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Letter to Smithsonian from G.W. Damon re: acquisition of Pharmaceutical Antiques, 1962

December 29, 1962

Dr. Leonard Carmichael, Secretary Smithsonian Institution Washington 25, D.C.

YOUR GROWING PAINS AND MINE ARE SLIGHTLY ALIKE, With one important difference: The Smithsonian is planning to expand and my collection of old "Patent" medicines is about to push me out of the office.

Your expansion plans will likely include group examples of Americana. If so, acquiring this group of 220 assorted medicines, advertising and books can save much of the money otherwise spent on single-item acquisition. Most of this collection is presently located in room 601 of the National Education Association Building. The remainder is at my home. A complete listing is with this letter.


Selected Items from G.W. Damon's Patent Medicine Collection

Complete Patent Medicine Collection of G.W. Damon, [street address deleted], Arlington, VA

All specimens are complete as they come from the manufacturer, unless otherwise noted. Revenue stamps are on many. Some boxes have been opened or are top-damaged--most are perfect.

Farris' Healing Remedy. Good for Man or Beast
Dr. Birney's Catarrhal Powder
Brooks' Baby Balm. Alcohol 11%.
Kendalls Spavin Cure for Human Flesh. Empty.
Lallemand's Rheumatism Treatment. Opium.
Dr. Fowler's Strawberry & Peppermint. Morphine
Female Cure
Crying Baby Cure
Blood Cure
Lazy Liver Pills
Porters Laxative
British Oil Cure
Thachers Diarrhoea Mixture Morphine
Uncle Ben Jo's Bell Tongue Syrup Cure
Eclectic Herbs Cure all Diseases
Mayers' Magnetic Catarrh Cure
Dr. Miles Blood Purifier
Dr. Sanfords Liver Invigorator
Buckingham's Dye for the Whiskers
Dr. Hobbs Takeapill
Brooks' Bears Foot Ointment
Johnson's Chill & Fever Tonic
Pastor Koenig's Nervine Epilepsy
Mary T. Goldman's Gray Hair Restorer
Egyptian Regulator Tea
Beck's Great Indian Liniment [sic] Internal-external
David and Kidder's Patent Magneto-Electric Machine. 1854. Complete and operating. This early static electricity machine treats nervous diseases, toothache, tic-Doloreus and Neuralgia. Turning a crank will produce a "tingle" of varying strength that will be felt by as many as 20 people at one time. Mounted in wood box with brass hardware, 10:L x 1-1/4"W x 1-1/2" H. Rare

This collection, as is, will be ideal for museums or Country Store atmosphere.


19th-Century Patent Medicines

The sale and manufacture of patent (or popular) medicines rose sharply in America during the mid-1800s. Although many of these concoctions contained remedies familiar in the traditional healing arts, they were widely regarded as "scientific" medicines. Cures for pain caused by the "stress of modern civilization" were touted for men, while women were advised to take daily doses for "sick headaches," female complaint," and "the weakness." Daily dosing with patent medicines became common.

Alcohol was a common ingredient in patent medicines in the 1800s; often it was the major ingredient. One company advertised that tired housewives who drank "only two glasses each day" would find a new "sparkle in the eye and bloom on the cheek." Since content labeling was not required, the sparkling, blooming users did not know the product was 120 proof. In some liquids designed to soothe infants' pains and complaints, the alcohol content was as high as fifty percent.

Opium and its derivatives, such as codeine, also found their way into the home medicine cabinet. Late in the century the problem of addiction to these home remedies became a focus of widespread concern.

[Taken from "Pain and its Relief" (exhibition catalogue) by Nancy Knight, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983].


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