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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Day 35

One of the things I love about looking through newspapers of old are the advertisements, particularly those concerned with elixir vitae. Throughout the 19th and early parts of the 20th century, numerous tonics, ointments and medications were mass produced and claimed to cure everything from a cough to piles. During the Victorian era the general use of these treatments were based on the belief they would “purify the blood” - let’s not forget bloodletting was still a widely performed practice undertaken by medical practitioners and barbers for treatment of all kinds of ailments - by inducing sweating, vomiting or diarrhoea. From the ‘first aid kit’ recommended by Mrs Beeton (1861), we can determine the practice of mixing medication at home was standard. Though as chemists and corporations started patenting and marketing these mixtures, the simple convenience developed into big business. Though it wasn’t a requirement to have ingredients listed on labels throughout the 1800s and consumers were often unaware of the contents of these remedies. By the mid-1800s a series of opium based (Godfrey’s Cordial, Dalby’s Carminative), vegetable laxatives (Morrison Pills, Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills) and aloe based (Holloway Ointments and Pills) patented medications were widely available on the market, and by the end of the century a long list of brands were competing globally (Steedman's Soothing Powders, Mrs. Windslow’s Soothing Syrup, Dr. William’s Pink Pills and Mother Seigel). The marketing of these medications relied heavily on testimonials from often fictitious doctors and/or cured patients, and as a ‘cheaper’ alternative to seeing a doctor: in 1862 in Sydney a bottle of simple elixir cost 2/6d, while a physician consultation with medication cost 10/6d or a consultation via letter with medication £1. As these patented medications relied on self diagnosis and dosage it was not uncommon for people and particularly children to die from overdoses, though many of them continued to be used well into the first half of the 20th century.
📸: Wellcome Library, London. Bloodletting from the foot. Oil painting after H. Daumier. (Unknown).