Mrs. Winslows Teething Syrup Advertising Trade Card Image

When Babies Stopped Crying … Forever

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was a Victorian-era patent medicine guaranteed to quiet a crying infant.  The problem, of course, came when the morphine of the deadly teething syrup wore off.  As the baby stirred from a deep slumber, the infant would inevitably wail for another dose… if the baby ever woke at all!

Mrs Winslows Soothing Syrup for Children Teething Baby Killer Advertising Card
Whether administered by a mother, sister, housekeeper, or Mary Poppins herself, Victorian babies stopped screaming after a dose of Mrs. Winslow’s pain killer. Like many bottled cures of the day, the Winslow’s Syrup label failed to mention the magic of the remedy was found in the addictive drugs it contained.

Deadly Morphine-Laced Tooth Cure

 According to A. Walker Bingham’s 1994 book, The Snake-Oil Syndrome, Mrs. Winslow’s was just one of many baby medicines that contained potentially lethal ingredients.  Among other top selling “family medicines” of the late 1800’s were James’ Soothing Syrup, Seth Arnold’s Cough Killer, Dr. Bull’s Cough Syrup, Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral, and Dr. King’s New Discovery, all of which contained alcohol and morphine, opium, or heroin.

But on account of massive marketing campaigns and the millions of bottles they sold, Mrs. Winslow’s remains one of the most infamous of the “baby killer” bunch.

 According to Wikipedia, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was a medicinal product formula supposedly compounded by Mrs. Charlotte N. Winslow, and first marketed by her son-in-law Jeremiah Curtis and Benjamin A. Perkins in Bangor, Maine, USA in 1849.
The formula consisted of morphine sulphate (65 mg per fluid ounce), sodium carbonate, spirits foeniculi, and aqua ammonia.
It was claimed that it was “likely to sooth any human or animal”, and it promised to effectively quieted restless infants and small children, especially when they were teething.


In addition to morphine, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup contained plenty of alcohol, so it’s not surprising that the syrup put infants to sleep.  The additional claim that the syrup would cure diarrhea was also true, because one of the common side effects of opioids is constipation.

In 1911, the American Medical Association put out a publication called Nostrums And Quackery where, in a section called “Baby Killers,” it specifically called out Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup.


Doctor Winchell issued an advertising card showing a sad father, clearly frustrated with his crying infant.
Dr. Winchell’s Teething Syrup, like Winslow’s, contained enough morphine to quiet even the loudest of wails.

Deadly Teething Syrup “Baby Killers”

 Like the Winslow cure, the popular Dr. Winchell’s Teething Syrup remedy contained morphine, and it was also specifically targeted to households seeking a reprieve from a crying child.  But while the beautiful full-color Mrs. Winslow’s advertising cards show the bliss of a child at peace in a radiant mother’s arms, the classic Dr. Winchell card depicts in subdued and forlorn hues a pathetic papa “before” he discovers the miraculous transformations possible with the good doctor’s drug.

Dr. Winchell also issued a few cards which, ironically, go to great lengths to claim on the reverse:

“TAKE NOTICE… contains no opium, and no ingredient that can harm the most delicate child.”

Laboratory analysis proved otherwise, and Dr. W’s remedy (which promised to “absolutely cure every case”) was another dangerously potent product targeted by the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

Reverse side of a Mrs Winslow Teething Baby Tooth Cure bottle 1885 Calendar Advertising Trade Card
The reverse sides of the Winslow “Baby Killer” cards carried 1880’s Calendars so the parents would hang onto the advertising.  Also printed on back was: “Advice to Mothers… Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup should always be used for Children Teething. It Soothes the Child, Softens the Gums, Allays all Pain, Cures Wind Colic, and is the Best Remedy for Diarrhoea.”

One of the schemes of 19th Century advertising was to trick consumers into keeping the free cards they received at drugstores for the sake of the handy pocket-sized calendars printed on the reverse.  During the late 1880’s, Winslow issued a series of four such cards, plus several variants and mid-year editions.  Many of these cards offer the following:

“ADVICE TO MOTHERS.  Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup should always be used for Children Teething.”

And why not?  It certainly worked. 

Nobody could deny the ensuing quiet after only a few drops.


