Thursday, December 12, 2013
PATENT MEDICINES AND OTHER THINGS WE SOLD IN COUNTRY STORES
MORE MEMORIES FROM A COUNTRY STORE
A recent encounter in which I came in contact with a fairly good collection of vintage to antique patent medicines brought back a lot of memories of the items we regularly sold in country stores. I came to be in possession of a fairly sizable collection of these patent medicines recently and sold them to a neighbor and friend who still runs a fairly authentic country store and antique shop. But as I went through the collection, I was reminded of dozens of similar items my parents and other country store operators used to sell which I never see anymore. I have discussed some of these items in one of my earlier posts, The Country Store And Travelling Salesmen. While I had these recently found items in my hands, I took photos of most of them and will just post the photos and write a few of my own personal reminiscences of them. I apologize for the quality of some of the shots. Many of the items are small and I cropped the photos a bit too small since I use a fairly cheap digital camera.
One of the nicest items in this group I found was a vintage Phillip's Milk of Magnesia Tablets store display box of about 12 boxes of tablets. These and several other types of "stomach medicines" were sold regularly in country stores in my childhood. It was fairly common for country people to avoid going to doctors both because of poverty and distrust of medicine in general which translated into faith in both folk medicines and readily available patent medicines which could be bought from the country store operator who was a neighbor and friend who was generally better known and more trusted than the doctor at the county seat. But I do not want to leave a blanket negative impression of the country doctors of my childhood. Two in particular, Dr. Dempsey and Dr. Wicker from Floyd County both deserve posts on this blog at some time in the future.
Tube Rose Scotch Snuff (Roger D. Hicks)
Another item which I found in this same collection was an unopened can of Tube Rose Scotch Snuff, which may well have been a contributing factor for some of the usage of "Stomach Medicines" by people all over Appalachia and the south. I do not recall that my parents ever sold snuff or that there were ever many people who asked for it in Knott County during my childhood. Most of our neighbors, my father, and even myself, for a short while, were chewers of tobacco. This tobacco usage was split between pouch, plug, and twist with Red Horse, Red Man, Beech Nut, Kentucky Twist, Brown's Mule and a few other brands carrying most of the business. Since tobacco was not commonly grown in Knott County, there were very few chewers of homegrown. But I have known of a few people who got a few seeds and raised a small patch or often just a row or two for private use. But getting back to this can of Tube Rose Snuff, it was a fine example of a vintage country store piece and was unopened with the Internal Revenue Stamp still attached and unbroken. It was manufactured in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and also carried a union labor stamp which is rarely seen on any item today. That regrettable loss of union shops began about 1981 with the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan and a strong anti-union element in American politics. Today's fight by fast food workers for an increase in the minimum wage is directly rooted in the changes of attitudes which were promoted by the Reagan Administration beginning with the firing of the air traffic controllers shortly after he became President.
Ramon's Pink Pills (Roger D. Hicks)
Another of the items in this collection which brought back instant memories of itself and a dozen other patent medicines was Ramon's Pink Pills, "an adult laxative for sluggish bowels due to temporary constipation". This is a classic example of "stomach medicine" and Ramon's Pink Pills were sold by the millions across Appalachia and the rural south along with Carter's Little Liver Pills, Fletcher's Castoria, Geritol, Black Draught, SSS Tonic, Lightning Hot Drops, and a wide variety of purgatives, antacids, and putative cure all's. My parents must have sold thousands of boxes, bottles, and cans of these medicines. And I have to say that finding the Ramon's Pink Pills and the Milk of Magnesia in the collection were a lot like meeting old friends after too long a time apart.
