooga Medicine Co., featured an image of two women, one Native American, the other Caucasian, working together to harvest the vegetable materials needed for the medicinal extract. Images of Native American men fall under two general categories: those depicting the wise Indian Doctor or Medicine Man, whose knowledge of medicinal barks, roots, and herbs stemmed from a long inherited tradition, and those portraying Native American men as virile, strapping hunters and warriors. These scenes contain few references to medicine, and health is suggested simply by the figures’ apparent strength and vitality.
Images of women also figure importantly in the collection: women are portrayed as ideal mothers, dutiful wives, doting grandmothers, and attentive nurses, but also as angels, goddesses, and deities. Most of the images featuring women relate to motherhood; and of this group, most show mothers nursing, feeding, and administering spoonfuls of medication to small children. While the portrayal of mothers is almost uniformly positive, some advertisements betray the stresses of motherhood, and suggest, of course, that various products (administered to both mother and child) could alleviate these problems. Crying Babies Soothed, Anxious Mothers Relieved (1890) is one such example. Additionally, one illustration published in Watts & Dunham Company’s Letters from Mama Inside (c.1894) presented a mother hitting her child with a shoe. The accompanying text suggested that Dr. Hand’s Children’s General Tonic was the “proper instrument” for “toning up” the baby. An advertisement for Arlington Chemical Co.’s Phosopho-Caffein Compound (1892), which was touted as a “brain and nerve sedative,” included an image of a frazzled young mother, who, flanked by her two rambunctious sons, clutched her head in pain.
Not surprisingly, advertisements suggested that medication could enhance the performance of women’s domestic duties, as well. While the Manhattan Therapeutic Company, the manufacturer of the liver and kidney medication Cas-car-ia, recognized the “hard and monotonous” nature of domestic chores, their publications also stressed, “Women in a state of health do not find all effort distasteful.” Their solution to this problem was Cas-car-ia, which cured “perpetual weariness . . .the curse of many women.” In addition to housewives, many of the advertisements were directed to women who worked outside of the home; and numerous illustrations showed women at work in factories, offices, and quite frequently, in various departments at pharmaceutical firms. Again, manufacturers suggested that their products could help women get through the working day, and then give them additional strength to complete all of the household tasks that still needed to be performed in the evening (A Warning Alarm! ).
Although many of the advertisements featured images of women in traditional roles, a number of firms (most notably, the Lydia Pinkham Company, which will be discussed later) marketed their products to the “new woman.” Advertisers encouraged these busy, modern women to replace old-fashioned ways of dealing with women’s health problems (days of confinement and bed rest) with new medications, which kept them on the go and in the public sphere (Home Secrets, 1898). Changes in packaging followed accordingly: cumbersome bottles were replaced by individually packaged pills, which were easily transportable.
For manufacturers of popular cures, children represented both potential customers and effective advertising vehicles. Embodying health, images of plump, rosy-cheeked children spread advertisers’ messages in purely visual terms. Child figures, however, also spoke out literally on behalf of various products: the little girl on the cover of Anheuser-Busch’s Malt-Nutrine (1896) booklet states simply, “You Need This;” in another advertisement, a little boy extends his arm eagerly and exclaims, “Say Mama, I want another glass of Hires’ Root Beer” (Hires Root Beer Erasable Memoranda ); and the trio of adorable young girls on the cover of Hood’s Latest (1884) announce, “Our Mothers took Hood’s Sarsaparilla.”
Interestingly, manufacturers emphasized the very fact that children were in the service of product promotion. Barker’s Komic Picture Souvenir (c. 1890) included a humorous scene representing a mishap that occurs when “Infant Advertisers” (“five darling little dumpling babies”) ride in the company’s advertising wagon. Several images also feature children painting poster- and billboard-advertisements for various firms, including C.I. Hood and Company’s A Story in Alphabet (1894). In an advertisement published by Watts and Dunham Co. (c. 1884), toddlers too young to read use block letters to spell out “Dr. Hand’s Remedies” on the floor. In many cases, drawing and painting books made actual child readers active participants in the advertising process. For example, The Young Folks’ Drawing Book (c. 1887), published by Billings, Clapp, and Co., included various images for children to copy, many of which contained statements such as, “Nichols Bark & Iron Cures Dyspepsia.” Similarly, songbooks encouraged children to sing advertisers’ slogans.
The advertising literature also portrayed children in the role of purchaser and consumer. A humorous image printed in Kendall’s Perfected Receipt Book Illustrated (1898) showed a boy buying castor oil in an apothecary’s shop; and the back-cover of Hood’s Greeting (1886) featured a boy telling an apothecary, “I want Hood’s Sarsaparilla,” to which he replies, “Here it is, my boy, the peculiar medicine -- best I ever sold.”
