Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Poor Man's Friend" - An Invaluable and Unfailing Remedy

One of the great benefits of attending the National Conference on Civil War Medicine or on of the conferences put on by the Society of Civil War Surgeons is that you will almost always see and meet John Gimesh, M.D., proprietor of Stein's Antiques and an expert on antique medical instruments, which he always has for display and sale at the meetings.

I am usually a window-shopper, but I could not resist two purchases at the recent meeting in Baltimore, MD, as they were 19th-century ointment pots for two very well-known British patent medicines: Holloway's Ointment and "Poor Man's Friend."

I have written before about Holloway's pills and ointment, and you can find that post here.

"Dr. Roberts's Poor Man's Friend Ointment" was developed by Dr. Giles L. Roberts in Bridport, Dorset, UK, in the 1790s. Roberts tried a number of trades before studying medicine and established his own pharmacy in 1788, at age 23. His "Poor Man's Friend" ointment was said to be the second-best selling patent medicine in Britain in the early 1800s. Roberts also developed "Scrofula Pills." He died in 1834, age 69, and left his business to his two apprentices - Thomas Beach and John Barnicott - who carried on the trade as partners. The company stayed in the family until the 1970s. There are several cool things about Poor Man's Friend that resonate to this day:

The "Beach & Barnicott" pharmacy is now a popular restaurant and nightspot The original formula was discovered in Roberts's original shop in 2003 and sold at auction to the Bridport Museum, which disclosed the recipe as composed of lard, fine English beeswax, calomel (mecurous chloride), sugar of lead, salts of mercury, zinc oxide, bismuth oxide, Venetian red, oils of rose, bergamot, and lavender.

It is hard too place an exact date on the ointment pot I've added to my collection, although it is certainly mid- to late-1800s based on a guide I found:

The ointment was sold in distinct earthenware pots, each about 4cm high and 4.5 cm in diameter. The pot would be covered with a parchment cover as its lid. The earliest ones had blue transferred text with "Poor Man's Friend, price 1/1 1/2" on the front and "Prepared only by Dr Roberts, Bridport" on the reverse. LAter jars said "Prepared only by Beach and Barnicott successors to the late Dr Roberts, Bridport"...By the early 20th century, the only change to the lettering is that it was printed in black. The ointment continued to be sold in the same pot until the 1920s. It was later marketed as Roberts' Ointment and sold in glass jars. - Popular Medicines; an illustrated History (2007)


Caroline Rance at the "Quack Doctor" blog has a great post (as always) on Poor Man's Friend here and there is a wonderful chapter on Roberts and Poor Man's Friend in Popular Medicines: An Illustrated History.


1 comment:

Kate Belben said...

Thanks for your article. I've just dug a little pot like this up in my garden and was looking for its history :-)