R.V. Pierce Collection

August 6, 2014

I have worked for the last five or six years on digitizing various items of historic value in my role as an adjunct instructor at the University of Buffalo. I have used the class I taught to not only teach the students various issues that arise while digitizing, but also to help small cultural institutions in the WNY area learn about digitization and get them started in making their collections available to a larger pool of people; namely those who are aware of NYHeritage.org, a repository of digital items from the various libraries of New York State. One of the first collections we converted to digital was the R.V. Pierce Collection of Medical Artifacts.

Dr. Joe Nickell, our senior research fellow here at CFI is the owner of the items themselves, but CFI Libraries is the owner of the digital objects created in conjunction with this project. There are quite a few items in the collection, including paper items, bottles, and other artifacts, that made digitizing this collection a fun and interesting task. Additionally, items have been added to the physical collection, and we will need to add them to the digital collection when time permits.

Dr. Ray Vaughan Pierce (1840 – 1914) went to an Eclectric medical college and started his practice back in his native Pennsylvania. He moved to Buffalo shortly thereafter to open a practice, but then began to sell his medicines via newspapers and via mail-order as these nostrums grew in popularity. Some of his medicines include “Doctor Pierce’s Favorite Prescription,” “Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery,” and “Dr. Sage’s Catarrh Remedy.” As his sales grew, so did the number of items he produced.

He was not necessarily the best doctor, but he was the best marketer of this type of medicines. He took out advertisements in newspapers all over the country. He had barns painted with advertisements for his products nationally. He wrote a book called The People’s Common Sense Medical Advisor (which sold over twenty editions and probably over one million copies) that was a thinly-disguised advertisement for his products. If you had a certain problem, the book would help diagnose you, and an advertisement for one of his products that would help to cure you would be located nearby. He produced other little booklets that gave testimonials, that were almanacs, that were helpful household accounting books, but in the end, all were advertisements for his products.

Pierce’s empire grew and he eventually built a mansion on Main Street in Buffalo, he built a factory to produce his medicines, then glassworks for the bottles, print shops for labels and advertising, etc. He also built his own hospital where he could care for the sick and hired other physicians to help him. He became very prominent in Buffalo, and even served as a Congressman for a brief time.

After he passed away, his son Valentine took over as Dr. Pierce, although Valentine graduated from Harvard and the University of Buffalo School of Medicine rather than the Eclectic School of Medicine in Cincinnati. A few of the items have continued to today, although under the direction of a company that bought the rights to the medicines around 1950, and a different company bought the rights from them in the later 1980s.

This collection being digitized has been relatively popular on the NYHeritage.org website, and we have been contacted here more than a few times regarding this collection. The Pierce collection gave us a model from which we can digitize other collections in the future, help bring them to a wider audience, and help to preserve the information for the future. The photograph above was taken in our Library Reading Room of the physical display of this collection.

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