Aolib.comFragment of Photochrom print of the front of Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany (ca. 1897)

Old English Patent Medicines in America »


By George B. Griffenhagen et al.

[19] Ibid., September 7, 1743.

[20] London Mercury, London, August 19—26, 1721.

Although once lauded by a physician to King Charles II, Daffy’s Elixir was never patented. The Elixir invented by Richard Stoughton was, in 1712, the second compound medicine to be granted a patent in England.[21] Stoughton was an apothecary who had a shop at the Sign of the Unicorn in Southwark, Surrey. It was evidently competition, the constant bane of the medicine proprietor’s life, that drove him to seek governmental protection. In his specifications he asserted that he had been making his medical mixture for over twenty years. Stoughton was less precise about his formula; indeed, he gave none, but was generous in indicating the remedy’s name: “Stoughton’s Elixir Magnum Stomachii, or the Great Cordial Elixir, otherwise called the Stomatick Tincture or Bitter Drops.” In a handbill, the apothecary did tip his hand to the extent of asserting that his Elixir contained 22 ingredients, but added that nobody but himself knew what they were. The dosage was generous, 50 to 60 drops “in a glass of Spring water, Beer, Ale, Mum, Canary, White wine, with or without sugar, and a dram of brandy as often as you please.” This, it was said, would cure any stomach ailment whatever.[22]

[21] Richard Stoughton, “Restorative cordial and medicine,” British patent 390, 1712.

[22] From a broadside, ca. 1750, advertising “Dr. Stoughton’s Elixir Magnum Stomachum,” preserved in the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.

The inventor died in 1726, and his passing precipitated a perfect fury of competitive advertising. As in the case of Daffy’s, there was a family feud. A son of Stoughton and the widow of another son argued vituperously in print, each claiming sole possession of Richard’s complicated secret, and each terming the other a scoundrel. The daughter—in—law accused the son of financial chicanery, and the son condemned the daughter—in—law for having run through two husbands and for desperately wanting a third. In the midst of this running battle, a third party entered the lists as maker of the Elixir. She was no Stoughton–though a widow–and her quaint claim for the public’s consideration lay in this, that her late husband had infringed Stoughton’s patent until restrained by the Lord Chancellor.

These ten medicines–Stoughton’s and Daffy’s Elixirs and the eight which the Philadelphia pharmacists were later to select–were by no means the only packaged remedies available to the 18th—century Englishman who resorted to self—dosage for his ills. Between 1711, when the first patent was granted for a compound medicine, and 1776, some 75 items were patented in the medical field.[23] And, along with Godfrey’s Cordial and Daffy’s Elixir, there were scores of other remedies for which no patents had been given. A list of nostrums published in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1748 totaled 202, and it was admittedly incomplete.[24] The proprietor with a patent might do his utmost to keep this badge of governmental sanction before the public, but the distinction was not great enough in such a crowded field to make things clear. The casual buyer could not keep track of which electuary had been granted a patent and which lozenge had not. They were all bottles and boxes upon the shelf. In use they served the same purpose. One term arose in common speech to apply to both, and it was “patent medicine.”

[23] British Patent Office, op. cit. (see footnote 4).

[24] Poplicola, “Pharmacopoeia empirica or the list of nostrums and empirics,” The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1748, vol. 18, pp. 346—350.

English Patent Medicines Come to America

When the first English packaged medicine, patented or unpatented, came to the New World, cannot be told. Some 17th—century prospective colonist, setting forth to face the hazards of life in Jamestown or Baltimore or Boston, must have packed a box of Anderson’s Scots Pills or a bottle of Daffy’s Elixir to bring along, but no record to substantiate such an incident has been encountered. It would seem that the use of English packaged remedies in America was most infrequent before 1700. Samuel Lee, answering questions posed from England in 1690 about the status of medicine and pharmacy in Massachusetts, mentions no patent medicines.[25] Neither does the 1698 account book of the Salem apothecary, Bartholomew Brown.[26]

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