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


A, Companies, S, W

Sterling Products Inc. (VI.1.b.(1)) – AHP – John Wyeth & Brother

Sterling Products, Inc., Manufacturer
Chapter 6.1.b.(1): American Home Products –
John Wyeth & Brother – Manufacturer











          Of all the companies digested by American Home Products (“AHP”) over the years, John Wyeth & Brother, Inc. (“JW&B”) – formally absorbed by AHP in 1931 – had the most lasting impact. However, before proceeding further with any discussion of JW&B, a disclaimer is required. Research demonstrates that JW&B and the Wyeth Chemical Co. discussed in the last chapter as one of the original AHP companies, although both founded by individuals named John Wyeth, were completely different entities created by seemingly unrelated John Wyeths. Most of the articles written about AHP do not make this distinction clear or leave unexplained any blurry references to Wyeth before AHP’s acquisition of JW&B, and even the noted philatelist and writer on pharmaceutical packaging and labels, George Griffenhagen, conflates JW&B and Wyeth Chemical Co. in his History of Drug Containers and Their Labels. While it seems more than purely accidental that both of these particular John Wyeths were involved in drug businesses, the difficulty – as with the confusion about the identity of Charles H. Phillips – may lie entirely in the commonality of the name. To stir the pot more, a third John Wyeth living at the same time as the other two, John Allan Wyeth, was significant historical personality as well. This John Wyeth was a first cousin of the founder of JW&B, and not only a Confederate veteran and biographer of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest (presently back in the news for his role after the Civil War as the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan), but also a noted surgeon and founder of an important hospital in New York City.







              The reason it is fair to say that JW&B made such an impression on AHP is that AHP preserved JW&B’s name and prolonged its reputation for excellence as a manufacturer of ethical drugs for doctors throughout its corporate history. In 2002, more than seventy years after JW&B’s acquisition, when AHP slimmed its corporate profile by disposing of its many and varied non-medicinal businesses, shed its anonymity and sought to re-create itself as a progressive pharmaceutical company, it transformed itself into Wyeth, LLP. However, its period as a forward-looking drug company was short-lived, for Wyeth was swallowed in 2009 by yet another gargantuan survivor from the patent medicine era, Pfizer, Inc., formerly Charles Pfizer & Co. (another company that will get its own column in the future). Of course, to finish the list of takeovers – and close the circle in a way – in 2018 Pfizer merged into the colossus GlaxoSmithKline, another gigantic company built up from JW&B’s Philadelphia neighbor and competitor, Smith, Kline & French Co. (which will also get its own column).





          JW&B began life as a retail drug store in Philadelphia, PA. The JW part of JW&B was John Wyeth (1834-1907) and the B part was his brother, Francis H. “Frank” Wyeth (1836-1913). They were born in Harrisburg, PA and their father and grandfather were newspapermen and book sellers. The younger Wyeths were both graduates of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (“PCP”), and John was considered a particularly bright student. After graduating in 1854, he apprenticed in the drug trade by clerking for Henry C. Blair, a older pharmacist and a third PCP graduate who had established his store in Philadelphia in 1838. Blair and John Wyeth became partners in the firm of Blair & Wyeth in 1858, with Frank acting as chief clerk for them. Although all the histories of both JW&B and AHP report that JW&B started operation in 1860, the formal announcement of its being in business at its own location appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper on July 1, 1861, the same day the former partnership between Henry Blair and John Wyeth was dissolved by another notice in the same newspaper.




          The standard histories of JW&B all stress that the retail business of the Wyeths did well and very soon grew a manufacturing component as doctors came to trust the preparations they compounded in their facility, particularly American elixirs, which were combinations of drugs mixed with sugar, alcohol and flavoring to cover the bad taste of the medicine (European elixirs of the time did not normally include sugar). It cannot be questioned that the quality of JW&B’s merchandise was unusually good, but there was at least one other factor that played a part in JW&B’s success: John Wyeth’s relationship with Thomas A. Scott (1823-1881), a pre-eminent railroad investor of the Nineteenth Century and one of Pennsylvania’s “robber barons.”



