Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dr. Jayne’s Family Medicines: A Philadelphia based Patent Medicine Company

Posted by Darin Hayton on 10/11 at 10:31 PM

The Philadelphia-based Dr. D. Jayne & Son was one of the first patent medicine companies to use the annual almanac as a marketing tool. They printed their first almanac in 1843. Over the next ninety years they printed and distributed more than 500 million almanacs.1

The cover of Dr. Jayne’s Medical Almanac for 1883
(Source: Author’s collection)

Dr. Jayne’s was a large drug company located at 242 Chestnut Street in the heart of Philadelphia (just a block or so down from the PACHS office). The cover of the Dr. Jayne’s Medical Almanac clearly displayed the large, 10-story building the company constructed between 1848-1850 to house its expanding business. At the time, Dr. Jayne’s building at 242 Chestnut was one of the most conspicuous buildings in Philadelphia. Unsurprisingly, it continued to adorn the cover of Dr. Janyne’s almanac for years:

The cover of Dr. Jayne’s Medical Almanac for 1887
(Source: Author’s collection)

Although the basic image did not change, Dr. Jayne’s commissioned new engravings throughout the nineteenth century. Here, a decade later, is yet another new engraving with a slightly different tower on top of the building and a new street scene:

The cover of Dr. Jayne’s Medical Almanac for 1896
(Source: Author’s collection)

Dr. Jayne’s produced a range of patent medicines: Tonic Vermifuge, Sanative Pills, Alteratives, Hair Tonic, Ague Mixture, and Expectorant. The company carefully marketed its medicines to all registers of society, using elaborately engraved images in its ads to communicate to illiterate audiences as well as detailed descriptions of diseases in its almanacs to appeal to more educated customers. Jayne’s was also acutely aware of the problems of counterfeiting. His use of fine copper-plate engravings was one part of his effort to prevent counterfeiting. He also used special stamps and water-marked paper to combat counterfeiting, techniques he stated explicitly inside each almanac:

Underneath the zodiacal man Dr. Jayne’s warned his customers of possible counterfeit medicines
(Source: Author’s collection)

“TO DETECT COUNTERFEITS—Each bottle and box of Dr. D. Jayne & Son’s Family Medicines, IF GENUINE, bears one of our Special Proprietary Stamps, which are each three inches long, by seven-eighths of an inch wide, and of varying denominations to suit the different articles. This Stamp is invariably so affixed over the cork of each bottle or lid of every box, as to render certain its destruction before the contents can be got at. To afford still further protection, the paper used for the outside wrapper of each box and bottle is waterlined with the words D JAYNE. The inside Directions (underneath the wrapper) of the Sanative Pills, are also printed on the same kind of paper. This waterlining is plainly visible when held between the eyes and the light. Dr. D. Jayne & Son”

It is unclear why Dr. Jayne’s felt so threatened by counterfeit medicine. More likely, this was an effort at branding its patent medicines rather than a genuine fear of counterfeits. In the competitive market for patent medicines, companies sought to establish their own brand identity. By the 1880s Dr. Jayne’s innovative use of almanacs was being imitated by every patent medicine company, many of which also used trading cards, recipe books, and pamphlet containing “useful information.”2 Dr. Jayne’s was successful enough to extend its branding efforts to stamps and watermarked packaging.

That Dr. Jayne’s hoped to reach a broad spectrum of customers is suggested by David Jayne’s statement on the opening page of his almanac. Not only does he declare that he was “a student in one of the best medical institutions in the United States, (the University of Pennsylvania) and have now had over thirty-seven years’ experience in an extensive and diversified practice,” but he also guarantees “that the formulas of these medicines are based upon strictly scientific principles, by one thoroughly acquainted with the medical qualities and effects of each ingredient separately, and of their combined influence when chemically united.” He further promises that his Family Medicines will provide “GENERAL, if not UNIVERSAL SATISFACTION” for the “illiterate and credulous” as well as “persons of intelligence and character, occupying the most prominent stations in society.” It is interesting that the almanacs through the end of the nineteenth century continued to print David Jayne’s statement; David Jayne died of pneumonia in 1866. Perhaps he should have used some of his own medicines.

These patent medicine almanacs, trading cards, recipe books, and related ephemera are interesting for what they reveal about marketing medicines. Particularly today, as pharmaceutical companies have broadened their marketing strategies to communicate directly with patients—or at least people who can be convinced that they are suffering from some ailment—and drug reps have become fixtures in physicians’s offices, it might be useful to understand how patent medicines were successful despite having little or no demonstrable medicinal value, and how these same companies sought to expand the range of conditions that were considered symptoms of diseases. Maybe these snake-oil peddlers can help us gain some perspective on today’s pharmaceutical industry.

1Dr. Jayne printed almanacs from 1843 until 1930. According to the Hagley Museum and Library, the total number of almanacs exceeded 500 million. The Hagley Museum and Library has an large collection of patent medicine ephemera as well as a nice on-line exhibit.
2The Hagely Museum and Library’s on-line exhibit has a handful of trading cards, including one from Dr. Jayne’s. Many more from Dr. Jayne’s are found at Miami University Libraries Digital Collection of Victorian Trade Card Collection

Tags: dr. jaynes, marketing, patent medicines