Images of architecture figure importantly in collection materials, with many firms featuring detailed reproductions of their laboratories, factories, and headquarters on the covers and title- pages of their publications. Clearly, owners recognized that a firm’s architecture contributed to its corporate identity, and that monumental buildings served as effective advertisements for the smallest of pills. In some cases, associations between a firm’s architecture and its products took on surprisingly literal dimensions. For example, the back cover of Dr. Earl Sloane’s Treatise on the Horse (c.1896) shows a tall, narrow, building said to represent Dr. Sloane’s laboratory. The building, however, looks suspiciously like an over-sized product box, and its exterior signs clearly resemble product labels. Taking another approach, the firm of Parke, Davis, & Co. included a reproduction of its Detroit factory on the label of “Fluid Cascara Sagrada Aromatic.” (Therapeutic Notes, 1895) For C.I. Hood and Co., a steady increase in the square footage of their laboratory was a visual measure of the firm’s success. The back cover of Hood’s High Street Cook Book (1890), features five successive diagrams of the company’s headquarters, showing its growth from 1876 (200 sq. ft.) to 1886 (60,000 sq. ft.). A handsome reproduction of the newest factory appears above these diagrams. The statement, “This entire building devoted to the business of Hood’s Sarsaparilla” stretches across the full width of the facade.
In addition to conveying status and testifying to a firm’s modernity, images of architecture were meant to reassure potential customers, who, having seen a representation of a factory or laboratory, might feel more comfortable with the products manufactured inside. However, just as many popular medicines were “fakes,” representations of architectural exteriors were often far from truthful. Many buildings portrayed in the literature look either suspiciously generic or, on the other hand, unusually ornate and detailed. By emphasizing, “The above is a true illustration of our location at 58 State Street in Chicago,” the Sanden Electric Company implied that other companies included illustrations that were not faithful likenesses of their factories and headquarters.
Along with exterior views, images of laboratory and factory interiors appeared frequently in drug company literature. Undoubtedly, this was a part of an attempt to inspire consumer confidence by literally suggesting a firm’s transparency. For example, the publications of Drs. F.E. and J.A Greene offered detailed views into various interior spaces: the prescription office, the bottling floor, and the ladies’ private consulting room. In a booklet playfully entitled The Mysterious Cellar (c.1885), F.J. Cheney & Co. portrayed their advertising and business offices, but refrained from showing “the mysterious cellar” in which their product, Hall’s Catarrh Cure, was manufactured. Playing on perceptions of public distrust and employing hyperbole, they wrote of the cellar, “It is not the underground meeting place of conspiring men. No plots dangerous to life or government are hatched there. On the contrary, it is the place where a health-dealing formula is prepared.”
Numerous other firms, including the Alpha Medical Company and Jaynes & Co., used images of their laboratories and factories in their advertising literature. These images, many of which feature studious men holding flasks, are interesting insofar as they suggest how manufacturers thought that the manufacturing process should look to the viewing public. One particularly remarkable illustration appears in the booklet, Jaynes’ Blood and Nerve Tonic. The image is said to be a vertical cross-section of Jaynes & Co.’s five-floor laboratory. With the building’s interior exposed, the viewer is free to observe all stages of the manufacturing process. While architectural cross-sections are rare in advertising literature, anatomical cross-sections are extremely frequent. This being the case, it is interesting to consider whether general metaphorical associations between buildings and bodies were at work. Both, for example, had exterior facades that were not always a measure of internal health or disease. In fact, the advertisements of the World’s Dispensary Medical Association likened the human body to a “great manufactory,” and compared the body’s various organs to “shops.” In an article entitled “Human Machinery,” they asked, “Is not man’s frame a factory more grand than any building raised by mortal hand?” (World’s Dispensary Medical Association, Pierce’s Memorandum and Account Book )
As the concern with interiors and exteriors suggests, truth and deceit were two central themes in advertisements for popular medicine. The Helfand materials offer various ways of approaching these issues. For example, although firms passionately emphasized the authenticity of their customer testimonials, many of these letters were written in a suspiciously similar style and voice. Here, it is interesting to consider the types of transgressions against truthfulness that contemporary readers may have accepted or even expected. Additionally, in an industry that sought to achieve an image of truth behind appearances, it is interesting that title pages of publications often fail to accurately reflect their contents. For example, there are countless instances in which advertisements masquerade as reference books or objective health-guides. In other instances, vague covers and title pages disguise discussions of socially embarrassing problems. For example, the cover of Dr. A.W. Brinkerhoff’s booklet on rectal ulcers reads, “Wonderful Discoveries! Hereditary Consumption a Myth!” The bawdy publications of Barker, Moore, and Mein, which among other “comic” images, are filled with offensive racial stereotypes, feature milder imagery on cover.
