So I mentioned another time about my friend Cath, who collects odd lists. One of her latest was a list of West Australian invertebrates, whose names are sticky with poetic possibilities – each almost a haiku on its own. (Here’s a few: Aggregating sea cucumber / Alaska falsejingle / Eccentric sand dollar / Ubiquitous brittle star).
The names of the patent medicines sold in the late nineteenth century are almost as resinous. They combine a mix of romantic herbal titles with those adopting a professional, clinical air. (This is still true of cosmetic-cum-pharmaceutical offerings, of course – but how telling it is as an insight into the catholic possibilities of medical invention as it appeared at the time. There, on the pharmacist’s shelves, was a happy gaggle of homeopathic and ‘scientific’ remedies, from which one could choose according to whim or proclivity). Here’s a list of American patent medicines imported by the Alabama opportunist Frank Weston, and sold in Australia alongside his own Wizard Oil:
Dr Merritt’s Scientific Ozone Inhaler
Dr Wistan’s Balsam of Wild Cherry
Dr Pierce’s Purgative Pellets
Hagan’s Magnolia Balm
Ozone or Active Oxygen
Glen’s Sulphur Soap
American Bay Rum
Patey’s Cold Cream
Laid’s Bloom of Youth.
The intermingling of the herbarium and the laboratory in Weston’s advertising for medical remedies brings to mind what Fred Nadis has said about a ‘popular modernism’ at work in nineteenth-century America. Popular modernism, he says, was the stance many people took towards the scientific and technological advancements associated with modernisation: a sense of wonder at these things which preserved a belief in the possibility of fantastic happenings and miracle folk cures.
Weston advertised this list in Melbourne’s Lorngnette (28 August 1878), a theatrical program. I’m not sure whether he blanket-issued his advertisements in a range of colonial newspapers, or whether he only targeted theatrical offerings, believing that theatregoers were unusally susceptible to his panaceas and charms. Given his whole marketing style was theatrical, conducted via the medium of the medicine show, I am assuming the latter.