Given the numerous caveats attending modern commercials for pharmaceutical drugs, it's easy to discount the catch-all promises of Victorian era powders and ointments. But if nothing else, their advertising was much more artistic.
The subject of this week's auction item is a Victorian trade card from the New London-based Hop Pill Manufacturing Company. The seller, tocoreef of Newton Junction, N.H., says companies sought to make the cards as enticing as possible, and they were popular enough that many people kept collections of them.
"The trade card era was primarily a Victorian era invention (1850's-1910) where merchants would include a trade card with their products to advertise it and often many more of their products - often printed on the reverse side of the card," the seller says. "Again, without TV nor radio this became a very popular method that caught on."
This particular scene of two men meeting seems to be right here in New London, since they're hanging out in front of the Hop Pill Manufacturing Company itself. One man declares, "Why John, get Hop Pills, they will surely cure you." John replies, "Oh? I am suffering and ill - tried all remedies without any relief." The tag at the bottom promises that a single bottle will cure sickness, headaches, liver complaints, dyspepsia, and even nervousness. The back of the card extends the list even further, adding back troubles, rheumatism, and kidney troubles to the mix. The advertisement further declares that the pills are "sugar-coated, small, and easy to take."
"One trial is all we ask to prove all we say," the peddler of the 25-cent miracle cure boasts. "For professional, business, or laboring men, delicate women, children and aged people, try one bottle and you will be convinced of their merit."
The reverse of the card also squeezes in an advertisement for Lyon's Sarsaparilla. Going for a dollar a bottle, perhaps this was just the soft drink we know and love today but in the card it's known as a "spring and summer medicine; the best blood purifier on earth."
The sarsaparilla also gives a hint to the person behind the Hop Pill Manufacturing Company as a whole. George R. Lyon, who was born in New London in 1857, started out in the drug firm Rogers and Lyon. They became prominent across Connecticut before Lyon struck out on his own with the company. He died in San Francisco in 1921 at the age of 64.
Several of the trade cards from the Hop Pill Manufacturing Company have found their way into museums. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has "a set of trade cards for Hop Pills with portraits of young women with evocative last names." The collections at East Carolina University has a poster featuring an apple-cheeked little girl from New London who the company says cut herself badly while playing and was cured in two days with Hop Ointment. Mystic Seaport even has a full bottle of pills.
The starting bid is $6, with free shipping. The auction ends at about 11 a.m. on Friday.