To a large extent, proprietors’ fears of copyists and cheaper imitations of their products were at the root of concerns about truth and deceit. Customers were repeatedly warned to beware of imitations, and to look, for example, for the “Genuine Castoria Wrapper.” Advertisements often featured detailed, magnified reproductions of product labels, which customers were to use as shopping guides. In some cases, the companies actually manufactured hype about non-existent imitations, for to be copied was the surest measure of a product’s success. Thus, warnings about so-called frauds were often fraudulent themselves.
The general concern with copying that permeates the literature may also explain why the detection of counterfeit money was a relatively common theme. In specific terms, F.J. Cheney & Co. even compared their own unwillingness to divulge secret formulas with the government’s secrecy regarding the ink used for currency. Again, an emphasis on truth certainly led the medical industry to champion the legacy of George Washington, who, among America’s “great men,” was a particular favorite. For instance, Seth W. Fowle and Son issued a booklet entitled A Truthful Tale to market their product, “Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry.”
Both individually and collectively, the Helfand materials work to reinforce associations between food and medicine. Throughout the collection, laboratory scenes of doctors and researchers, who mix and measure formulas, find an equivalent in kitchen scenes featuring wives and mothers, who carefully prepare family meals. With cookbooks being a popular advertising vehicle, they served as an obvious meeting-ground for ideas concerning food and health. Modern readers, however, may find aspects of these cookbooks/medical advertisements to be somewhat unappetizing. For example, Kinsman’s New York Cook Book (1888) speaks of “the four C’s” (Coughs, Colds, Consumption, and Cookery), while other cookbooks juxtapose exclamations such as, “Covered with Sores for Four Year” with pudding recipes (Ayer’s Book of Pies and Puddings [c.1880]).
To be sure, there is a clear and uncontested relationship between food and health two. In some publications, however, food took on specifically medicinal forms and appearances. The cover of Ayer’s Preserve Book (c.1885) featured plums, pears, and peaches stored neatly in jars that strongly suggest those of an apothecary. Other companies marketed food-based remedies, or called their products wines, seltzers, or the like (i.e. California Syrup of Figs, Gilmore’s Aromatic Wine, Smith’s Bile Beans). Blurring the line between food and medicine made it easier for manufacturers to suggest universal applications for their products. Promoting Meyer’s Blood Tea, A.C. Meyer & Co. emphasized, “Some cannot take pills, but all can drink tea.”
During support for prohibition, manufacturers of alcohol-based medicines, such as Anheuser-Busch’s Malt-Nutrine, were sharply criticized by temperance advocates. In this evolving social and political climate, many manufacturers swore that their tonics and syrups were both alcohol- and opium-free; and root beer and celery soda were promoted more heavily. The Effects of Temperance (c.1875) by R.H. McDonald & Co., the makers of Dr. J. Walker’s California Vinegar Bitters, is among the most interesting items in the Helfand Collection. In typical fashion, the manufacturer stresses that its product is “not a vile fancy Drink, made of Poor Rum, Whiskey, and Refuse Liquors, doctored, spiced, and sweetened to please the taste, called ‘Tonics,’ ‘Appetizers,’ & c., that lead the tippler on to drunkenness and ruin, but a true Medicine made from native roots and herbs of California, free from all Alcoholic Stimulants.” More interesting than the text, however, are the accompanying images. As the title suggests, the cover illustration shows the “effects of temperance”: providing a glimpse into a tidy upper-middle class interior, the image features a man, who, surrounded by his wife and infant child, their three young children, and a sleeping cat, peacefully reads his newspaper. Conversely, the back cover illustrates the “effects of intemperance”: a drunk, shabbily dressed man moves to strike his ragged daughter with a broken stool as his wife and baby cower at the edge of a squalid interior.
IV. Notable Firms and Proprietors
A. William Swaim and Swaim’s Panacea
The Helfand Collection’s second-earliest item, Some Remarks Upon a Publication by the Philadelphia Medical Society Concerning Swaim’s Panacea (1828), is of particular significance insofar as it sheds light on one of the first major scandals of the popular medicine industry. Written by William Swain, the pamphlet is a defense of his medicine, Swaim’s Panacea. As the name suggests, Swaim professed that his product, a syrup extracted from the roots of the sarsaparilla plant, had sweeping curative powers. Both the general nature of his claims and his promotional excesses raised the attention of the Philadelphia Medical Society, which publicly charged Swaim with selling a low-quality, unevenly mixed product that was dangerous and potentially fatal. In his rebuttal, Swaim accused the Medical Society of snobbery and professional jealously; and Some Remarks . . . suggests the extent to which he, like many of his industry predecessors, positioned himself as a champion of the people, or “one of the unlettered throng” fighting a “learned authority.”
