A, Companies, H, M, S

Sterling Products, Inc. (VI.1.b.(2)) – AHP – Manhattan Medicine Co.

Sterling Products, Inc., Manufacturer
Chapter 6.1.b.(2): American Home Products –
Manhattan Medicine Co. – Manufacturer



          Before folding into AHP, the Manhattan Medicine Co. (MMC) had its own long and colorful history. MMC’s principal bears a familiar name – John F. Henry (1834-1893) . Readers of the Wells Richardson & Co. column (Sterling Products, Inc. V.1.) will recall that Henry was the hard-charging entrepreneur from Vermont who succeeded Demas Barnes. Barnes was one of the earliest of the patent medicine millionaires who had built a multi-brand national empire just before the Civil War mostly wholesaling potions. In the period just after the Civil War, John F. Henry performed the same function, but with a great deal more emphasis on the retail than the wholesale side of the operation, gathering disparate nostrums into a single centralized mixed operation: in essence, doing what this chronicle is demonstrating AHP did in the retail market between fifty and sixty years later. With all these various medicines to juggle, Henry worked continuously and took chances, failing twice and reorganizing his business, once in 1878 and again in 1887. He also found time to cut a figure in Republican politics throughout the 1870s and 1880s, running and losing for mayor of Brooklyn in 1877 and losing later for a state senate seat as well. He was a prominent enough figure to be profiled in at least one of the Brooklyn civic puff books of the era. That he was a risk taker throughout his life is shown by the colossal size of the judgment entered against his estate in the amount of $382,974 in 1894 after a trial in which it was claimed that he had misappropriated funds as a trustee of the Widows & Orphans’ Benefit Life Insurance Company in 1871. While the trial court held against Henry’s estate, that verdict was never collected, however, because the defense primarily relied on the technical argument that the lawsuit seeking that recovery was not brought in timely fashion, and the highest court in the State of New York, the Court of Appeals, ultimately upheld that legal position in 1897.


          While retaining a stake in the Vermont operations discussed in the Wells Richardson & Co. column, Henry plunged into his New York City ventures by re-styling the Demus Barnes operation as John F. Henry & Co. Concerning the number of products that Henry handled through that company, Holcombe writes: “It would be virtually an endless task to even list the many proprietaries which John F. Henry acquired…. Endless yes – impossible is the better word! The writer has listed well over a hundred and that list is nowhere near complete. Then too, Henry was ‘wholesale agent’ for as many more ….” Interested readers can pursue the philatelic ramification of Henry’s handiwork in Holcombe’s own book, but this article discusses one product that John F. Henry treated so specially that it quickly became the central focus of the new company, MMC, which Henry created in 1874 and for which he ordered private die proprietary stamps separate from those used by John F. Henry & Co.¹



         That product was Atwood’s Bitters, first marketed as Atwood’s Quinine Tonic Bitters and later sold under name variations such as Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters, a name familiar to every bottle collector in the world because of its great variety of shapes and labels which make collecting Atwood’s Bitters bottles seemingly a sub-specialty in itself. This article may help to explain why all these variations occurred, for while John Henry fought for MMC’s right to own and control Atwood’s Bitters entirely, the product had a long, elusive and disputed history that pre-dated his involvement by decades, absorbed his energy for years and out-lasted him by nearly again the length of his life.



          When generally discussing bitters, the starting point must be that a great deal of popularity of all bitters rested on the percentage of alcohol that they contained, for bitters were, even in that day, known and recognized in educated circles to be a coded term for booze. As an 1874 article in Hall’s Journal of Health ranking the potency of popular brands of bitters stated: “while persons are using Bitters as a medicine, and speak of taking ‘nothing but Bitters,’ they are often drinking three times a day a more concentrated form of Alcohol than is found in the purest Whiskies and Brandies…” However, immediately confusing any particular discussion of Atwood’s Bitters is that the article contained two different and separate listings for Atwood’s Bitters: a product called Atwood’s Bitters containing 26% alcohol that ranked fifteenth among thirty-four listed bitters, and another called Atwood’s Tonic Bitters containing 40% that ranked thirty-first among the listed thirty-four. That bitters contain alcohol reveals the reason for the intensity of the fight for Atwood’s Bitters, and that there were two different listings for those very Atwood’s Bitters demonstrates immediately the complexity of the dispute for their ownership and control that raged for forty years.



