Friday, December 4, 2015

1600-1900: Botanic medicine becomes a craze, part 2

Kickapoo Indian Sagwa,
 Blood, Liver, and
 Stomach Regulator. 
An old patent medicine 
 No artist credited.
Proprietary medicine, also known as botanic or patent medicne, was a craze that began in Britain during the 17th century and continued through the 18th century.  Of the more than 100 British patent medicines concocted by quack doctors, many made their way to the American colonies, where, in the absence of licensed physicians.

Of all formulas concocted by quack doctors in Britain, over 100 of them made their way to the American colonies, an inexpensive and "convenient way to treat their ills." (2, page 74)

Apothecaries in New York, Boston and Philadelphia often advertised in newspapers that they had received shipments of the latest products of proprietary medicine. (2, page 74)

One example is noted by George B. Griffenhagen and Mary Iogard in their 1999 book "History of Drug Containers and their labels.  They said:
Apothecaries in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia regularly advertised in the newspapers of the eighteenth century that they had fresh supplies of drugs and patent medicines imported in the latest ships from London.  According to the Pennsylvania Gazette, 27 July, 1769, Thomas Preston, "at the Goldon Mortar" in Philadelphia had imported from London, "all the most useful Anderson's, Hoopers, and Lockyer's Pills, Bateman's Drops, Walker's Jesuits Drops, British Oil, Squire's Elixir, Greenough's Tincture for the teeth and gums, Stoughton's Bitters, Turlington's Balsam of Life, Dr. James Fever Powders, Godfrey's Coridal, etc."  (2, page 74) 
These and similar products were not just sold at apothecaries, but also at general stores, post offices, or by peddlers.  Sometimes they were sold by physicians as they did their rounds. (6)

Many of the names and claims were quite creative, as was the case with Turlington’s Balsam of Life, which had a unique shaped bottle to prevent piracy and which had carved into the bottle, "King's Royal Patent." (2, page 74)

Yet despite the exciting names and claims, most contained mainly alcohol, often blended with water, with some herbs, roots, morphine and cocaine tossed in for good effect. (2, page 74)

Yet the sellers usually didn't tell the purchaser this. In fact, the remedies were usually kept secret, with the seller claiming things like, "This is the secret recipe of the Indians," or "this is the famous recipe loved by King James II." (2, page 74)

Botanic medicine became known as patent medicine mainly because the creators of such medicine sought patents, or letters patents, in order to better profit from their inventions.

Letters Patents were first doled out by the Royal Crown in 1449, although only to the inventors of products or services the king thought would benefit the people of Britain.  Such patents were only granted to men, and  always in return for favors to the crown.  Favors might include supplies of the product itself, or a certain percentage of the profits.

In 1623 members of the Parliament grew tired of the king doling out favors and enacted the Statute of Monopolies, thus allowing Parliament to grant patents.  The owner of the patent now had sole right to the profits from the product or service for 14 years. (20)

By the 19th century many of the makers of proprietary preparations had received patents for their products, and those who did not claimed that they did anyway.  So by this time such preparations were usually referred to as patent medicine by physicians, politicians, and the general public.  Until the 19th century it was necessary to ship the original British products and bottles from Britain to the United States.

In the 19th century, "it was not necessary to order the medicinal content from abroad; they were frequently compounded by the American colonial pharmacists." (2, page 75)

Some of these pharmacists noted the difficulty of faking the original design of the bottles and making them look like the official, patented products.

The American Revolution "interfered with" importation of patented medicine, requiring pharmacists to make their own solutions to fill into the empty bottles they had access to.  (2, page 75)

After the war, when shipments of the actual remedies were once again shipped to the now United States, pharmacists continued to make their own versions of the fake medicine. Many of these fake, fake patent medicines varied in contents and strength of the various contents, and the bottles were often somewhat different, and even the labeling, spelling, and dates were unique. (2, page 74)

In the United States there were also patent medicines invented and sold by American proprietors, and such products "supposedly" contained remedies used by the native Americans that kept them young, healthy, and vibrant.  (21, page 139)

Certainly some of these may have been actual Indian remedies, but most were simply concoctions that mostly contained alcohol, and maybe some herbs, roots, morphine, and cocaine, similar to the contents of other patent medicine. (21, page 139)

Some examples of these products are: "Katonka, the great Indian medicine," "Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company," and "Kickapoo Indian Sagwa: Blood, Liver and Stomach Renovator," "Mugwump Specific: Cure and Prevention for Venereal Disease." (21, page 139)

So you had patent medicines made in Britain, and patent medicine made in the U.S.  Of course most such products weren't patented, although quite often the inventor, or peddler, would claim there was a patent to increase credibility and prevent copycats. Or, more than likely, they were copycats themselves. (6)
Along with curing asthma, it was also supposed to cure just about any other
malady, including: enlarged tonsils. enlarged glands, ulcers, sores,
eruptions, scrofula, impurities of the blood and whole system, etc.  (12, page 129
In this way, due to few if any laws regulating the production and sale of medicine, the inventor and peddler could basically make any claims they wanted in order to sway a potential customer. And, of course, the contents were usually kept secret to prevent skeptics (mainly licensed physicians) from proving the products to be bogus. (6)

Antikamnia Tablets, Birney's Cararrh Powder, and other similar
products were marketed as an ideal remedy, particularly for
headache and catarrh.  Warnings posted in drug stores warned: 

"BE AWARE OF ACETANILID: Take no nostrum of this class
without a doctor's prescription, unless you are sure it contains
no acetanilid. Make the drug- gist tell you. He is responsible.
A suit for damages has recently been won against a New York drug
store for illness consequent upon the sale of a "guaranteed harmless"
headache tablet containing three grains of acetanilid.."
(12, page 38)
These products were advertised freely in newspapers, and the products were made to look like panaceas.

Surely people who suffered with breathing difficulty, be it due to heart failure, consumption, dropsy, pneumonia or asthma, were susceptible to falling for the claims of the marketers of patent medicine. This would especially have been the case for people who lacked respect for the medical profession, or who lacked access to a physician.

For references, see "1600-1900: Botanic medicine becomes a craze, part 4."

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