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antiquebottles THEMEDICINE CHEST --- BY DR. RICHARD CANNON

antiqueSMALLBOTTLE, LARGE FABRICATIONbottles

Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills must havesold well because they were around a long time. They were firstmanufactured about 1850, and continued to be produced in theUnited States until 1959; even longer in Canada and Australia. Iown an amber, bimal, rectangular, smooth base bottle, 2 5/8inches tall, embossed Dose 2 to 4 // Morse's Indian/Root Pills //W.H. Comstock // // Dose 1/2 to 4 //. and the other, Morse'sIndian / Root Pills, with Bottle / Made In / Japan on the base.The pills came in wooden pill boxes and coffin shaped tins aswell. There must have been pontiled bottles, but I know of noneembossed with the product name.

Morse's Indian Root Pills Bottle. - Comstock & Co.'s Indian Vegetable Elixir.

Edwin P. Comstock(1799-1837) founded his medicine business in New York City about1833. Brother Lucius S. (1806-1876) was employed as a clerkbetween 1833 and 1837. Lucius often referred to himself as a M.D.and a Counselor-at-Law. Edwin died in 1837, and Lucius withanother brother Albert Lee (1820-?) carried on the business underthe name of Comstock & Co. Two other brothers, John Carlton(1819-1835) and George Wells (1820-1889), were employed asclerks. The brothers never could get along and had frequentconflict. The company was renamed Comstock & Co. &Brothers until 1850, when it was called Comstock & Brother.Lawsuits finally resulted in the firm splitting into twobusiness. William Henry (1830-1919), son of Edwin, was employedas a clerk at this time. The firm of Comstock & Brother(George W. and John C.) finally won out over Comstock & Co.(Lucius), and in the summer of 1853, Lucius got out of thebusiness. John C. died that same year, and the firm was continuedunder the Comstock name with George W. and William H. plus a newpartner, Baldwin L. Judson.

The Indian RootPills were first manufactured by Andrew B. Moore and A.J. Whitein Buffalo, N.Y., around 1850. White approached the Comstockfirm, and in 1855, they signed a contract for the manufacture andsale of the pills. However in 1858, both White and the Comstockswere manufacturing them. In 1860, as theresult of a court case, Moore and White relinquished all claimsto the rights of Dr. More's Pills, and Comstocks were given soleproprietorship for them. As the result of a quarrel, George leftthe business in 1866, and in 1867, William H. moved the firm fromNew York City to Morristown, New York. The business prosperedthere on the back of the St. Lawrence River where it remaineduntil William Henry Comstock II (1897-1959) died.

Trade CardWith 1888 testimonials.

The Comstocks gavea lengthy history of the discovery of Dr. Morse's Indian RootPills, which pictured the doctor with his family. "Thefamous and celebrated Dr. Morse, after completing his educationin medical science, traveled widely in Asia, Africa, Europe, andNorth America and spent three years among the Indians of ourWestern country, where he discovered the secret of the IndianRoot Pills. Returning from one of these journeys after a longabsence, he found his father apparently on his death bed. But letus quote the story directly: A number of years ago this good manwas very sick. He had eight of the most celebrated doctors toattend him both night and day. With their skills this good andpious gentleman grew worse, and finally they gave him up, sayingthat it was impossible to cure him and he would soon die... Inthe afternoon he was taken with shortness of breath and supposedto be dying. The neighbors were sent for, the room soon filled,and many prayers were offered up from the very hearts of thesedear Christian people, that some relief might be obtained forthis good and pious man. While these prayers were ascending likesweet incense to the throne above, and every eye was bathed withtears, a rumbling noise was heard in the distance, like a mightychariot winding its way near, when all at once a fine span ofhorses, before a beautiful coach, stood before the door, out ofwhich alighted a noble and elegant-looking man. In a moment'stime he entered the room, and embraced the hand of his dearfather and mother. She clasped her arms around his neck andfainted away. The doctors surprised to see his father so nearlygone, immediately went to his coach, taking there from variousplants and roots, which he had learned from the Red Men of theforests as being good for all diseases, and gave them to hisfather, and in about two hours afterwards he was much relieved...Two days afterwards he was much better,and the third day he could walk about the room... and now webehold him a strong, active man, and in the bloom of health, andat the age of ninety-five able to ride in one day thirty-fivemiles, in order to spent his birthday with his celebrated doctor,his son."

Tradecard with 1886 testimonials.

This story, whichwas first disseminated as early as the late 1850's, was an entirefabrication. There never was a Dr. Morse. The originator of thesepills was Andrew B. Moore. This is clear from several legaldocuments, including and injunction proceeding in behave of Whiteand Moore in 1859. Throughout the patent medicine era it was thecommon practice to ascribe an Indian, or at least somegeographically remote origin, to many nostrums and panaceas. TheComstocks did it again with at least one other product, Judson'sMountain Herb Pills.

A large number ofremedies were marketed by the Comstocks. In 1854, Comstock andCo. listed 38 preparations for sale. Comstock's Indian VegetableElixir and Longley's Panacea were among them. Pontiled Comstockbottles known to me include: Comstock & Co.'s // Indian //Vegetable // Elixir, aqua, square, 4 1/4" inches tall;Comstock's // Vermifuge, aqua, round, 3 3/4 inches tall; Dr.Comstock's // // Hair Dye, aqua, rectangular, 4 1/4 inches tall;Comstocks // & // Brother // New York, aqua, 12 sided, 4 1/4inches tall; Longley's // // Panacea, aqua and olive green,rectangular, 6 1/2 inches tall; Longley's / Panacea, aqua, round,7 1/4 inches tall; Mother's Relief, Comstock & Co. (labeledonly), aqua, round 8 1/2 inches tall; and Comstock & Co.'sCompound Extract of Sarsaparilla (labeled only), aqua,rectangular, 5 3/8 inches tall. I own a smooth base Comstock& Co.'s // Indian // Vegetable // Elixir, aqua, square, 4 1/8inches tall.

What was thispopular remedy good for? As recently as 1918, it was recommendedas a cure for biliousness, dyspepsia, constipation, sickheadache, scofula, kidney disease, liver complaint, jaundice,piles, dysentery, colds, boils, malarial fever, flatulency, foulbreath, eczema, gravel, worms, female complaints, rheumatism,neuralgia, la grippe, palitation, and nervousness. I get nervousjust reading through this list. And what was the formula?Originally, it was closely held secret, but in the 1930's and40's it had to be revealed: Aloes, Mandrake, Gambage, Jalap andCayenne Pepper. Now isn't that a lot of "bull" to comeout of one small bottle?

References:

Samuel J. GreerCollection, Harmer Rooke Galleries, New York, 1988.

Odell, John,Indian Bottles and Brands, Maverick Publications, Bend, Oregon,1977.

Shaw, Robert B.,History Of The Comstock Patent Medicine Business and Dr. Morse'sIndian Root Pills, Smithsonian Institution Press, City ofWashington, 1972.


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