          Atwood’s Bitters were first marketed in 1840 by one Moses Atwood of Georgetown, MA., a small town north of Boston and east of Lawrence. In his own article about MMC, Holcombe neatly traces the ownership of the Bitters from Atwood to a Vermonter named Alvah Littlefield, who first employed Demas Barnes and his successor Henry as distributors, and whose son allegedly sold the Bitters to Henry in 1877. Wrapping up his very short, tidy article, Holcombe finally noted that the Bitters, which were still being sold in 1935 by the Wyeth Chemical Co. as successors to MMC, still bore the facsimile image of John Henry. While virtually entirely incorrect, this narrative keeps the story Holcombe is telling very simple. Holcombe’s chose as his illustration for this article the facsimile “stamp”² that also appears at the top of this article. The reason this seal serves as the best introduction to both articles is because, beyond clearly showing John Henry’s ownership and control of MMC, as Holcombe states, it was part of every label of Atwood’s Bitters that MMC (as well as its successor, the Wyeth Chemical Co., as AHP’s manufacturing unit) ever produced.



          In actuality, Henry had to buy MMC’s interest in Atwood’s Bitters from a great many different people (although Littlefield was not among them), and his quest to own Atwood’s Bitters began earlier than 1877. The only clear way to explain Henry and MMC’s involvement with Atwood’s Bitters is to examine all the complex and convoluted litigation that surrounded its ownership. Although MMC’s lawsuit raged for eight years and culminated in a decision by the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court, it began in 1875 with a complaint (as all lawsuits do). MMC’s complaint, a thirteen page document, alleged that the firm of Nathan Wood & Son of Portland, ME was engaging in unfair competition because: a) Wood was illegally manufacturing and selling an inferior and unauthorized formulation of Atwood’s Bitters in the same distinctive 12-sided bottles with the same wording molded into the glass bottles and with virtually the same label as MMC was using; b) was doing so with the intent both to defraud the public and to steal business from MMC and; c) by doing so, was benefitting illegally from the vast sums of money that MMC was expending to advertise the Bitters. The lawsuit sought immediate relief in the form of an injunction, pendente lite (during the pendency of the litigation), as well as permanently barring Wood from using the name Atwood’s Bitters or any of the elements of its presentation, such as the formula, the bottle and the label, all of which MMC claimed it owned exclusively, as well as damages in the form of payment by means of an accounting for all of the sales Wood had illegally stolen from MMC by selling its phony Atwood’s Bitters.




          Such complaints as MMC filed were fairly common and standard at the time because the legal field of unfair competition was still in its infancy in the United States. Among patent medicines, when one became popular, it was often shamelessly exploited by all manner of copiers hoping to cash in on the profits while the craze for that particular medicine lasted. U.S. law had to grow to define which ideas and designs were entitle to legal protection against copying and the circumstances under which such protection applied. What spurred the Atwood’s Bitters litigation, however, was a slightly different problem that stemmed from economics rather than simple unfair copying.



           In 1840, a product, like Atwood’s Bitters, began as a local phenomenon in one place, like northeastern Massachusetts, and then spread throughout a region, like New England. The means of transportation before the Civil War just did not provide the means to make the market bigger, unless one was a singular genius like Demas Barnes, who allied himself with a number of different regional pharmacy networks and mediated among them. When Moses Atwood dispensed rights to make and sell his Bitters, he did it by location or customer route. However, by 1875, the nation’s railroads had expanded enough to make the market national and shipping was mechanized enough to offer the prospects of international markets. As John F. Henry struggled to control manufacture of the Bitters, he encountered a list of owners of the Bitters that rivals a list of biblical “begats.” The real problem in his lawsuit became not that people he was suing had illegally copied the Atwood’s Bitters, but rather the issue of whether they owned as much legal rights to manufacture it as he did. The question ultimately boiled down to whether Henry had sufficiently stuffed ownership rights to the Bitters back into the shattered genie’s bottle that Moses Atwood had broken and he was trying to reassemble.


