Rheumatic Cures

May 21, 2014

The adjective rheumatic pertains to rheumatism, a general, if a rather archaic term describing such acute and chronic conditions as inflammation, joint pain, muscle stiffness and soreness. “Rheumatism” once referred to arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, bursitis, fibromyalgia, degenerative joint disease, and various other conditions (Taber’s 2001, 1806–1807).

The Russian Rheumatic Cure shown here (see photo) was produced by Johns & Dixon of Rochester, New York—a little-known firm. G.W. Johns was a druggist who—by 1894—was selling the product alone, changing the name to Johns’ Russian Rheumatic Cure (“Russian” 2014a). The bottle (missing from this approximately 25/16 3 11/4 3 71/4” box) was probably similar to others that are known: Described as clear glass and embossed with the product name and company’s address, they measure about 61/2” tall (“Russian” 2014b).

The box’s text claims the product is “a sure cure for inflammatory rheumatism” and indeed “cures all scrofulous diseases.” One panel advertises the “cure” in German: Russische Rheumatismus Heilmittel Heilt Rheumatische Entzündung, which I translate as “Russian Rheumatism Cure Heals Rheumatic Inflammation.” If the nostrum were not meant for export, it may have been intended for the German-American market.

Neither the product’s name nor the company’s appears in the essential Nostrums and Quackery (published by the American Medical Association in Chicago in 1911). However, other “Rheumatism Cures” are listed there: Gloria Tonic (containing potassium iodide, licorice, and other ingredients), Magic Foot Drafts (consisting of plasters—to be applied to the soles of the sufferer’s feet), Tartarlithine (an effervescing combination of lithium carbonate and tartaric acid), and Sal Hepatica (described as “a mixture of simple saline laxitives”).

There were many other “rheumatic” nostrums, including H.A. Babcock’s Rheumatic Tincture, Blood Purifier & Cancer Cure (Brookfield, NY). However, I add this cautionary note. In researching the subject, and compiling a long list of such nostrums, I came to learn that rheumatic meant not only “pertaining to rheumatism” but had an alternative meaning: “caused by or analogous to rheum” (i.e., discharge from the mucous membranes; phlegm) (Webster’s 1980). Thus some “rheumatic” cures and remedies appear to have been in the general family of cough medicines, cold remedies, and expectorants—possibly Dr. Robbins’ Tecumseh Rheumatic Drops and Kennedy’s Rheumatic Dissolvent (as their names seem to imply)—but in specific cases the product must be researched to determine its true nature.

In addition to specific nostrums, various liniments were also claimed to “cure” or relieve rheumatism, including Dr. Baker’s Turkish Liniment (S.F. Baker & Co., Keokuk, IA), Modoc Indian Oil (Corry, PA), Minard’s Liniment (Levi Minard, Boston), Sweet’s Infallible Liniment (Norwich, CT), Dr. Tobias’ Venetian Liniment (New York City), Hamlin’s Wizard Oil (Chicago), and many others, among them Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment “For Rheumatism and Neuralgia” (Providence, RI). There were even various brands specified as “Rheumatic Liniment,” such as those by J.T. Donnel (St. Louis), a Dr. Jackson (Philadelphia), and Dr. Kennedy (Roxbury, Mass.) (Fike 2006, 133–138, 191–197, 203, 229; Kovel and Kovel 1979, 126–143). At best, all of these patent medicines treated only symptoms, often by no more than the placebo effect, and some of them could be—as the AMA noted—dangerous.

References

Fike, Richard E. 2006. The Bottle Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Historic Embossed Medicine Bottles. Caldwell, NJ: The Blackburn Press.

Kovel, Ralph, and Terry Kovel. 1979. The Kovels’ Complete Bottle Price List, 5th ed. New York: Crown Publishers.

Nostrums and Quackery. 1911. In 3 vols.; vol. I, Chicago: American Medical Association, 469–473.

Russian Rheumatic Cure. 2014a. Online at http://www.antiquemedicines.com/MedicineNexus/R/R.htm; accessed March 20, 2014.

Russian Rheumatic Cure. 2014b. Online at http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/russian-rheumatic-cure-johns-dixon-171844132; accessed March 20, 2014.

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. 2001. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Co., 1806–1807.

Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language–Unabridged, 1980. N.p.: William Collins Publishers.

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