Spotlight on Patent Medicines – Dr. William Hall’s Balsam for the Lungs

*the following guest blog post was written by Varsha Jayaraman, Queen’s Work Study Curatorial Assistant

In the mid-to-late twentieth century, advertising trade cards were important for circulating information about patent medicines, or “over-the-counter” drugs.  Dr. William Hall’s Balsam was printed by the Donaldson Brothers of Five Points, New York, a popular advertiser from 1872 to 1891.

Dr. Hall’s Balsam for the Lungs, 1860, 996001411, Collection of the Museum of Health Care

This company was well-known for their “metamorphic cards,” which featured a “before and after” theme with a picture printed across one or more flaps forming the face of the card.  The flap could then be folded and the composite picture changed.  Often these metamorphic cards depicted an image of a sad face folded down to show a happy one, due to the cure advertised.

Dr. Hall’s Balsam for the Lungs, 1860, 996001411, Collection of the Museum of Health Care

Dr. Hall’s Balsam for the Lungs, 1860, 996001411, Collection of the Museum of Health Care

Hall’s Balsam for the Lungs, produced in 1860, claimed to cure everything from serious illnesses like consumption, pneumonia, and influenza to simpler lung problems like coughs, colds and asthma.  When folded, the card shows a man wasting away due to consumption.  Upon opening the fold, the decrepit man transforms into a stout hero holding up the bottle of the balsam and engaging in a speech about his miraculous recovery to his exaggeratedly tiny family.  His portly stature was associated with his good health, making him able to take on the role as the strong male figure that the Victorian man aspired to be.  This drama shows not only the healing qualities of this balsam, but the social implications associated with health and wellness ideals for the quintessential Victorian male.

Although trade cards are no longer widely circulated, they set the stage for print advertising.  Today, many pharmaceutical companies still employ the same practices that were applied to patent medicines in the nineteenth century.

What year was this trade card produced?

a) 1855

b) 1860

c) 1865

d) 1870

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