          Already the youthful First Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1860 – at that time possibly the largest corporations in the world – Thomas Scott soon became Assistant Secretary of War under his personal friend, fellow Pennsylvanian Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s first Secretary of War. When Lincoln was forced to remove Cameron and send him into exile as Minister to Russia because of charges of corruption lodged against him, Scott was tarred by the same brush. An article in the New York Times in 1862 stated that the evidence produced by a Congressional Committee against both Cameron and Scott was “not complimentary” and further that “if after examining the testimony, the reader has any hesitation in believing the two conspired to make the public service subsidiary to their private advantage, his incredulity will be incredible.” Yet Scott managed to hang on at the War Department and proved to be extremely able in organizing both its telegraph system and its use of railroads. Despite congressional scrutiny, it would appear that from his War Department position, Scott was able to steer supply contracts to his colleagues, and, by 1864, JW&B was selling medicine and beef extract to the Union Army. In fact, instead of tending to his own flourishing drug business, John Wyeth, as Scott’s agent, appears to have spent much of 1864 in California and Arizona leading a party of some twenty Pennsylvanians investigating mining and possible oil drilling sites for Scott to invest in while Scott remained at the War Department in Washington shifting troops over the railways to aid the Union war effort. Moreover, all these years later there is still a hint of scandal lingering about Wyeth’s expedition.


          The upshot of Wyeth’s journey was that Scott and others shifted funds from potentially profitable mining ventures in northwestern Arizona to a very early disastrous investment in the oil fields of Southern California. The shift was made on the explicit recommendation of Scott’s geology expert, Yale University Professor of Chemistry Benjamin Silliman, Jr., (1816-1885), the man whose ideas about fractional distillation of petroleum made oil drilling into a profitable industry, whom Scott had specifically hired and sent with Wyeth to assess the lands themselves. It subsequently transpired, however, that Silliman’s report was based on soil samples fraudulently enriched with oil transmitted from California through Wyeth to Silliman. When others later attacked Silliman’s findings as overly optimistic after oil drilling operations proved unsuccessful, Silliman was blamed for the mistake and his reputation greatly diminished.¹ In recounting the story of the 1864 expedition, one author² at least briefly considered whether Wyeth himself might have doctored the samples to boost sales of shares in the companies organized to exploit Silliman’s oil finds. After noting that Wyeth was on record as desiring separate scientific reports for each tract of land the investors were acquiring – an attitude hardly compatible with the kind of fraud that ensnared Silliman – the author concluded that shadier characters in California who had more to gain than Wyeth probably doctored the samples they sent East.  Perhaps this venture, and the uproar it caused, cured Wyeth of the speculation bug, for, while there is a record of at least one later West Virginia oil and coal company that both Scott and Wyeth held shares in, Wyeth was never mentioned again as acting as Scott’s agent.³ Scott was a very private man and left so few records of his dealings that the complete nature and extent of the connection between Scott and Wyeth is difficult to now illuminate. Yet, in the New York Times obituary of John Wyeth written more than forty years after these events there was a cryptic one sentence reference to the relationship: “In early manhood, Mr. Wyeth was associated with Thomas Scott in transportation activities.”



          Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the Wyeths took in Edward T. Dobbins, another PCP graduate, as a third partner, and sold to one Frank Morgan their retail business, which remained in the same location, as they continued to expand their laboratory capacities. Dobbins proved an excellent salesman as well, and he did much to establish JW&B’s reputation in the trade as among the finest and most reliable pharmaceutical manufacturers. In 1872, a JW&B employee named Henry Bower, yet another graduate of PCP, invented a mechanical rotary tablet press that produced pills in bulk that were uniform in shape, size and dosage. This invention, when combined with Wyeth’s palatable and presentable elixirs, ushered in the age of “elegant pharmacy,” a term always associated with JW&B, which placed particular emphasis on the appearance, style and packaging of the medicine itself, and in 1874, JW&B trademarked the term “compressed tablet” to signify the neat new format in which they could present what had previously been known as old-fashioned medicinal “powders.” As JW&B grew, John Wyeth followed his family’s interest in newspapers and bought control of the Philadelphia Record. Unlike most of the other patent medicine mandarins, he was a Democrat, probably because of his association with Thomas A. Scott.


* * * * *



               In 1889 JW&B survived a devastating fire that began in Morgan’s retail store and not only wiped out that store but also the remainder of the entire block which had become JW&B’s manufacturing complex. John Wyeth estimated the loss at over a half a million dollars excluding the value of his advanced tablet making machinery. Within months, however, JW&B re-opened with a greatly expanded laboratory in a new location. In 1894, the business was well enough grounded financially to resist the icy blast it took in the industry trade journals from Philadelphia retail druggists, including Henry Blair, Jr. son of John Wyeth’s former partner, for selling their goods directly to the public in John Wanamaker’s retail department store (another canceller of battleship revenue stamps along with Blair, both of whom will some day get their due in this column) in direct competition with those Philadelphia druggists. In 1899, the partnership incorporated, a change reflected in the cancel they placed on their battleship revenue stamps. At the turn of the new century, the first generation of JW&B’s leadership began to die off, first Dobbins in 1906 and then John Wyeth in 1907.