          While the Bitters did begin with one Moses D. Atwood (1810-1892)³ in 1840, Atwood soon brought his father Levi, his brother, Levi F., and son, Moses F., into the business. By 1842, he had also entered into a partnership agreement with a local druggist, Lewis H. Bateman, as well as another individual, George Bingham, a botanist from Atwood’s home state of New Hampshire. Sometime in the 1840s, he also granted his brother and his father the right to manufacture and sell the Bitters in certain areas of Maine. In 1848, he sold to Moses Carter of Georgetown, MA distribution rights to various places in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, provided he supplied the formula Carter sold. In 1852, he and Bingham sold a further interest in the Bitters to Carter and his Carter’s now partner Benjamin S. Dodge, a self-described “farmer” who lived in nearby Rowley MA, three miles away from Georgetown. Carter & Dodge later took in Carter’s son Charles L. Carter as a third partner. Finally, in 1855, Atwood moved West to Iowa after he and Bingham signed a contract conveying all the remainder of their interest to Carter & Dodge, seemingly reserving to Atwood only the right to sell the Bitters west of Illinois, which Atwood apparently never attempted.



          So in 1855, after Atwood sold out, did Carter & Dodge own the Bitters outright? In a word, no. When Carter & Dodge sued Bateman in Massachusetts State Court, in a suit that lasted from 1857 to 1860, to stop him from selling his own Atwood’s Bitters, that Court found that none of the earlier transactions between Atwood, Bingham, Carter and Dodge properly accounted for Bateman’s interest in the Bitters and refused to enjoin Bateman from making and marketing his own Bitters. Yet Carter & Dodge marketed their Bitters for several years, while Batemen, whom the Massachusetts Court found had actually received the recipe for the Bitters from Atwood, made little attempt to exploit it, particularly while Carter & Dodge were suing him.



          When Dodge dropped out of Carter & Dodge in 1858, the business continued as M. Carter & Son, with Moses Carter and Charles L. Carter as the principals. Later another son, Luther F. Carter, joined his father and brother. Then the business name became M. Carter & Sons, when Charles L. Carter left the business and his brother, M. Frank Carter, joined it. The business returned to the name M. Carter & Son after Moses Carter, the father, died in 1870, and a year later, Luther F. Carter bought out his brother M. Frank. Apparently many of the bottle variations of Atwood’s Bitters arise from the changing nature of the Carter’s ownership of the Bitters. While the testimony and circumstances are murky, the Carters, and those who claimed their interest in the Bitters through the Carters, also seem to have been responsible for there existing two different strength Bitters, one of which wholesaled for about $15 to $16 per gross of bottles (144) and the other of which retailed for $27 per gross.


          In the meantime, after Dodge left Carter & Dodge, he manufactured his own Atwood’s Bitters in Rowley MA using Atwood labels for about five years, while also, in 1867, selling the right to manufacture the Bitters for five years to William B. Dorman another drug store owner in Georgetown MA. Before that term ended, Dodge sold a further right to manufacture the Bitters to Noyes & Manning, a pharmacy located in Mystic CT.


          Along with all these manufacturers, in the late 1850s, Moses F. Atwood, the son of Moses D. Atwood, returned from the West to Massachusetts and began making the Bitters again, this time with Bateman, who issued a circular asserting his right of ownership to the Bitters. Bateman continued to market these Bitters as Atwood’s Bitters until his death in 1871 and his son, also Lewis H. Bateman, continued to do so after his death. The only distinguishing mark between the various Carter permutations of Atwood’s Bitters and Bateman’s Atwood’s Bitters was that Bateman printed his own facsimile signature instead of Moses Atwood’s across the label to verify the medicine. However, in 1861, Moses F. Atwood sold his interest in the Bitters to Nathan Wood, who became the defendant in MMC’s 1875 lawsuit. Atwood then went off to fight in the Civil War, where he created a distinguished record. While he and his father had careers in the West that stretched on for several decades, the Atwoods drop out of the Bitters ownership record after 1861. Although one witness in the MMC litigation went so far as to claim that there were six different Atwood’s Bitters being sold at the same time, the record demonstrated there were at least three varieties of the Moses Atwood’s Bitters known and recognized in the trade: Carter’s, Bateman’s and Noyes & Manning’s (which were known as Mystic Atwood’s Bitters after Noyes & Manning’s location).         


