More about Patent Medicine Cards on History Channel:
Pawn Stars, Monday Night, April 23, 2018
People have been asking about these fabulous “Dark Humor” Antikamnia calendar cards.
Some are actually hilarious or even cute, while others are definitely creepy.
For more “background information,” read the reverse note from the last card they issued:
The Antikamnia Chemical Company hired local physician-artist Louis Crucius to do the art for the calendars. Crucius was also a pharmacist, and did the “Skeleton Sketches” drawings while working at a pharmacy. Five years worth of the calendars – 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, and 1901 – were printed.
Antikamnia’s analgesic compound, which was never patented, was marketed as a ‘proudly ethical drug’ and used to treat headaches, fever, stomach aches, nervousness, insomnia and ‘the blues’.
They claimed their cure was a new synthetic coal-tar derivative, but it contained almost 50% acetanilid, which they mixed with codeine or quinine. Or even Heroin!
The toxic effects of acetanilid were exposed in a 1907 California State Journal of Medicine article, ‘Poisoning by Antikamnia’, and the company was prosecuted by the government in 1914 for violating the disclosure terms of the Food and Drug Act of 1906.
Skulls, Headache Pains,
Acetanilid… and Tylenol
Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Julius Axelrod discovered that the primary metabolic product of acetanlilide is a compound called paracetamol.
Of course, you may know paracetamol by its other chemical name, para-acetylaminophenol … or Tylenol.
To learn more via national television, watch the Season 15 Episode 25 History Channel show about Antikamnia skeleton calendar on Pawn Stars, April 23.
All the BEST to you, and as always, Good Collecting! — Dave Cheadle
Growing up on a farm in rural western Michigan, I used to go around digging bottles from old country dumps.
With a little scrubbing, those “dump” bottles sparkled up pretty nice, and I started seriously collecting medicine bottles for the shelves and window sills around our 1800’s farm house.
There were six of us kids living under one roof, and eventually my little brother and youngest sister started coming along to assist with a shovel, and then to help with the washing when we got home (for a nickle per bottle). Even my dad got pulled in, and after a hard day he’d sometimes join in a local dig.
Mom, not so much. But she liked them in the window just fine.
As my collection grew, I started selling duplicates at flea markets… then setting up sales tables at antique shows and bottle swaps around the Midwest.
From antique bottles, I transitioned into collecting patent medicine advertising of the sort featured at the top of this blog post. I found the added information on these ads to be very helpful when I was giving a sales pitch and trying to make a bottle sale.
And then I started really falling in love with the cards, signs and almanacs themselves.
From Glass to Paper
Over time, my collection of 19th century patent medicine advertising items expanded into other areas such as pre-prohibition beer and whiskey cards, soap ads, and agricultural farm equipment folders.
By the time I was teaching high school History and English in my 20’s, I was collecting Victorian lithographed cards of everything from men’s top hats to State Fair horse races.
In the 1980’s I began selling illustrated articles to magazines like Bottles & Extras and Sports Collectors Digest. I would specifically look for Victorian Advertising Trade Cards to illustrate the specific themes I was researching and writing about, feeling like I could justify buying whatever I needed for the sake of “historical preservation” … and I rationalized that my published documentation of these artifacts would serve as a valuable legacy to future generations.
This sounded pretty convincing to me, but my wife didn’t always see it that way 😉
By the 1990’s when the trade card collecting hobby was really taking off, I had published dozens of articles in everything from Victorian Decorating and Lifestyle to a cowboy history magazine.
That’s when Russ Mascieri reached out to me to join him in launching a new collectors’ association for card folks. Russ was the proprietor of the hugely successful Victorian Images trade card auctions, and he figured together we could put out a journal to serve the card collecting community. More on that another time, but we had a good run, and we saw the hobby flourish during those years.
After the Trade Card Collectors Association closed down in 2002, I shifted my focus somewhat away from writing about cards and social history, and more towards selling my duplicates on ebay.
My kids were growing up, and I had to pay some bills.
From Paper to the Web
… and to Television
Fast forward to April, 2018.
The bug to write again about cards, and to try to bring the card collecting community together again, motivated me to search for some sort of cost-effective way to get things rolling.
Everybody kept telling me I should write a blog.
A busy blog starts showing up on search engines, and traffic increases. Linked to a website, this venue might get some traction.
By April 15th, we’d launched the framework for the Victorian Card HUB, and folks started signing up to subscribe to the blog and newsletter. The new HUB website was getting hits, but far fewer subscribers than I’d hoped.
And the first newsletter experiment was still in the works, but I could not find an angle.
Suddenly, I discovered that I’d be appearing on Pawn Stars the next week.
Back in October, I’d filmed a couple episodes with Rick in Las Vegas, and in one of those shows I’d given him a chance to purchase one of my complete Antikamnia skeleton calendars.
I’ve not yet seen the episode, but it was pretty interesting to film. I have no idea how the show will be edited, but Rick and I got around to shooting the breeze about Victorian lithographs, and about patent medicines, and a bit about Victorian culture and history.
Those are three of my running passions… and perhaps yours as well?
Hence, this story… and our first HUB newsletter and mailing!
I’m not quite as egotistical as this blog might seem from all of my rambling about myself and the show on April 23.
But I AM looking for a way to generate more steam for the HUB.
For the HUB to flourish, we need hundreds more folks to visit the site. To bookmark the HOME page. And to subscribe to the blog newsletters.
Lots of folks watch Pawn Stars. Millions of them, from what I hear. (I don’t get cable, so I have to go to a buddy’s house to watch the History Channel.) Anyway, I’m hoping to leverage the upcoming show. Maybe you’d be willing to help?
Please feel free to forward this email to as many folks as you think might get a kick out seeing some really cool ephemera on national television. Tell them how you collect old cards like this, and that you’re not crazy… this stuff can actually be VALUABLE and HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT !
Brag a little… and tell them about one of your really cool cards.
Tell them that Antikamnia wasn’t the only patent medicine firm to issue skeleton cards. Let them know there are a handful of other “creepy” cards in the genre, including this classic:
Did I mention that you could use the April 23rd Pawn Stars show as an opportunity to brag about
one of YOUR favorite cards?
NOTE: if you or any of your interested family or friends miss the premier of the Antikamnia card episode, you can probably catch a rerun later in May. The History Channel often runs their “new” episodes a few more times during the next 30 days after a premier. Plus, most folks can figure out how to pull an older episode up ON DEMAND, or by using their computer. My episode is S15, E25, the one titled: “Highly Explosive Pawns.”
I’m the guy at some point in the episode who makes Rick feel “dated” when I show him crazy skeleton images from the chemical company’s advertising calendar pages.
THANKS again for
Subscribing to the HUB
… and please invite others!
The above image comes from the same series as the Antikamnia skeleton calendar on Pawn Stars.
Okay. I really appreciate you help on getting out the word.
All the BEST to you, and Good Collecting! — Dave Cheadle
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.