godfrey's cordial, early to mid 1800s

godfrey's cordial

godfrey's cordial

active ingredients: morphine, treacle, spices

I obtained this bottle in a lot of apothecary items in April 2014 from Dr. Frank, a retired dentist from the dakotas, who has an extensive collection of medical items. He has sold me many items at a discount, and this bottle with a worn paper label of "Godfrey's Cordial" is one of my favorites. it is about 10" tall and has a 3.5" diameter base. It has a very rough pontil mark on the bottom so I estimate this bottle to be early to mid 19th century. I bought the lot of 19 bottles for $200 so I paid about $11 for this one.

Godfreys' Cordial (aka "mother's friend") is one of many morphine-based solutions used in the 1800s on children and adolescents to "quiet" them. A side effect of any opiate, besides pain relief, is sedation. In this solution, there was 1 grain of opium (~65 mg) in two ounces of medicine. The other ingredient, treacle, is just a fancy term for molasses. The spices helped to make the medicine go down easier and maybe to mask a foul odor and/or flavor.

This medicine was sold without prescription and since it worked (and why wouldn't it?! it would work on an elephant!), it sold in large quantities to overburdened mothers during a time where fussy children just got in the way of daily chores and necessary work. As a consequence, not only were many children addicted to the product, and could buy it without their parents and down whatever amount they chose without physician supervision, many also died as a result of an overdose. Many babies even starved to death since they were too doped up to have a proper appetite. In fact, in a book in 1856 called Daisy Chain, a baby is killed by an overdose of this exact product- Godfrey's Cordial! (see quote below). It may even have been used purposefully to murder unwanted children for those already impoverished families of early 19th century Britain. Moreover, it may have been used to harass and molest those sedated by its effects (see the ballad of Godfrey's Cordial below).

Also, since morphine is denser than the other ingredients, it sunk to the bottom. So whoever got the last few doses of the cordial really got their money's worth with a whopper of a dose.

Dr. May hardly paused to embrace his daughter, and she anxiously led him to the cradle, and tried to read his expression, as his eyes fell on the little face, somewhat puffed, but of a waxy whiteness, and the breathing seeming to come from the lips.

Flora had trusted that hope and confidence would come with him; but, on the contrary, every lurking misgiving began to rush wildly over her, as she watched his countenance, while he carried his little granddaughter towards the light, studied her intently, raised her drooping eyelids, and looked into her eyes, scarcely eliciting another moan. Flora dared not ask a question, but looked on with eyes open, as it were, stiffened.

”This is the effect of opium,” were Dr. May’s first words, breaking on all with startling suddenness; but, before any one could speak, he added, “We must try some stimulant directly;” then looking round the room, “What have you nearest?”

”Godfrey’s Cordial, sir,” quickly suggested the nurse.

”Carry her to her room,” said Dr. May. “I will come;” and, when George had borne her away, he kissed the lifeless cheek, and reverently placed the little corpse in the cradle; but, as he rose from doing so, the sobbing nurse exclaimed,

”Oh, sir! oh, sir! indeed, I never did—“

”Never did what?” said Dr. May sternly.

”I never gave the dear baby anything to do her harm,” cried Preston vehemently.

”You gave her this,” said Dr. May, pointing to the bottle of Godfrey’s Cordial.
— Charlotte Yonge's "Daisy Chain"

 

Other morphine-based children's medicines were: Atkinson's Royal Infants Preservative, Steedman's Powders, Dably's Carminitive, Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, Stickney and Poor's Paregoric

an ad from 1770 england where a bookseller boasts of the products he sells, one being Godfrey's Cordial (see the italicized "Godfrey" in the left side about halfway down)

an ad from 1770 england where a bookseller boasts of the products he sells, one being Godfrey's Cordial (see the italicized "Godfrey" in the left side about halfway down)

godfrey's cordial recipe from  the journal of Dr. John Davidson of Florida, 1843

godfrey's cordial recipe from  the journal of Dr. John Davidson of Florida, 1843

english ballad of gofrey's cordial

english ballad of gofrey's cordial

Godfrey's Cordial , early 20th century bottles manufactured in the U.S.A

Godfrey's Cordial, early 20th century bottles manufactured in the U.S.A

lydia e. pinkham's vegetable compound, 1915-1925

April 181.JPG

14 1/2 ozs.