          Now John F. Henry was no fool and MMC did not commence its lawsuit against Wood lightly. Knowing that the ownership of Atwood’s Bitters had been splintered over the years, MMC had assembled its interest in the Bitters quite carefully. In its lawsuit, it presented to the court contracts of sale showing that it had purchased individually the manufacturing rights to the Bitters from no less than a dozen separate people; 1) the four heirs of Lewis H. Bateman Sr. whose rights the Massachusetts Court had earlier found Carter & Dodge had never controlled; 2) Moses Carter’s former partner, Benjamin S. Dodge and his assignee William B. Dorman; 3) Dodge’s other assignee Noyes & Manning, as well as Noyes and Manning individually; 4) Moses Carter’s successor in business, Luther F. Carter and his sometime business partner, his brother, M. Frank Carter; and 5) separately, the other potential Carter successors, Charles L. Carter and the two other children who were the remaining heirs of Moses Carter.



          Since MMC had bought up the all the rights that Carter and his family had held, plus the rights that Dodge had held and transmitted to others as well as the Bateman rights that Carter & Dodge had never held, MMC’s felt it owned all the legitimate interests that Moses Atwood had transmitted. Henry could show his ownership of Carter’s, Bateman’s and the Mystic Bitters. He had put the ownership genie back into his own bottle. To further bolster his claim, he even obtained all the way from Iowa the affidavit of Moses D. Atwood himself swearing that Bateman’s circular claiming ownership to the formula was a fraud and further affirming that he had conveyed the Bitters formula to Carter & Dodge in 1852 and the rest of his territorial rights to them in 1855. MMC’s contention in the litigation was that Nathan Wood had purchased his rights to the Bitters from the one person who never had held an ownership interest to sell, Moses F. Atwood, Moses D.’s son. Certainly, it conceded Moses F. had been employed both by his father and by Bateman at different times, but that mere employment conveyed upon him no ownership status in the Bitters themselves. Having purchased the rights to manufacture the Bitters from all these disparate parties, surely, MMC had gathered to itself sufficient ownership rights to claim that Wood was an interloper who had purchased from the one party not authorized to sell to him.



          The federal District Court in Maine gave careful consideration to all of the ownership interests, but weighed them quite differently than MMC. Pointing to the glaring fact that Moses D. Atwood had chipped off a piece of the ownership of the Bitters way back at the beginning for his father Levi and his brother, Levi F. Atwood in the 1840s, the District Court held simply that MMC had never obtained complete ownership of Atwood’s Bitters, and, lacking that complete ownership, found that MMC could not maintain that it had the exclusive control of formula, bottle and label it was claiming Wood’s use had infringed. Oddly, all parties to the litigation, seemingly even MMC, agreed that: 1) Moses Atwood had conveyed to his father and brother ownership interests in the Bitters; 2) Levi F. Atwood had sold his ownership interest to H. H. Hay of Portland, Maine; and 3) Hay was selling another brand of Bitters called L. F. Atwood’s Bitters in Maine all through the period. In fact, while the Court never mentioned it, the testimony of some of the witnesses showed that, prior to commencing the litigation, MMC had tried and failed to buy Hay’s interest even before trying and failing to buy Wood’s interest as well. Apparently after failing at buying these remaining potential interests in the Bitters, when it commenced its litigation against Woods, MMC argued that it simply did not regard Hay’s L. F. Atwood’s Bitters as unfairly or illegally competing with the Moses Atwood’s Bitters because Hay’s packaging and labeling were, and always had been, distinct from that used by MMC and all its predecessors. Moreover, in their pricing guides for retail druggists, trade journals listed at least these two Bitters as separate and distinct from one another and obtainable respectively from MMC and from H. H. Hay & Co. The Court implicitly found that argument to be nonsensical legal hair splitting, ruling that exclusive control over the formula, bottle and label for Atwood’s Bitters followed only from complete ownership of them.







