Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wright’s Indian Vegetable Pills

Posted by Darin Hayton

Another patent medicine company was Wright’s Indian Vegetable Pills. Like most companies, Wright’s made various patent medicines that were reportedly effective in treating nearly every ailment known. Wright’s employed yet another set of visual cue to market their medicines, uneasily combining Greek, Roman, and American Indian iconography. Minerva, the Roman goddess of medicine, and Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health and healing, flank a stereo-typical American Indian scene.

Numerous companies invoked American Indians, though usually in a more coherently New World theme. Images, texts, and even the names of the medicines reinforced this motif. Clearly, Wright’s was picking up on the noble savage mythologies that granted the American Indians a particularly close relationship with nature, a body of herbal remedies and natural cures. Wright’s, however, tried to graft the American Indian traditions onto the older Greek and Roman roots.

As with most almanacs, the druggist’s name and address was stamped on the back. In this case, Frank T. Landis, in Womelsdorf, PA, must have had quite a selection of patent medicines that provided a reasonable income. Two decade earlier he had been selling G. G. Green’s August Flower.

Wright’s boldly listed the ailments cured by their vegetable pills. The laundry list of complaints included such standards as colds and coughs, fever and ague, and yellow fever. Alongside these stood more creative and ambitious claims: blotches on the skin, boils, dropsy, freckles, flatulency, gravel, neuralgia, pimples, and tumors.

This list suggests that people were suffering from a wide range of illnesses, or at least feared they were. It is somewhat surprising that a single medicine could claim to be effective against such a broad range of symptoms that must have been associated with these different ailments.

In addition to the medical ailments treated by Wright’s, apparently those little miracle pills could treat psychological symptoms too, such as calming a person’s nerves.

Here young Tommy Simkins is told to use Wright’s to soothe his beloved’s nerves when he proposes:
"Tommy Simkins. I proposed to cousin Lillie on the stoop last night and she shook so hard with emotion she couldn’t answer.
Mrs. Simkins. Umph! She’s got chills and fevers. Get her a box of Wright’s Indian Vegetable Pills and try again."

There are at least two things disturbing about that exchange: drugging a woman to get her to say yes to a proposal and “cousin”.

Like all almanacs, Wright’s included the obligatory monthly calendar and basic astrological information, which could be correlated with the zodiacal man that graced the inside front cover. In this case, the owner (Mr. Fröhlich who wrote his name across the cover) annotated at least one month, indicating the weather that occurred on certain days.

Apparently, it rained on the opening days of April. Unfortunately, Mr. Fröhlich didn’t record any other observations.

These almanacs provide interesting glimpses into both the distribution of patent medicines—with some luck we could begin to piece together Frank T. Landis’s business—as well as every-day life in the 19th century. Quite a number of these almanacs are annotated, often with banal, quotidian notes. But that is precisely what makes them interesting. That, and the quirky illustrations and absurd medical advice.

From: pachs.net


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