Despite this incident, Swaim’s Panacea went on to achieve a “very extended and established celebrity,” as the 1853 publication, Swaim’s Panacea, for the Cure of Scrofula, or King’s Evil suggests. Like many collection items, this booklet consists primarily of case histories and sworn statements from patients cured of scrofula. What makes this publication exceptional, however, are the illustrations: five wood engravings of Swaim’s patients, which introduce the effects of scrofula in incredible, gory detail. In 1871, Swaim’s Panacea was reprinted, with only the date on the internal title page being changed. This printing is also included in the collection.
Like William Swaim, C.I. Hood & Co. owed its success to a sarsaparilla formula that allegedly cured a variety of internal and external ailments, including (but not limited to) rheumatism, pimples, indigestion, and “That Tired Feeling.” (Hood’s Household Calendar, 1888) The Helfand collection includes more than fifty Hood publications, dating from approximately 1880 to 1899. In visual terms, the advertisements of Hood & Co. are particularly innovative. For example, Hood’s Sarsaparilla Book, which was meant for children, is shaped like an easel and uses faint colors that attempt to mimic a watercolor-effect. Publications geared toward adults featured vignettes, comic imagery, unfolding narratives accompanied by multiple illustrations, and detailed landscape scenes in which advertisements for Hood’s Sarsaparilla appear in the distance. Representations of bottles and packaging figure particularly importantly in the Hood literature. Accordingly, these images show considerable creativity: in one scene an animated bottle of Hood’s Sarsparilla is shown punching a dark, cloaked figure representing disease; and several illustrations feature children dancing around larger-than-life product boxes.
With sixty-four entries, the first of which dates to 1893, the Lydia Pinkham Company is the most highly represented firm in the collection. The company sold four remedies, Lydia Pinkham’s Herb Medicine, Vegetable Compound, Pills for Constipation, and Sanative Wash, all of which were exclusively marketed to women and girls. Introducing herself as the “Woman’s Friend,” Pinkham attempted to cultivate an intimate or confidential relationship with her reader/potential customer, and titled many of her publications accordingly: Neighborly Advice (c.1920) and Women Friends in Council (c.1897). Marketing to multiple generations was also a signature Pinkham technique; and in many booklets, mothers, daughters, and grandmothers exclaim, “We all use it!” Casting the widest possible customer net, Pinkham pitched her products to all segments of the female population, from the traditional housewife to the “new woman” alike. Although many of her advertisements were clearly geared toward working-women (“Factory Girls Use It”), Pinkham sought to create a certain esprit-de-corps among all women, regardless of whether they worked in the home, mill, shop, or office. This community of women was based, in part, on criticisms of the male medical establishment. For examples, readers were routinely advised to “go to a woman, not a doctor,” because “a woman best understands a woman’s ills;” and those wishing to write to the company were assured that “no man will ever see your letter.” (Facts with Proof, c.1895.) Eventually, Pinkham’s message became so widespread that it began to appear in other companies’ advertisements. In what was most certainly a reference to the Lydia Pinkham campaign, the manufacturers of Smith’s Green Mountain Renovator (c. 1900) noted, “You’ve seen the big advertisements, of course, about writing to a ‘woman.’” Co-opting Pinkham’s message and approach, this company encouraged female customer to write to its own “Women’s Consulting Department.”
The Helfand Collection includes 46 booklets published by the World’s Dispensary Medical Association, a Buffalo-based firm whose main product, “Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets,” was said to cure disorders of the stomach, liver, and intestines. Much of their advertising appeared in the form of traditional genre books. Of the 46 World’s Dispensary items found in the collection, 18 represent yearly editions of a single title, Pierce’s Memorandum and Account Book, with examples dating from 1871-1899. Although each edition is slightly different, most include customer testimonials. In editions dating from 1890s, customer portraits (first in the form of etchings, and then photographs) begin to accompany these testimonials. The memoranda also include other standard features: descriptions of various diseases coupled with accounts of the firm’s products; useful information for house and home; and representations of their factory (first a building on West Seneca Street, and then a grander one on Washington Street). In addition to the factory, the World’s Dispensary Medical Association apparently owned a sanitarium in Buffalo called the “Invalid’s Hotel,” illustrations of which frequently appear in advertising literature. It would also appear that the firm owned a smaller company, the Botanic Medicine Co., advertisements for which are often found in the World’s Dispensary literature.
Various editions of Pierce’s Memorandum and Account Book also advertised on behalf of the association’s publications, most notably The People’s Medical Adviser, a 1,000 page book that, according to the company, included more than 300 woodcuts, half-tone pictures, and colored plates. In 1984, having reportedly sold 680,000 copies of the text, the World’s Dispensary Medical Association was apparently prepared to give away 500,000 copies “absolutely free.” By 1898, the association claimed that The People’s Medical Adviser could be found in more than 1,200,000 American homes.
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