The word cure on an old patent-medicine bottle is an almost sure indicator of quackery. No doubt should remain when the product is touted as a cure for consumption (i.e., tuberculosis)! There were many such cures as related in the chapter “Consumption Cures” in Nostrums and Quackery, published by the American Medical Association in 1911. It is a sordid tale of the exploitation of sufferers of pulmonary tuberculosis by means of the temporary benefits of the placebo effect and a remarkable number of “treatments” and “cures,” which fall between worthless and addictive (Nostrums 1911, I: 72–169).
One such cure is represented in the accompanying photograph of an old bottle (blown in a two-piece mold in common aqua glass and having an “applied lip”), embossed (on the sides “S.C. WELLS” and “LEROY, N.Y.,” and (on what would have been the back) “SHILOH’S/CONSUMPTION/CURE.” Its other face, blank to receive a paper label, would have been the bottle’s actual front.
This was a product of Schuyler C. Wells (1840–1897). Beginning in 1866, Wells had partnered with his brother-in-law, Dr. L.S. Hooker, to sell drugs. In 1871 he began on his own to produce a line of “Shiloh’s Family Remedies,” some of which used the name “Dr. Shiloh.” Later the business became known as S.C. Wells & Co., probably in 1882 after he sold a one-third interest to his brother George. After his death, a stock company was formed to continue the enterprise (Fike 2006, 105–106).
The firm’s products included Dr. Shiloh’s Catarrh Remedy, Shiloh’s for Coughs (its label indicating a Wells branch in Toronto), and (introduced ca. 1876) Dr. Shiloh’s System Vitalizer. The firm also very early marketed Carter’s Compound Extract of Smart Weed (produced by the Brown Medicine Co., Erie, PA) that was 68% alcohol! It was billed as “For Rheumatic Pains, Toothache, Neuralgia, Simple Sore Throat, Bruises, Sprains.” Sometime in the first quarter of the twentieth century the Wells firm acquired some old formulas which it continued to sell in bottles embossed “DR. M.M. FENNERS [sic] PEOPLES [sic] REMEDIES / FREDONIA, N.Y. / U.S.A.—1872–1898” (Fike 2006, 82, 105–106, 210).
Shiloh’s Consumption Cure was introduced about 1873. In 1907—responding to medicinal products so outrageously “misbranded”—the new Food and Drug Act required products to drop their false claims. Wells & Co. responded by renaming their product “Shiloh’s Consumption Remedy,” then changed it again, dropping the word consumption, to become “Shiloh’s Cure.” (Small 2 7/8” aqua bottles are extant, embossed “SAMPLE SHILOHS [sic] CURE.”)
Under the vague name of Shiloh’s Cure, the product was listed by The Journal of the American Medical Association of May 29, 1909) as one of many patent medicines containing “habit-forming drugs”—in this instance nothing less than heroin (Nostrums 1911, I:350)! (In some form, it appears to have been marketed as late as 1948 [American Druggist 1948].).
American Druggist Blue Book. 1948. New York; cited in Fike 2006, 249).
Fike, Richard E. 2006. The Bottle Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Historic, Embossed Medicine Bottles. Caldwell, NJ: The Blackburn Press.
Nostrums and Quackery. 1911–36. In three vols. Chicago: American Medical Association.