clear light green bottle (height: 8", width: 3.5", depth: 2")

rough pontil base

obtained at Smiley's Antique Mall in Micanopy, FL for $6

active ingredients: asclepias tuberosa, packera aurea, fenugreek, aletris farinosa, actaea racemosa

Lydia Pinkham's is probably one of the best known patent medicines of the late 19th century. It was indeed created by a woman named Lydia who had made a homemade remedy for "female" problems for years. After financial troubles arose in her personal life, she began selling her compound and created one of the most popular advertising campaigns for patent medicines. She answered questions much like a "dear abby" in the paper and had songs about her product.

How it Works

Lydia Pinkham's Compound contains five main ingredients:

asclepias tuberosa

asclepias tuberosa

1. asclepias tuberosa (aka "butterfly weed") is a milkweed whose extract is an anti-flatulant (prevention and relief of gas)

2. pakcera aurea (aka "ragwort", "st. john's wort") is a flower whose extract can be used as a uterine tonic for general dysfunction. it is not used much due to its extract causing liver disease.

packera aurea

packera aurea

3. fenugreek is a plant originating from india which can decrease inflammation

4. aletris farinosa (aka "unicorn root") is a plant that has been used for painful periods

5. actaea acemosa (aka "black cohosh") root extract is used for inflammation and pain especially those associated with menopause. it has been found to contain compounds closely associated with estrogens and is currently one of the top herbal remedies for menopausal symptoms.

fenugreek

fenugreek

actaea racemosa

actaea racemosa

aletris farinosa

aletris farinosa

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The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham

Let us sing (let us sing) of Lydia Pinkham
 The benefactress of the human race.
She invented a vegetable compound,
 And now all papers print her face,

O, Mrs. Brown could do no housework,
 O, Mrs. Brown could do no housework,
She took three bottles of Lydia's compound,
 And now there's nothing she will shirk,
 she will shirk,

Mrs. Jones she had no children,
 And she loved them very dear.
So she took three bottles of Pinkham's
 Now she has twins every year.

Lottie Smyth ne'er had a lover,
 Blotchy pimples caused her plight;
But she took nine bottles of Pinkham's--
 Sweethearts swarm about her each night.

Oh Mrs. Murphy (Oh Mrs. Murphy)
 Was perturbed because she couldn't seem to pee
Till she took some of Lydia's compound
 And now they run a pipeline to the sea!

And Peter Whelan (Peter Whelan)
 He was sad because he only had one nut
Till he took some of Lydia's compound
 And now they grow in clusters 'round his butt.

dr. r. schiffmann's asthmador trade mark cigarettes 1950s-1960s

active ingredients: stramonium, belladonna ("contains no tobacco")

total alkaloids: 0.203%

April 290.JPG

claim: "to relieve the distress of bronchial asthmatic paroxysms"

contents: 24 cigarettes

price: 60 cents

manufactured: r. schiffmann co. los angeles, ca

How it Works

The leaves of dature stramonium (aka Jimson Weed or Devils' Snare), a member of the nightshade family, contain the chemical atropine. When a person has an asthma attack, muscle fibers in the pulmonary tract begin to spasm and constrict, restricting air flow into the lungs. Atropine is an anticholinergic compound, which relaxes smooth muscles, especially in the bronchi.

datura stramonium

datura stramonium

The leaves and berried of the belladonna plant (aka Deadly Nightshade) also contain atropine as well as hyoscyamine (both anticholinergics).

atropa belladonna

atropa belladonna

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