Old Hickory Throat Troches (Roger D. Hicks)
Another item in this collection which I found fascinating but did not recognize from my childhood was a tube of Old Hickory Throat Troches which were made by the Old Hickory Medicine Company in Andalusia, Alabama. I even tried calling a number I located on the Internet to learn more about them and found it disconnected. I have to assume that the company, like most of the patent medicines, is no longer in existence. I believe these were sold as a treatment for minor sore throats and must have been similar to cough drops. If any of you remember them, please send me a personal E-Mail or comment on this post. I would love to know exactly what they are. I am sorry to say that I have never been to Andalusia even though I have travelled extensively in Alabama. And I also recently sold a vintage 1953 Hank Williams Song Book to someone in Andalusia.
Colgate Tooth Powder (Roger D. Hicks)
Another item I found and did not remember ever seeing in our store was a small metal can of Colgate Tooth Powder which I assume was a precursor of tube toothpaste. And to be honest, I do not recall that we sold a great deal of tooth paste in our store. As I think about it, I believe this might have been due to one or more of several reasons: 1) due to poverty, many people might have been using other methods such as baking soda; 2) a lot of our neighbors never seemed to brush their teeth regularly which is also often connected to poverty; 3) folkways of cleaning teeth such as brushing with fragrant twigs might have also been practiced. Whatever, the reasons, Colgate Tooth Powder or any other brand was not common in our store in my childhood.
Zenith Brand Tibet Almond Stick (Roger D. Hicks)
Another unknown, at least to me, item which showed up in the collection was a metal can containing a Zenith Brand Tibet Almond Stick which was used to either repair or disguise scratches in furniture. I do not recall any similar items to this being common in the area when I was growing up. Many of our neighbors had either homemade furniture or cheap store bought furniture and never seemed to pay a whole lot of attention to minor dings. It probably had nothing to do with a particular disregard for caring for property but was rather more about a different set of priorities which did not place scratches on furniture at the top of a to do list for the average parent with a garden, a house, livestock, and several children to care for.
Windsor Rubbed Sage (Roger D. Hicks)
Another old friend which showed up in the collection, much like a long awaited letter from home, was a can of vintage Windsor Rubbed Sage. I have written in this blog before about my love for sage as a spice in both sausage and turkey dressing. In the post Thanksgiving In Appalachia, I disclosed my love of sage. And in the recent post Hog Killing Time In Appalachia, a reader and I engaged in an interesting exchange in the comments section which discussed the love of sage. I always associate the smell of sage dressing and, to a lesser degree, sage sausage with the wonderful memory of coming in out of the Thanksgiving or Christmas cold to the smell of hot sage dressing, steamy windows, and a plethora of other traditional Appalachian seasonal dishes on the table. Many people in the area during my childhood grew their own spices including sage. My own family only grew our own hot peppers, dill, and one or two others. When my wife and I moved into our current home 21 years ago, we found that the deceased owner had kept a greenhouse for years and also had planted garlic, dill, mints, and numerous other spices around the property. Sadly, I have not kept them all alive and now I have to buy them all. I do not specifically remember Windsor Rubbed Sage from my childhood. The brands of spices we were most likely to sell were McCormick's and Sauer's which were then and still are high quality spices. But still, seeing this box of sage brought home a hundred wonderful food and country store based memories.
Dr. LeGear's Flatulent Colic Medicine (Roger D. Hicks)
Another of the non-food items from this collection was Dr. LeGear's Flatulent Colic Medicine, a patent medicine for use in horses, mules, and cattle. I spent a childhood in a country store, worked about 15 years in the Central Kentucky Thoroughbred business, and spent more than 3 years working on the Vision Quest Wagon Trains and I had never seen this medicine before. But veterinary medicine in Appalachia during my childhood was nearly non-existent and many counties at that time did not have a single veterinarian. Just as they did with their children, most Appalachians until the late 1960's treated health problems in their livestock themselves with remedies based primarily in folkways.
This was a wonderful walk down Memory Lane for me as I found, inspected, remembered, and wrote about these items from my childhood. I hope it is a source of warm Appalachian memories for my readers as well. I will expand this post a couple of times in the near future. But, for now, I want everyone of my readers to enjoy it as much as have I. Therefore, I am posting it while it is still in progress.