While I was researching Widdershins, I bought a replica of the 1897 Sears, Roebuck, & Co. Catalog, which paid for itself via entertainment value alone. My favorite part (and the least used in the book, darn it) is the Drug Department, which is full of patent medicine and overwrought copy writing. (Although if you ever watch late-night TV, you’ll discover that very little has changed in the last 115 years.) Here are a few of my favorites.
Dr. Worden’s Female Pills for Weak Women
Not only do the “female pills” promise to purify the blood and act as a nerve tonic, but the copy assures us they also cured “all forms of female weakness,” which apparently includes sciatica, rickets, consumption, and “decayed bones.” I must say, I’d never before considered these female-specific diseases, but who am I to question Dr. Worden?
Sure Cure for the Tobacco Habit
“That’s all fine and good for the ladies,” I’m sure you’re saying, “but what about for the gents?” (And if you aren’t saying it, don’t worry, that’s what I have a sock puppet for.)
Never fear, Sears, Roebuck, & Co. has you covered! Not only does this product cure you of your nicotine addiction, it will also purify the blood (apparently this was a serious problem in Gilded Age America), and “make weak men strong again” and cause “impotent men to gain weight and vigor” (umm…). All that PLUS it works as a tonic for “sexual weakness.”
Of course, the wrapper encourages feeding tobacco to your beloved pets, which I’m pretty sure is a horrible, horrible idea, so I’m not quite as sold on this as Dr. Worden’s pills.
The Princess Bust Developer
Proving that women have done insane things for beauty from time immemorial, we have the Princess Bust Developer, which is basically a big metal plunger that you, I don’t know, use to pump up your boobs somehow? The text isn’t clear, but then I guess the illustration doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Alarmingly, the item is marked as being “unmailable on account of weight,” which leaves me with the mental image of some poor woman with a 50-lb weight vacuum-locked to her chest. Assuming she ever got it off, I want to know how she explained the giant red hickey on her boob to her husband. Maybe she hid his tobacco cure until it faded.