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H. T. Helmbolds Genuine Fluid Extract Bottle

$900.00 (excluding tax)

Product Description

Set includes:

  • Certificate of Authenticity
  • National Geographic's Civil War Gold DVD
  • Museum style display case with acrylic cover
  • Copy of Bottles from the Deep book

Bottle Height: 14.5 cm

“Who has not heard of Buchu?” inquired one agent. “Why, this magic word adorns every dead wall, fence, rock and telegraph pole from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” In the decades after the Civil War, painted patentmedicine slogans appeared on rocks, walls, trees, and private sheds and fences. These displays were often enormous and installed with disregard for property rights.

One of the most audacious was a selfdescribed “doctor,” Henry T. Helmbold, who introduced his Extract of Buchu in 1850. An eccentric man, Helmbold’s marketing campaign extended along the entire route of the newly completed Union Pacific Railroad.

The leaves of the buchu plant, a small woody shrub, had long been used in South Africa by indigenous peoples as a traditional medicine. By 1840, the herb was officially recognized in America’s pharmacopoeia for irritations of the bladder and urethra and for disease of the prostate.

But Helmbold’s recipe, labeled “Genuine Fluid Extracts,” was a watered-down concoction of buchu with cubebs, licorice, caramel, molasses, peppermint – and, of course, alcohol. It was advertised as “a Specific Remedy” for an implausible laundry list of ailments: General Debility, Mental and Physical Depression, Imbecility, and Confused Ideas. Also on the list: Hysteria, Diseases of the Bladder and Kidneys, Emaciation, Constipation, Epilepsy, and Paralysis.

With descriptive treatises on the horrors caused by “excesses in married life, early indiscretion, or self abuse” – all of which, of course, his miraculous formula could remedy – the “doctor” realized great profits. Prone to excessiveness, Helmbold moved his Philadelphia establishment to New York. There, he constructed a $250,000 “Temple of Pharmacy,” dubbed the most “Buchuful” structure on Broadway. It featured marble floors, perfume- and soda-dispensing fountains, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and tweeting canary birds.

Underneath this facade of grandeur, Helmbold started to drink in excess, and was said to be “often crazy drunk.” Over time, he deteriorated and was confined no less than seven times to an asylum, with intermittent recovery and relapses. In 1892, the inventor of “Genuine Fluid Extracts” died in his 66th year at his New Jersey seaside residence, where he had once entertained famous dignitaries, including President Ulysses S. Grant.

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