          In addition – to add insult to injury – the Court found that since MMC and the other successors to Moses Atwood were not him, that singular right to claim on the bottle, packaging and label that the Bitters were prepared and sold by Moses Atwood of Georgetown MA – which Atwood alone had possessed – had long since dissipated as the manufacturing rights had been handed around among all the subsequent owners. Thus, the Court further ruled that MMC, whose factory was in New York City, simply had no right to even ask the Court to use its power to protect MMC’s bottle, label and packaging that explicitly represented that the Bitters were made by Moses Atwood of Georgetown, MA because that claim constituted a misrepresentation upon the public by MMC that the Court would neither countenance nor perpetuate.



          The Supreme Court did not even trouble itself to review the whole ownership issue in detail. It found the District Court’s second reason sufficient to uphold the District Court’s ruling. It reasoned the party that stood before the Court asking for its help was MMC. After noting the extraordinary value that all parties placed on the designation of the Bitters as being prepared and sold by Moses Atwood of Georgetown MA, the Supreme Court responded: “It is not honest to state that a medicine is manufactured by Moses Atwood of Georgetown, Massachusetts when it is manufactured by Manhattan Medicine Company in the City of New York.” This curt ruling was followed by pages of quotes and citations of mostly English cases illustrating the wisdom of this ruling, and, although that position undoubtedly represents a correct legal principle about unfair trade practice, it reflects a narrow and pedantic view of the manner in which advertising and commerce were developing in the U.S. after the Civil War. After that ruling all of the interested parties revised their labels and bottles to more correctly reflect the name of the manufacturer and the place of origin of their particular product, but none of the parties discontinued their sales of Atwood’s Bitters. MMC just changed the wording on the bottle to “formerly made by Moses Atwood of Georgetown, MA.”


          Even without the help of the courts, MMC still sought to stop Nathan Wood & Son from selling Atwood’s Bitters. It persisted in asserting its exclusive right to advertise that its product was the true Bitters originally prepared by Moses Atwood of Georgetown, MA. In 1889, the National Wholesale Druggists Association (NWDA) adopted an internal dispute resolution mechanism for proprietors of patent medicines who felt their trademarks were being infringed. The NWDA authorized an internal commission to hear and rule upon such claims of improper infringement. While the NWDA recognized that the tribunal had no binding legal power, since the NWDA noted that 90% of all patent medicines sold in the US were purchased by its members, and members agreed not to purchase goods from infringers, the NWDA believed it could exercise its great “moral power” to dispose of such claims without the time and expense of litigation. The 1890 report on the activities of this commission included the following terse statement:

          Compared with the energy the proprietors spent fighting over the right to exploit the Bitters, the remainder of the history of the Bitters is almost anti-climatic. MMC retained the right to produce Atwood’s Bitters until its sale to AHP in 1929. Holcombe confirms that the Wyeth Chemical Co. division of AHP was still manufacturing them in 1935.*  L. F. Atwood’s Bitters, the Bitters that MMC had treated in its litigation as non-competitive, continued to be manufactured by H. H. Hay & Co. until approximately 1915 and one source claims were still being manufactured and sold by another bitters company, Lash’s Bitters Co., as late as 1925.†  Nathan Wood & Son was still in business in 1925 as well, but the products it was then known for were flavoring extracts. Perhaps the ruling by the NWDA commission in 1890 had been more persuasive than the courts in finally stopping its manufacture of Atwood’s Bitters. Yet there seemed to be enough of a market, even after the advent of Prohibition in 1920, to attract AHP to the market for medicinal alcohol in the form of bitters.