Well, as it turns out, America had a whole generation of babies struggling with the pain and damage and trauma of withdrawal, thanks to this deadly teething syrup.

It is uncertain how many children actually died from these syrups, but the number is estimated to be in at least the thousands.  Many doctors, let alone parents, were ignorant of the unlabeled contents of popular medicines, and the effects of many of these strong drug combinations were still being researched, documented and challenged by industry powerhouses like Mrs. Winslow’s.

So we’ll never know the toll and damage for sure.

Mrs Winslow Soothing Syrup Teething Infants 1886 Calendar Advertising Trade Card
In this card image, a Victorian mother snuggles with two children in bed.  Together, she and her oldest examine the paper, which carries a full page illustrated ad for Mrs. Winslow’s cure. The teething child tucked within her right arm appears dreamy eyed, perhaps because of mother’s soft comfort, or perhaps from the morphine and alcohol from the open bottle on the night table.

The classic Mrs. Winslow’s deadly teething syrup bottle is a 5 inch cylinder shape, and depictions of the bottle and wrapper appear in their Victorian trade card ads.  Bottles in others sizes can also be found, as well as examples with embossing variations from the UK and other parts of the world.

Lovely Victorian Mother and Child among parlor ferns.
Lovely Victorian Baby Bassinet with bottle of Mrs. Winslow’s Syrup on the table.

The Romanticized Victorian Vision

Future blogs will explore this in much more depth, but in passing, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the treatment of women and motherhood in the Mrs. Winslow ads.

Mrs Winslow Teething Baby Tooth bottle old 1887 Calendar Advertising Trade Card

By the 1880’s, the Winslow patent medicine empire was powerful and far reaching, and they could afford to employ some of the best marketing people of the day. 

They issued recipe books, store signs, newspaper ads in almost every city, and even colorful hand-held advertising fans.  But their most beautiful and enchanting work was reserved for their Victorian trade cards.

In these idealized visions of the “Good Life” in American, we observe healthy, well-dressed women enjoying the privileges of leisure and wealth.  For many American women, the days were long and hard, if not dusty and brutal.  The romanticized images presented by Mrs. Winslow’s Syrup held up glimpses of what many hard-working women and impoverished mothers aspired to attain, but few would ever realize.

Bottles of deadly teething syrup were sold by the millions, partly because of these cards.

If the exhausted mothers of the 1800’s could not actually live the lives depicted in these ads, perhaps they could quite their crying infants for a few hours of rest… and dream.


Check back for future blogs on Patent Medicine Advertising and 19th Century Visions of the “Good Life,” as well as many other fascinating Victorian Card topics and visual themes! 

Meanwhile, Good Collecting!  — Dave Cheadle

Bigotry and Ethnic Stereotyping in 19th Century Advertising Card Images

Racist attitudes flourished in the 1880’s, and they were backed by some of the “best” so-called science of the day.

Fueled by Darwin’s theories and naive “new insights” from studies in fields like anthropology and phrenology,  some of the most educated Victorian-era elites were among the period’s biggest bigots, and “scientific racism” flourished.

Of course, one didn’t have to be a 19th Century intellectual to be a racist.

The “sport” of racism was open to all.

Ethnic bigotry towards Chinese man as an Opium Drug user from China who speaks with a "comical" accent.
Negative Chinese Stereotyping: “‘No more me smokee,’ says Ching Chang. / ‘Le makee sickee OPIUM DRUG / Me chewee, all same Melican Man / Lis Allens Jewel Five Cent Plug.'”

Chinese and African-American Blacks

Negative stereotypes of numerous people groups appear in hundreds of Victorian Advertising Trade Card images.  In future articles and blogs, we’ll explore more examples of racial profiling in advertising, and the way many ad cards depict Japanese people, as well as Native American Indians, and immigrants of French, Jewish, Arab, and Spanish heritage. 

But in this blog, I will launch into the subject of 19th Century racial profiling in advertising via a close look at one particularly representative –and reprehensible– example of ethnic stereotyping as found on a card issued for “Allen’s Jewell Five Cent Plug Tobacco.”


A Black slave freed by the Civil War makes light of citizenship and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Reconstruction period.
Note this derogatory poem by a “Happy-go-lucky” African-American: ‘Ki yi! Dis Nig am happy suah, / As am in June de early bug: / The Fourteenth ‘mendment says dis Chile / Mus chaw Mass’ Allens Jewl 5ct Plug.'”

