Jun 262012
 

It’s a common scene. You’re sick, but you don’t want to go to the doctor yet. So you head online to search your symptoms. Ever imagine what we did before we could Google, Bing, WebMD or Yahoo! our health questions?

In today’s world, the answer to virtually any medical question is at our fingertips thanks to an endless and always-available supply of online health and wellness websites.

But long before modern medicine collaborated with the internet – in fact, before either of those concepts even existed – doctors and patients alike relied on their almanac for medical tips. Chock full of home remedies and holistic elixirs, almanacs were, and still remain, a comprehensive guide for treating head-to-toe symptoms. They’re a fixture in American culture, and here at ECU, the very first almanacs are part of our heritage – and found in our library.

The Digital Collections from Laupus Library is a digital preservation of historic artifacts available for public viewing on the web http://digital.lib.ecu.edu/collection/historyofmedicine.aspx.  One of the library’s signature collections is an assortment of 360 patent medicine trade cards, used in the early 1800s to advertise health and medical products.  Each card was uniquely designed and marketed to sell treatments for many different ailments, from insomnia and nervousness to throat and lung diseases. To entice buyers, the trade cards would often tout exotic or obscure ingredients as part of the formula – even if the actual treatment called for very practical ingredients.

By 1840, the demand for patent medicine cards created the need for a more comprehensive publication. Thus, the first American almanacs were born.

To this day, the cards are recognizable by their eccentric illustrations and label names. Visit the library’s Digital Collections and see these pieces of history today – and you might even find a cure for what ails you.

For more information on patent medicine trade cards, visit: http://www.hagley.org/library/exhibits/patentmed/history/advertisingbranding.html.

–Dr. Dorothy A. Spencer, Laupus Library

 

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