          The real mystery is what happened to MMC itself after John F. Henry died in 1893. It soon closed its offices in Manhattan, but continued to exist, really without substance, until its sale to AHP in 1929. The best explanation for MMC’s virtual disappearance appears to be as follows: John F. Henry had a younger brother, Frank S. (1846-1914), who had worked with him as his “jobber,” (traveling sales representative), for more than fifteen years after the Civil War, visiting every state in the United States and even journeying as far as the Hawaii, Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand on behalf of his brother, before leaving to cut his own figure as a jobber for another old New York City firm, Hall & Ruckel (H & R). that had done business largely in the wholesale drug trade (and which will some day get its own column as well). When John F. Henry died, Frank appears to have arranged for H & R to take control of the marketing and manufacture of all of John F. Henry’s products, including Atwood’s Bitters. Shortly thereafter, in 1895, just after the death of its own founder, William H. Hall, H & R reorganized its operations and became solely a manufacturer and proprietor of patent medicines (of which it had a number of best sellers itself) while selling its wholesale operation to a recently founded company, C. G. Bacon & Co. While Frank Henry chose to move to the Bacon company to continue as a jobber (and later went on the become the founder of yet another patent medicine company in Cleveland that someday will find itself profiled in this column), he seems to have entrusted his brother’s legacy to H & R’s care. Up until 1913, it was listed in a trade journals as the proprietor of Atwood’s Bitters, and during the same period, it was applying in the United States Treasury Department to collect authorized rebates on customs duties charged on imported alcohol used in their manufacture. As will be discussed fully in its own column at some subsequent future time, H & R remained an independent company throughout the first half of the Twentieth Century, but for this article’s purposes, it is enough to say that Atwood’s Bitters did not remain with it.


          Beginning in 1914 (coincidently the same year as the death of John F. Henry’s brother Frank), another company began to make the applications for the alcohol rebates in connection with the manufacture of Atwood’s Bitters. It was none other than O. H. Jadwin & Sons, and, by 1922 (possibly because H & R itself was under second generation leadership), Jadwin had supplanted H & R in the trade journal listings as the agent for Atwood’s Bitters and the other former MMC products. Yet the shares representing MMC’s ownership of Atwood’s Bitters and these other products must have remained in the hands of John F. Henry’s heirs, for AHP purchased, not an operating factory that was producing goods, but rather MMC’s capital stock, and with it the right to produce Atwood’s Bitters. AHP’s founders, particularly Jadwin and the advertising man Murray, must have been very persuasive that they were the best management to keep Atwood’s Bitters and the other MMC products popular because, as with so many other companies examined in prior articles, once MMC’s products were handled by Jadwin, MMC seems to have spiraled inevitably and ultimately toward absorption into AHP.  By 1935, as Holcombe reported, Atwood’s Bitters were being produced by AHP’s Wyeth Chemical Co., but still bearing the portrait of John F. Henry.




¹           In his article about MMC, Holcombe describes, but never illustrates, its private die proprietary stamps and admits that the portrait in the center of the stamps is unidentified. Sadly, almost 100 years later, the portrait still is unidentified.


²           A non-monetized seal closely resembling the design of Civil War private die proprietary stamps that manufacturers employed after the tax was discontinued because they wished customers to continue to identify such “stamps” with the products since people had come to assume the tax stamp was part of the packaging of the medicines

³          See how one writer sought to identify the proper Moses Atwood in a thoughtful article at Meyer, Ferdinand “Moses Atwood – Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters – Georgetown MA.” Peachtree Glass. 2 Apr 2018. peachtreeglass.com//2018/04/moses-atwood-atwood’s-jaundice-bitters-georgetown-MA



∗          Other extant bottles confirm that AHP at some later point transferred manufacture of the Bitters to its Whitehall Pharmacal Co. division, and a 1948 trade listing indicates that they are available from that company. They ultimately became known as Atwood’s Jannaice Laxative, “jannaice” being a term registered as a trademark by MMC in 1929 (although appearing on seemingly earlier labels and bottles and presumably used earlier by it, Hall & Ruckel or O. H. Jadwin & Sons, possibly as a more medically innocuous term than “jaundice”). Registration of the jannaice trademark was transferred by MMC to Whitehall Pharmacal Co. in 1949.

†        Possibly AHP was finally able to accomplish what John F. Henry was unable to do by either purchase or litigation because among the Atwood’s Bitters bottles there is one whose label reads “L. F. Atwood – none genuine without the signature” followed by “Wyeth Chemical Co, Distributor” listing its New York City office address. That combination would indicate that AHP, without fanfare or even public notice, had brought the L.F. Atwood interest back together with the Moses Atwood interest and finished repairing Moses Atwood’s smashed genie bottle of Bitters ownership.

©  Malcolm A. Goldstein 2020



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