Racial Profiling in Advertising:

Allen’s Jewel Plug Tobacco

This “Allen’s Plug” 19th Century Tobacco Card is of the novelty type known as a “Metamorphic.”

Most metamorphic cards have one flap the folds either up or down (or left to right) in order to change the scene and tell an often humorous story of transformation — typically from a state of misery to a place of joy after finding the correct product to improve the character’s situation.

With this circa 1880’s card, we find four double-sided flaps designed to create multiple “mix and match” ethnic and gender absurdities.  Poems, written in the supposed “dialect” of each group being ridiculed, accompany each head shot.  Additionally, the stereotyped “flaws” of each group are elevated in the spirit of classic Victorian “humor.”

For “Ching Chang,” the laborer from China, Allen’s tobacco offers an upgrade from opium, as well as an opportunity for the man to become “all same melican man” — the same as an American man.


For the former slave from the South, “Dis Nig” is now happy, sir.  Why?  Because “Dis Chile” thinks the Fourteenth Amendment says he must chew “Master Allen’s” nickle plug tobacco.  And he likes it!


Folding trade card showing nationalities and people groups such as a man from China and another from Ireland.
When fully open, this metamorphic tobacco card places a Chinese man on the far end away from the fellow from Ireland, but the card can be folded in a way to bring the two characters together into an absurd mash.

Irish Jig Dancing Nonsense

Heels up and clay pipe firmly tucked into his hat, the monkey-faced Irishman of this metamorphic tale grins and dances a jig; in his sly simian way, he declares the Irish famine to finally be over… thanks to affordable tobacco.

And then, if you manipulate the racist flap images a certain way, you can bring the nonsense of the Irish dancer and the aspirations of the Chinese laborer into a composite new monstrosity.  Their merger becomes a bigot’s dream come true… a “comical” figure not to be taken seriously at all.


Racist depiction of an Irish jig dancer with a clay pipe and a idiotic simian grin.
Victorian cards often depict Irish men with “monkey features,” suggesting that — on Darwin’s scale — the tribes of the Emerald Isle are closer to apes than their English cousins from London.

In the pseudo-scientific literature of the 1800’s, the “ape-like” Celt took a beating.  For example, Charles Kingsley wrote that he was “haunted by the human chimpanzees” he saw in Ireland, and that “to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much. . . .” (see: L.P. Curtis, Anglo-Saxons and Celts: A Study of Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England, 1968, 84).


The mean-spirited edge found in most of the cards that are guilty of racial profiling in advertising is usually directed at African-American Blacks and impoverished Chinese and Irish laborers.

The stereotypes are greatly softened in nearly all representations of German-Dutch immigrants.

The worst that can be said of these Beer-Drinking and Pretzel-Munching jolly good fellows is that by-and-large, they’re overweight. 

Then again, in the 1800’s, a man’s thick waist was viewed as a proof of intelligence and industry, and both were admired traits guaranteed to produce the rewards prosperity… with endless good eating.


Stereotypes of a German or Dutch man and a lovely Victorian lady are more positive than negative.
The flourishing German enjoys “mine pretzel” and “lager beer.” And then he “makes mynself First Rate” using Allen’s tobacco. Meanwhile, the fair Angeline says of her husband George: “I expect he’ll hug / When he sees that I’ve brought him home / This Allen’s Jewel Five Cent Plug.”

A “Tip of the Hat” to Gender Roles

The final panel of this card depicts a Victorian beauty, classically adorned in her corset and bustle, topped with an elaborate hat.  Trim and radiant, the angelic blonde “Angeline” smiles:  “Won’t George be pleased.”

This angel is a fine woman, indeed.  For on this particular day’s shopping adventure, George’s petite little jewel from the Victorian parlor thought of her beloved hubby, and she returned from the market with something to present her man in addition to her ever-treasured smile: 

a plug of Allen’s Jewel Five Cent Chew.


Chinese man's head folded on a flap to appear on a thin Victorian woman's body.
With the flip of a flap, the angelic Angeline becomes a plaything… transformed at the will of the tobacco smoking male consumer’s whim into an absurd composite of both “his” and “hers” attributes.  In this combination, note how the lady’s auburn-blonde hair and fine feathered hat have been swapped out for a snake-like Chinese queue.

