The Stamp and Coin Place Blog: connecting the past and present of stamp and coin collecting, and looking to the future.

The Awe of Old-Time Traveling Medicine Shows

Some old-fashioned remedies really work – but many old timey medicines are horrifying to modern sensibilities.

In particular, medicine shows rolling through town in the 18th and 19th centuries brought alleged miracle cures for all sorts of ailments. Without the modern access we have today to WebMD and other such medical sites, people relied on word of mouth to hear about cures for their boils or rashes or other fun issues.
Medicine shows didn’t hold back. They created extravagant shows that advertised their products, often with made-up stories about miracle cures that had people believing.Snake-oil

In fact, traveling salesmen often combined simple ingredients like alcohol and sugar into useless concoctions with no medicinal value. Gullible patrons bought the nostrums anyway, buying in to fanciful stories of their uses.

Old medicines were likely either useless or dangerous. Ingredients included things like arsenic, mercury, and heroin. Dentists suggested cocaine lozenges to patients with toothaches, and also used cocaine as an anesthetic.

More reliable medicine with wider availability entered the market in the 20th century, reducing faith in home remedies. Medicine shows still traveled, but relied more on entertainment than medicine. Soon, newer entertainment like movie theaters popped up everywhere, and people lost interest in these once-touted medicine shows.

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