          The rest of JW&B’s history as an independent entity is typical of a two-generational family business. John Wyeth was succeeded as president of the company by his son Stuart (1862-1929), a lawyer, who had joined the company in 1893 after graduating from Harvard in 1884 and University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1887. Frank Wyeth’s son, Maxwell (1866-1936), a pharmacist, followed his father into the family business after graduating from Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in 1888, and became vice-president in 1908 when his father retired. However, unlike the brothers John and Frank, the cousins, Stuart and Maxwell – coming from such different backgrounds and life experience – did not get along well, and Maxwell left JW&B when his father died in 1913, although he remained on the board of the company. Stuart, a life-long bachelor, led a conventional rich scion’s life, complete with trips to Paris and a large yacht, but lacked his father’s gifts for novelty and innovation that had made JW&B stand out during the first generation’s era. When he died on New Year’s Eve 1929, he left his 55% stock ownership, representing the controlling interest of JW&B, not to his cousin Maxwell, but rather to his alma mater, Harvard University. While another Wyeth cousin actually attempted to set aside Stuart’s will and gain custody of some of the estate left to Harvard, its Trustees lost no time in selling JW&B to AHP in 1931 for $2.9 million. Stuart Wyeth is remembered primarily as a generous benefactor of Harvard, while the Wyeth name has always been identified with quality pharmaceutical goods.














          Because of the enormous volume of its cancels that still circulate in the marketplace today, it is fair to say that JW&B has had an impact in philatelic circles separate and apart from its importance as a pharmaceutical company. While JW&B never cashed in on the publicity value of printing its own private die proprietary stamp, it cancelled the Civil War tax period government revenue issues distinctively and vigorously on all the values and types of paper and perforation that those issues provided.



          JW&B’s Spanish-American War printed cancels – although minutely dissected by Chappell and Joyce into eight separate and distinct types determined by tiny differences in type face and spacing patterns – are more easily rounded into the categories divided by the text of the cancel itself, which combined the company’s initial with: year alone; month and year; month day and year; month, day and year with the added acknowledgment of the company’s incorporation (which took place in the fall of 1899). Each change in the cancellation pattern reflects the government’s tightening of the regulation to pinpoint more accurately the date on which the tax became payable.  Handstamped cancels, while doted upon by specialists, are dismissed by the philatelic cancel compendium assemblers and dealers as being too random and too chancy numerically to settle into an order that they might regularize or perhaps even monetize.



          The anomaly among JW&B’s printed cancels is its full early cancel of June 29, 1898, which by some strange quirk pre-dates the imposition of the tax itself by two days. Among Spanish-American War revenue stamps, it is the earliest recorded cancel and, because it is printed, must have been done in hindsight, since the stamps themselves were not readily available on July 1, 1898, the date the tax took effect. JW&B was a large and significant enough player in the industry to have a representative present in Washington on July 1, 1898 to serve on the committee of wholesale druggists organized by the industry to assist N. B. Scott, Commissioner of Internal Revenue, in his administration of the Revenue Act of 1898 by helping him to determine which substances packaged in what form should be taxed. Perhaps the full cancel was done by JW&B as an expression of patriotic fervor at or near the beginning of the war to demonstrate how the government ought to have mandated the cancels be done correctly from the beginning. In any event, the government did ultimately amend its regulation to require that the full date appear as part of the cancel.














          The abundance of JW&B cancels features the same kind of varieties that the Wells Richardson & Co. cancels show. Unlike that group of cancels, the JW&B cancels apparently come in only two ink colors, black and red, but, similar to that group, these inks were sometimes applied to the same style of cancel on the same date. Once full date cancels were required, judging from the date intervals, the company required fresh supplies of stamps at least two or three times every month to keep pace with its production. JW&B’s printer was generally consistent in its printing, but occasionally an inverted cancel error does show up.  Neither of the two inverted cancels illustrated above is listed in the authoratative Chappell/Joyce cancel compendium, which either proves that modern resources bring more examples to light, or marks them both as modern creations designed to mislead the folks who create such compendiums.







* * * * *



          JW&B continued to have a flourishing business during the World War I period when the tax on patent medicines was again imposed. However, there is room for great controversy over how JW&B stamped its products at this time because no philatelist has ever identified a standardized cancel for JW&B on either the 1914 or 1919 issues of government proprietary revenue issue stamps. There is no definitive guide to cancels on the 1919 issue of government proprietary revenue issues and the current guide to proprietary cancels on the 1914 government issue suggests that the cancel here offered as belonging to JW&B belonged to a “James Wyeth” doing business at the Wyeth Chemical Co.’s address in New Jersey. This listing is simply incorrect, but even accepting that the cancel actually was made by JW&B, it is only a handstamped cancel. A company as prominent as JW&B ought to have had a printed cancel during the period of the 1914 cancel as well. At least the proposed cancel fits well with the 1919 issue, although it does not harmonize with a later category of stamps bearing the familiar JW&B cancel.