Because many trade cards were issued to advertised products marketed specifically to the female shoppers of the average Middle-class household, women were often honored — if not exalted — in 19th Century ads.  Their beauty and poise, and their wisdom and grace, were often above reproach, if not approach.


In the case of this particular a male-centric advertisement, however, the woman is neither untouchable nor beyond manipulation. 

With a quick folding or two of the flaps, the lovely and entitled Victorian Angeline succumbs to the imposition of a Chinese commoner, who is all too eager to weasel his way into the American man’s world!

In sum, this one card carries an amazing load of bias.  As uncomfortable as an exploration of these ugly themes may feel to most of us today, a card like this is an historically important artifact.  It opens a window and sheds light on dark days, times when even the images and language of advertising drifted into hateful places that were largely accepted by the dominant culture of the day.


Check back for future blogs on Racial Profiling in Advertising, as well as many other fascinating Victorian Card topics and visual themes! 

Meanwhile, Good Collecting!  — Dave Cheadle


A shop keeper leans over the store counter to send children away without giving them any cards.
A frustrated 19th Century store clerk tells two pesky children who demand free cards: “All out — Man’s dead that made ’em.”

Antique Advertising Cards

During the late 1800’s, the “fad” of card collecting captured the imagination of a nation.  Illustrated business cards that advertised everything from pain cures to farm plows were eagerly snatched up and collected by folks young and old alike.  The popularity of these cards changed the way businesses were launched; it shaped the way stores marketed their products; it even impacted the way service providers like dentists and barbers were forced to compete for the loyalty of local clients.


Old Dog… learning New Tricks

Recently, I was updating my ebay listing template for selling Victorian Advertising Trade Cards from my collection via my online store.  I noticed my old template said something like:  “After 35 years of collecting….” 

Three-and-a-half decades suddenly seemed like a lot of years to me, so then I still did some quick finger counting.  Well, I had to run the fingers twice, but let’s just say that my template now reads: “After 40 years of collecting…”

I guess I’ve become one of those “old dogs” I used to see on antique row!

As I thought about the old junk shops and flea markets of my youth, and then the emergence of ephemera shows, trade card auctions, the TCCA, and finally, the online trade card market place, it became clear how far the hobby has come.

And how much I miss “the good old days.”


Don’t get me wrong, I like a LOT about the way the Victorian card collecting hobby works today.

But I DO miss the sense of community I used to experience back in the days of face-to-face.  Back when almost every new addition to my collection was embedded in a story, often accompanied with a hot or cold beverage, and was always closed with a handshake and a smile.


Dave Cheadle launches Victorian Card HUB Blog and Website to serve the Hobby.


I’ve been thinking about how the Trade Card Collectors Association (TCCA) drew people together, and the excitement of our early national conventions, and even the way we side-by-side plunged our hands into hot water for “Soaking and Salvaging” seminars.

Are those days gone forever?

Who knows?

But as I got to thinking, it dawned on me that, if nothing else, maybe I could launch a website and blog to help generate some new excitement… and some of the old juice from the days when our hobby seemed so “fresh” –even “mind blowing” to those of us on the cutting edge of cataloging and research.

The problem, of course, is that this whole “Social Media” world is all Greek to me.

But I’m willing to give it a try, and to learn on the fly.

Maybe you’ll get a kick out of taking the journey with me?

Let’s see where it goes from here.

Subscribe to this Blog

Feel free to use the “SUBSCRIBE” form on the top right of this page, or send your email address to me if you want to be added to the HUB mailing list.  You may also fill out the form on this site’s CONTACT page.

Or just bookmark this page and keep coming back here from time to time to watch things grow!

Good Collecting, and hope to see y’all again sometime soon!  – Dave Cheadle


ABOUT the “Old Dog”

— Dave Cheadle began collecting patent medicine advertising cards as a bottle-digging teenager in the 1970’s.  He started selling illustrated articles on trade cards to collector magazines in the 1980’s, and he joined forces with Russ Mascieri to form the TCCA in the 1990’s.  To date, Dave has published over 150 articles, a definitive price guide and historical reference, and several additional illustrated books about trade cards.