I was looking through my collection of 19th century trade cards and noticed that I had several issued by the J. C. Ayer Company.
Small wonder, for Ayer's was one of the most successful American patent medicines of the 1800s. As you can see by the reverse of this charming card for pills, the company made very wide claims (below).
Yes, this dinner pill will cure jaundice, numbness and headaches! As you can see in the next image, Ayer's Sarsaparilla is a remedy for so much more:
I'm not sure if there was much difference between Ayer's Sarsaparilla and Ayer's Cherry Pectoral.
Dr. James Cook Ayer (1818-1878) graduated from medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, and rather than practice medicine, he spent his life in pharmaceutical chemistry. He established a factory in Lowell, Massachusetts, and through his very successful merchandising, amassed a fortune of more than $20,000,000.
Ayer's medicines — which certainly have the ring of quackery — were in fact continually evolving formulas, to the extent that after the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act, the J. C. Ayer Company was able to remain in business. In fact, the company continued selling medicines through the 1920s.
Dr. Ayer adopted the image of the lion as a symbol of health and strength, and his cemetery monument with a giant marble lion is now a Lowell landmark. To see what happens to the Ayer lion in winter, go here. .