Our Ancestors Were Nuts: Insane Gilded Age Advertisements

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.

Posted August 8, 2012 by jordan in books, humor, Widdershins, writing / 6 Comments

6 responses to “Our Ancestors Were Nuts: Insane Gilded Age Advertisements

  1. LOLOL! Where on earth did you order it from? I’d love to get a copy. When I was a kid, we waited for the Sears Roebuck catalog, particularly the Christmas edition. We’d fight over it and pour over it, dreaming of Christmas morning. These look more like nightmares! LOL! This would go well with my whacky Victorian inventions books. LOLOL!

    • jordan

      I found it on Amazon; it was printed in 1968 but the copy I have is in perfect shape. It is absolutely fantastic: jam sold by the pail, whacky medicines, and crazy undergarments meant to straighten your posture. And of course all the day-to-day things, from furniture to clothes to guns, which is where it really came in handy for research.

  2. So funny. I’ve been thinking about what descendants will think about the things we leave behind. I’m sure they will think we are all as crazy as we think that boob enhancer is! LOL

  3. I love reading through those old catalogs and magazines. Most of the ones I have are from the 30s, and although you get some pretty crazy ads in there, I don’t think any could come close to these. Certainly no boob enhancers. Though I do plan to share an interesting article from Betty’s Papers regarding Dr. Margaret’s advice to a young woman on how to go about jilting her fiance by getting him to jilt her. Among them such gems as, “Tell him you’ll never get on with his mother and that you can’t bear his sisters.” How having only one beer makes him a drunkard, criticize his friends, and develop a hatred for domesticity. Lol. Love it. Can’t wait to learn more about Widdershins!

    • jordan

      LOL, that article sounds like a hoot! Makes one wonder if anyone followed the advice, and what was the result. 🙂