Century of Accomplishment: Patent Medicine Grandiosity
|Why It's Interesting|
This heroic image is the cover of a quarto-sized booklet issued by the makers of S.S.S. blood medicine. That company issued numerous small booklets with lush covers, but this one is the first that I have seen for any patent medicine that tries to equate it with American progress in so pretentious a fashion. The booklet is rich with color drawings tracing the evolution of transportation from mule teams through the stagecoach, steamboat, train, wagon train, and airplane. One shows Stone Mountain and its sculpture [SSS was based in Atlanta] and several show SSS trucks. Another showed SSS’s factory at Hunter and Butler Streets, which it described as “one of the great factories of the Southern States.” Photographs show areas of SSS facilities. The most interesting photo shows the site of the Flatiron Building before its previous buildings were demolished. The building at its narrow end exhibited a large billboard for SSS’s Swift’s Specific elixir.
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.