Sunday, April 19, 2009

Advertisements: Hope In A Bottle, Circa 1885

Living in the age of enlightenment, when no bit of information can escape the sticky tendrils of the omni-accessible world-wide web, it stands to reason that rational, deliberate thought-processes and conclusions arrived at through simple research will generally control our impulsive human natures. We all know that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is: Right? After all, those are human footprints on the Moon, the atom dances to our tune and the sound barrier has been broken (as anyone who has been to a Who concert can attest to). We is smarter today than they was smarter yesterday.

Here are some health-related advertisements from the dark-ages of the 19th century, culled from the Gazetteer of Berkshire County Mass., which was published in 1885 and authored by Hamilton Child. It's hard to believe folks bought into this stuff.

I'll be right back. I have to go change my toxin-draining foot pads and make myself another herbal tea, guaranteed to make me lose 30 pounds in 30 days. In three months I should weigh about 65 pounds, which is the ideal weight one has to be to make a PVTA bus seat comfortable. Speaking of the PVTA, I wish my bald spot would start filling in. I've been using the scientifically-formulated hair-growth shampoo I bought for months now, but it doesn't seem to be working (I must be applying it incorrectly) and there's a very attractive woman on the bus I'd love to talk to. No worries, the pheromone-based, aerosol opposite-sex attractant, with full satisfaction or my money-back (in classic Musk Ox scent) that I ordered should be arriving any day now. She'll definitely notice me then. That is, if she ever stops listening to that How to Get Fit in Your Sleep audio-book on her iPod.

Have a cough? A bit of a cold? Tuberculosis? This advertisement features a product that is a "sure cure" for all of those things. Of course, if old Aunt Emily passes even after consuming the cure-all "in season," 'tis only that she didn't drink it soon enough to constitute "timely use." Silly old Aunt Emily. A day late, and now, a dollar short.

Okay, there is nothing funny about charlatans preying upon ill folks' fears. In the above advertisement, Dr. S. D. Merriam makes this shameful claim: "I tell your disease without asking questions, putting my finger upon any ache or pain, thus pointing out the diseased organ. By this means I am enabled to prescribe successfully in all diseases." Nope, nothing funny about a pitch for false hope. Until, that is, one reads further, where Dr. Merriam promises, "A forfeit of $500 wherein I fail to reduce a large, fleshy person to any weight desired." Snicker. Yeah sure, once the neglected true illness kicks in, you'll drop all the weight you can stand to lose and more. Okay, that's not funny either. How did this guy sleep at night?

"Eating plasters?" I don't even want to know.

Not all physicians or pharmacists were snake-oil peddlers. Many supplemented their legitimate pharmacopoeia with other merchandise for sale, including toiletries, tobacco and stationery. And, of course, there were the ever-popular, "pure liquors for medicinal use," as offered at Henry F. Shaw's drug and jewelry store on Depot Street in Dalton.

J. S. Moore advertised "A full line of all the popular Patent Medicines of the day," available at his establishment, but at least he didn't expand upon their effectiveness as an investment. He saved that for his guarantee of an eight-percent return on money entrusted to him as an agent for the Minneapolis Loan and Investment company. I don't know. I'm not sure I'd want my interest compounded by the same person who compounds my prescriptions. A glitch in the market and one could go "belly-up," in the very literal sense of the term.

Some old advertisements give one that warm, down-homey feeling inside. Need "family medicines?" Just "give us a call." We're here for you. Not only that, but you'll find "no lower prices in town." Makes a person want to go browse M. S. Manning & Son's "full line of TRUSSES AND SUPPORTERS," which are obviously special enough to warrant a full-throated yell in ALL CAPS. And, don't forget, there's "no extra charge for fitting." However, if the item does not fit you, there will be a small fee.

Out of all the advertisements here (which are all of the health-related pitches to be found in Parts One & Two of the Gazetteer), I think the one showcasing Fred Gillmor's retail concern would be the most effective lure of my patronage. In the advertisement, Mr. Gillmor is genuinely excited to introduce his new pharmacy to the public. He describes his stock without bragging or throwing around false claims and he's thankful that the well-mannered folks in the Lee area are receptive to his entrepreneurial efforts. Mr. Gillmor knows he has to provide quality service to build his customer-base and he seems sincere in his intention to do so. Plus, he has the "largest and choicest" selection of candy in Southern Berkshire County. I am so there. On the way, I can stop at the Post Office and mail out my order for this stuff I saw on television that promises to add three inches to Yeah. Height. That's the ticket.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Jacqueline T Lynch said...

What a great post! Your spot-on assessment of our attraction, even today, for these kinds of commercial promises, accompanying these old-time ads, is terrific. I suppose the 65-pounds rule for the PVTA bus seats must also apply for the airlines.

Beth Niquette said...

What a great post! I thoroughly enjoyed every word.

Mark T. Alamed said...

Thank you, Jacqueline and Beth!