The congested head, the hacking cough, the sore, sore throat … we have all suffered through the common cold. May I suggest Syrup of Squills? Or perhaps Dr. King’s Pectoral Balsam? We recently acquired a collection of English pharmaceutical labels from four chemist shops all located at 32 High Street, in Emsworth, England, which operated from the 1890s to the 1930s. The August 24, 1895 Chemist and Druggist reports that Alfred Mumford purchased Mr. Edwin Stubb’s business at High Street, in Emsworth; in 1904, Mumford retired, selling his business to H.J. Carr and Co.; in 1924, Harry J. Carr died; and by 1925, W.T. Slatter was in business at 32 High Street. It is unclear how long Slatter was in possession of the business before H. Densem became the owner.
Carr and Slatter both sold solutions for the common cold. If you were suffering when Harry J. Carr was the pharmaceutical chemist, he probably would have sold you Syrup of Squills which was used for easing a cough. By the time that Slatter was in business, you would have been sold “Dr. King’s Pectoral Balsam,” which was described as “A safe and speedy cure for Coughs, Colds, Bronchitis, Asthma, Pleurisy, Shortness of Breath, Hoarseness, Sore Throat, and all Affections of the Chest and Lungs.” Around the same time period, chemist shops sold “The Ruby Cough Mixture” for coughs, colds and sore throats. The list of ingredients (which includes vinegar of squills) scarily lists “tinct. of Camphor (Poison).”
If you had a kid and were worried about “Wind, Griping, or Stomach-ache,” you might have given them H. Densem’s “Children’s Soothing Mixture, which you will be relieved to know was free of opium or, for that matter, “anything injurious.” Whew. According to my research for this collection, and specifically Ray Church, the number of chemists and druggists increased “from something over 10,000 to more than 40,000,” from 1865 to 1905, as a result of a variety of factors including national advertising for patent or proprietary medicines, increased transportation, and “the growing number of wholesaler-manufacturers who, by expanding the supply and range of ingredients, facilitated retailers’ ability to make up their own preparations,” (Church, Roy. “The British Market for Medicine in the late Nineteenth Century: The Innovative Impact of S M Burrows & Co.,” Medical History. Volume 49, Pages 281-298, 2005).