The magic potion to cure any and all of your ills came in bottles of various shapes and shades. The hues varied from golden peach and brown, to pale blue, cobalt, and sea glass green. Each brimming with a promise...health, beauty, freedom from pain and discomfort, or even a cure for the brokenhearted. These claims came from reputable medical professionals and some who were just out to take advantage of a growing market. Until 1868 there was no regulation of drugs, prescribed medicines or the ingredients found in these "cures" and often you may have gotten a side effect instead of a solution. Case in point Alice in wonderland...she drinks a bottle of mysterious liquid after falling down a rabbit hole - just because it says "DRINK ME" and then...well, it's all walruses and mad hatters and disappearing cats after that. I think she really had a victorian cocktail meant for a stomach ache - it probably contained opium.
In all reality historical victorian cures contained laudanum - which was an opiate. There is an exhaustive article here about how widely abused it really was. Mostly as a "children's quietener",sometimes called Mother's Friend, this opium syrup caused death and severe illness in numerous babies and children, silencing them completely. Apparently they used opium derivatives to control diarrhea, relieve a cough, and “pain of every kind, affording a calm, refreshing sleep without headache." My favorite is how the doctors prescribed it for 'female troubles', and the vapours, which we all know is code for mood swings and hormones. Apparently chocolate wasn't yet prescribed.
It is always fun to look at the labels, for example look at the lovely ladies pictured here. As the sad dark haired beauty sits brooding in the corner, the stage is set....You can just imagine the tagline, Suffer from acne? Here have a nibble of these absolutely harmless arsenic wafers....they will produce a lovely complexion! Did I mention they are natural and made from the purest ingredients? Yes thats one hundred percent pure poison. Don't believe me, check it out.
THE SECRET - one box
Dr. MACKENZIE’S IMPROVED HARMLESS ARSENIC COMPLEXION WAFERS will produce the most lovely complexion that the imagination could desire, clear, fresh, free from blotch, blemish, coarseness, redness, freckles, or pimples. Post free for 4s. 6d. ; half boxes, 2s. 9d.— S. HARVEY, 5, Denman St., London Bridge, S. E. Use Dr. MacKenzie’s ARSENICAL TOILET SOAP 1s. per Tablet; No. 2, unscented, 6d. per Tablet. Made from Purest Ingredients, and Absolutely Harmless.
BEWARE OF THE MANY IMITATIONS. Have Dr. Mackenzie’s or none.
The labels are often laughable and deserve a read - before you buy that precious bottle and give it a place of prominence on your mantle, better to check what that vintage word really means - a heads up for the under-researched...piles is the vintage word for hemorrhoids. Um, ew, so wash that bad boy out.
Plastics weren't used for pill bottles and household items until much later and so fortunately we have these glass beauties that still have their stories to tell. Since they are probably not going to be used for syrups and vitamin powder - perhaps you could use one to make your own love potion... or enhance the decor in your living room. They have many lives...I have seen antique glass medicine bottles at the ever popular Anthropologie - they use them in a store displays in creative ways. A growing number of interior designers put this colorful glass - literally under glass. Placing them in living rooms or on bookshelves to add some sparkle and mystery, besides what doesn't kill you just makes you more interesting right? Hence the crazier the contents the more sought after the bottle.
But don't let that limit you - use them to light up a room as a handmade lamp like these guys made here
or create some decorative upcycled artwork. Anyway here at the antique store - these little glass bottles wait patiently in gleaming clusters waiting for you to dust them off and tell their stories for them. From crazy to dark these cures will entertain and delight and make you glad that you were born in an era of plastics and real medicine that is actually backed by science.