Posts Tagged ‘advertising’

Late 18th century/early 19th century patent medicines, particularly the old English remedies, owed their popularity to the following fact.  The multitude of ingredients inside might have varied (unbeknownst to the customer), but the bottle shape did not.  A patent medicine’s proprietor believed this distinctiveness leant genuineness to their remedy. 

Victorian trade card, bottle of Ayers Cherry Pectoral

Victorian trade card, bottle of Ayers Cherry Pectoral

Distinctive packaging may have made patent medicines easily recognizable to even the most illiterate, but it also made them vulnerable to counterfeiters.  Naïve proprietors eventually got smart and began to vary their packaging using differing bottle heights, mouth widths, and bottle inscriptions in order to deter counterfeiters.  This may also explain why many of today’s products, not just over the counter medicines, change their packaging from time to time.  Why chance loosing sales to an unscrupulous competitor?

Victorian Trade Card Ayers Ague Cure

close up of bottle on back of Victorian trade card advertising Ayers Ague Cure (notice the similarity in bottle shapes)

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Ever get the feeling that battling the corporate giants was an uphill battle?  Riley Burdett found that out the hard way.  The pictured Victorian trade card is advertising for an organ company in which Riley was partners with Jacob Estey.  In 1871, Riley sued Jacob over an alleged patent infringement involving a reed board.

Estey Organ Victorian Trade Card

Victorian trade card advertising for Estey Organ Co.

Illness, Death, and Delay

It took 5 years after bringing suit, to hear the case.  However, due to the illness of one judge, and the death of two others, the case had still not been decided two years later.  During this time, Estey Organ Co. was allowed to benefit from a patent Riley felt was rightfully his.  How frustrating for Riley.   Two new judges then heard the case.  It took them just 5 months to make a decision. 

The Decision

The judge found in favor of Riley.  Ex-Governor Stewart of Vermont was appointed to take an accounting of profits due Riley.  Stewart took 5 months to find Jacob of Estey Organ Co. owed Riley $161,000.  This is approximately $3.46 million in today’s dollars.

No Decision Is Final

Of course Jacob appealed.  He put up a required bond of $200,000.  What?  Jacob put up money in an amount exceeding the awarded damages?  What if he ultimately lost the case?  Jacob Estey took a chance.

The chance paid off.  In November 1883, the United States Supreme Court ultimately decided in favor of Estey Organ Company.  Riley Burdett had fought then corporate giant, Estey Organ Company and lost.

Trivia:  If curious what yesterday’s dollar is worth today, see MeasuringWorth.com.

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Puzzle cards were a type of novelty victorian trade card used in late 19th century advertising to capture and keep a potential customer’s attention.  Puzzle cards differed from other novelty trade cards in that they required more effort and concentration by customers.  Below is an example of a puzzle card with hidden pictures.

Carters Backache Plasters Puzzle Trade Card

Carters Backache Plasters Puzzle Trade Card: see if you can find an elephant, monkey, giraff, bear, dog, wild boar, 2 camels, wolf, 2 rats, face, lion, lioness, and tapir.

TIP:  Hidden Picture Trade Cards with color images are scarce.  Also look for hidden picture trade cards with unusual hidden objects like “nigger eating watermelon” or “fat man on roller skates”.

** You can find more victorian trade cards with great advertising and graphics in my store, Remember When Vintage Postcards.

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Patent Medicine trade card for Hood's Sarsaparilla made by C.I. Hood & Co. of Lowell, MA

I always read what a medicine claims to “cure” before buying, to ensure I get just what I need and not more.  I’m not interested in overmedicating.  People living during the late 1800s might’ve had a difficult time following my lead.  Read below to see what I mean.

Hood’s Sarsaparilla contains the following ingredients:

Sarsaparilla (or Grandular): perennial trailing vine with prickly stems native to Central America.  It is also known as a type of soda.

Yellow Dock: perennial flowering herb used for blood and liver problems, dermatitus, and venereal diseases.  It’s powdered yellow roots were thought to’ve medicinal properties, and used as a mouthwash and dentifrice.

Wild Cherry: traditional Native American remedy for respiratory infections and anxiety.  It’s primary use over time has evolved into a component of cough syrup.

Dandelion: nutritious food whose leaves contain substantial levels of several vitamins and minerals.  The root’s historical use includes the treatment of breast diseases, water retention, digestive problems, joint pain, fever, and skin diseases.

Juniper: Its berries were used to assist in childbirth, treat congestive heart failure, stimulate menstruation (what??), treat gonorrhea (wait, didn’t yellow dock already do that?), and urinary tract infections.

