Friday, January 18, 2019

Dubious Drugs

Rev. N. H. Downs' Elixir broadside ad
We know we've posted before about 19th-century drug advertisements, but this week we had some visitors come in to look at our various pharmaceutical-related materials and couldn't help ourselves. Two broadsides, in particular, tickled our fancy. Perhaps some of the draw for these particular items is that they are both from close to home. One proprietor hails from Haverhill, New Hampshire, while the other is based out of Cornish Flat, New Hampshire. In the Haverhill broadside, which seems to extol the healing properties of northern New Hampshire flora, the author goes so far as to try his hand at a bit of poetry. He personifies tuberculosis as "Consumption, gaunt and ghastly," and claims that the disease will "soon will make his dread appearance, / And will seize his hapless victims." The only solution, predictably, is to:

Go and buy some DOWNS' ELIXIR
Some real N. H. Downs' Elixir;
Made of all most healing Balsams
Found in all the Northern forests, --
Balsams of the Pine and Fir tree:
Made in Burlington -- a City
Standing near the Champlain waters...

Go and buy it, and be happy.

Although this broadside ends on a dubiously happy note, the Cornish Flat broadside begins on a
"The Woman's Friend" broadside ad
decidedly grumpy note, judging from the portrait engraving of who we assume is the creator and purveyor of this particular medicine. Ironically, the dour-looking man in the engraving is most likely meant to be smiling, and his drug is described as "the Woman's Friend." While the Haverhill ad relies upon a touch of the humanities to move product, the description of the Cornish elixir insists that science is on its side and appeals to universal laws of biologic function. According to the good doctor,  after a few weeks of taking his medicine, "Nature assumes her legitimate office, and at once the delicate girl is enabled to commence aright in a course indispensable to female health and happiness."

To see how chemically-induced happiness was peddled over a hundred years ago, come to Special Collections and ask for either or both of these broadsides. The Haverhill ad's call number is Broadside 000288, and the Cornish Flat ad is Broadside 000101.

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