- Roy Butler
"By the King's Patent Granted" was a common embossing on English medicines of the 18th century. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries patent medicines reigned supreme as cures for everything from "hooping" cough to kidney ailments.
Embrocations, balsams, remedies, carminatives, opodeldocs, vermifuges, elixers, or any other bizarre title that would lure a gullible public to the purchase of a 100 proof promise of relief were sold by the millions.
Many were imported from England, particularly during the 18th century, including Turlington's Balsam of Life, By the King's Patent Granted; and Roche's Embrocation for the Hooping cough, By the King's Patent Granted. Essence of Peppermint was another "King's Patent," as were many others of the colonial period.
Many local physicians carried such medicines with them while calling on patients. Doctors William Lynn, Hugh Mercer, Elisha Hall, George French, and others of Colonial Fredericksburg used and discarded numerous medicinal vials and apothecary vessels of delftware and cream ware. Once recovered, these vessels confirm the location of colonial Fredericksburg's apothecary and medical shops and lend further testimony to the extensive medical activity in the Caroline Street area.
Many medicinal vials and apothecary fragments have been recovered from mid-18th century sites between the Fauquier and Charlotte streets areas. These historic and colorful vessels are highly prized collectibles as well as outstanding museum display artifacts.
As the medicine wagon moved into the 19th century, American patent medicines dominated the scene with an incredible variety of cures for every ailment. Many self-endowed doctors mixed and bottled thir own concoctions and made fortunes selling them nationwide.
Some outstanding examples were: Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root Kidney, Liver, and Bladder Cure; Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound; Warner's Safe Kidney and Liver Cure; Lightning Hot Drops, No Relief, No Pay; Chamberlain's Cholera and Diarrhea Remedy; Bumsteads Wormy Syrup--This Bottle has killed 100 worms . . . Children cry for more, just try it! And on endlessly! Dr. Kilmer died a millionaire, of a kidney ailment, of course!
This article was published in its original form in The Fredericksburg Times magazine and reprinted in Fredericksburg Underground, a collection of Mr. Butler's writings. It is reprinted here with Mrs. Butler's permission.
For more information on early medicines in America, check out these books from the library:
Civil War Medicine, 1861-1865 by C. Keith Wilbur
Medicine in Virginia, 1607-1699 by Thomas P. Hughes
Revolutionary Medicine, 1700-1800 by C. Keith Wilbur
While all these titles may be borrowed, additional information may be found by visiting our Virginiana Room.