Pipsissewa (or Prince’s Pine): a rare, small evergreen plant growing 3-10 inches tall sometimes used to flavor candy and root beer.  It’s leaves and stems act as a diuretic, astringent, and tonic alterative.  It is great with cardiac and kidney diseases, chronic rheumatism and scrofula.  **MN is one place it’s found.

Stillingia: a strong stimulant to immune cells.

Mandrake: plant often used for medicinal purposes as an anesthesia. If too much is taken, it can cause people to be delirious and have hallucinations.

So, basically Hood’s Sarsaparilla is a flavored, medicinal soda used to treat anything under the sun.  Geez, it even sounds like it could CAUSE medical problems; especially if mandrake’s included.  So much for not overmedicating.

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Sometimes I find the most unexpected content on a Victorian trade card.  In this case, I found comedy on the back of one advertising E.E. Whitne Boots & Shoes.  Although the front is quite funny (a boy hanging onto his dog’s tail for dear life), the back’s glued on newspaper clipping will leave you groaning. 

A Sunday School Assignment’s Funny Results 


Victorian trade card advertising E.E. Whitne Boots & Shoes of Hillsdale, MI

Here is what I found on the back: 

A Sunday school teacher who was accustomed to giving her scholars a verse to learn each week varied her usage on Sunday by allotting to each of her scholars three names to commit to memory.  One little five-year-old boy, who had for his lesson the names, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,” scratched his head, threw up his eyes, and timidly replied, “Shake the bed, Make the bed, To bed we go.” 

Out of the mouths of babes… 


*   You can find more Victorian trade cards in my store, Remember When Vintage Postcards. 

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Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil was a liniment formulated by Dr. S.N. Thomas in the late 1840s.  Per Joe Nickel, a snake oil expert, it contained: spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, and fish oil specially processed.  Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil claimed to cure ailments such as toothache in 5 minutes, backache in 2 hours, deafness (?) in 2 days, and coughs in 20 minutes.

Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil Trade Card

What Are Liniments?

Liniments are strong smelling, watery substances rubbed onto, not into, the skin to relieve sore and stiff muscles.  Rubbing them on too vigorously has been known to cause blisters, since they contain skin irritants.  Why would people be willing to put irritants on their skin?  Think about it.  Turpentine?  Oil of Tar?  Ben Gay is a liniment that contains many of the same ingredients as Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil.  I use it when I can’t stand a back ache anymore.  It is my belief that pain has an amazing ability to get people to try cures they might not otherwise try if they knew what these so called “cures” were made of.

Road to Success

Dr. Thomas homemade Eclectric Oil was a smashing success. In the 1880s, he sold the name and formula to Excelsior Botanical Company.  Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil then appeared in the Farmer’s Almanac as Excelsior Eclectric Oil.  When Foster, Milburn & Co., of Buffalo acquired Excelsior Eclectric Oil a few years later, it was again marketed as Dr. S.N. Thomas’ Eclectic Oil.  It became successful in both domestic and international markets.

Canadian Law Doesn’t Stop Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil

Northrop & Lyman, a Canadian pharmaceutical firm established in 1854, licensed the rights in Canada from Foster, Milburn & Co.  They sold literally millions of bottles of Eclectric Oil until the 1908 Proprietary or Patent Medicine Act was passed in Canada. This law didn’t stop the sale of Eclectric Oil as it did so many other patent medicines.  Nope.  This liniment was sold right up until the end of World War II.

You can find more great Victorian trade cards at Remember When Vintage Postcards.

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I recently bought a Victorian trade card lot that contained a newspaper clipping in which the following question was asked, “Is my Prang trade card from the 1876 Centennial celebration a worthwhile item?” I was pleasantly surprised the seller included this as information on Victorian trade cards, much less their lithographers, is sometimes very hard to find. I decided to do an internet search to see what I could find out about Louis Prang.

Louis Prang, From Defiance to St. Nicholas

Louis Prang was an American publisher who learned colour printing and business management from his father, a calico manufacturer. When the Prussian government banned him for participating in the 1848 uprisings, he came to the USA. Sounds like Louis wanted more than what his father taught him.

Louis Prang used what his father taught him in his business, L. Prang & Co. From 1860 to 1897, he built a reputation based on colour printing; particularly large, technically brilliant chromolithographic reproductions of oil and watercolor paintings. For example, Louis Prang supplied the plates for Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit from St Nicholas”. What a cool piece of trivia.

The Corruption of Public Taste

Louis Prang was applauded for his aim to provide good, affordable art to the masses. However, this also got him in hot water. He ended up being charged with corrupting public taste by closing the gap between original art, and the inferior substitute (the chromolithographic reproductions). Humm. Why applaud Louis Prang, then turn around and charge him with corrupting public taste?

The Prang Trade Card Question Answered

Newspaper Clip Answering Prang Trade Card Question

(Note the trade card pricing tip at the end of the newspaper clip.)

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