          The other category of stamps that JW&B cancelled – now back to using its familiar pattern of the company’s initials – was narcotic stamps. The passage of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914 segregated narcotics – opiates and products of the coca plant species – for separate regulation from other kinds of drugs and medicines, both proprietary and ethical. The Revenue Act of 1918 sharpened the language of that 1914 Act and, effective February 25, 1919, brought about a separate category of revenue stamps to indicate payment of the narcotics tax. For the first few months, regular revenue stamps otherwise used to tax documents were overprinted for use as narcotics stamps, and there are numerous examples of the JW&B cancel applied to such stamps. By the end of the year, separate designs were issued for narcotic stamps and JW&B abundantly cancelled those stamps as well. The government continued to require the separate payment of the narcotics tax by the cancellation of distinctive narcotics stamps until 1971. In 1963, JW&B, by then known as Wyeth Laboratories, apparently was influential enough to persuade the government to issue the last narcotic revenue stamp, which was designed specifically to accommodate a new size of dosage tubing it was then using to market its narcotics.


1895 “ELEGANT” & 1896 TRADE ADS

          As with the article on Wells Richardson & Co., this history of JW&B cannot close without some recognition of the sheer volume of material that it generated over the years to advertise its products.
















          As it began to advertise to the public as well as to the trade, JW&B (as other companies likewise did ) engaged in more exuberant forms of advertising. Perhaps the most striking set of ads it produced was a series called “Pioneers of American Medicine” in the early 1940s. The company commissioned American artist Dean Cornwell (1892-1960), an illustrator and muralist, to paint scenes of medical advances made by American doctors. These paintings were then used in all sorts of advertising for JW&B products as well as offered as a set of prints suitable for framing and mounting by doctors.







1          Decades later, when oil drilling and refining techniques had improved, Silliman’s favorable opinions were finally vindicated and the Southern California oil fields boomed.

2          White, Gerald T. “‘The Case of the Salted Sample: A California Oil Industry Skeleton.’” Pacific Historical Review, University of California Press, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3636679

3          Scott, however, remained a significant player in American finance and politics for another fifteen years. He was involved in high-stakes railroad investing all over the country and in the early 1870s even served a year as President of the Union Pacific Railroad, then the first and only transcontinental railroad. Later in the 1870s, he ascended to the Presidency of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Through his design to create a Southern transcontinental railroad, he may well have played a behind-the-scenes role as a Democratic negotiator in the Compromise of 1877, which made the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes President of the United States rather than the Democrat Samuel Tilden who had won the popular vote. That same year, speaking as President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, he earned his reputation as a “robber baron” by suggesting that railroad workers striking to protest unilateral reductions in wages and working conditions imposed by all major rail employers acting in concert, in what became known as the Great Strike of 1877, be given a “diet of rifles” rather than bread and by persuading President Hayes to use federal troops to break the strike.

©     Malcolm A. Goldstein 2020





THE ABBOTTS: Abbott Alkaloidal Co



Three different groups of Abbott cancels appear on the battleship proprietary stamps. They belong to the Abbott Alkaloidal Company headquartered in Chicago, IL, the C. W. Abbott Company based in Baltimore, MD, and Abbott’s Menthol Plaster Co of Worcester, MA and later Boston. While these companies shared the name Abbott, they occupied different niches in the drug, patent medicine and nostrum businesses and ultimately developed along very different paths. Abbott Alkaloidal Co flourished and grew into the giant Abbott Laboratories, still a massive player in the current pharmaceutical industry, although itself charting a new course as of January 1, 2013.



C W Abbott Co manufactured one significant product – Abbott’s Bitters, a special type of medicinal digestive aid. This brand was so distinctive and so alluring that it ultimately shed its medicinal origins and, in the subsequent Jazz Era, became the mixer of choice for Manhattan cocktails, assuring that it would remain a topic of interest among mixed drink connoisseurs into our own time. However, any discussion of the C W Abbott Company would be incomplete unless it explored its great rivalry with J W Wuppermann, for these two companies clashed bitterly and incessantly for a quarter century over the manufacture and sale of a certain kind of bitters – angostura bitters – so Wuppermann is here treated as an honorary “Abbott” to provide the full picture.

AbbottCW-2-RB26-1899-09-09      SiegertDrJ-2-RB28(WuppermannJW)



Abbott’s Menthol Plaster Company seems to have done a steady business through the heyday of great Patent Medicine Era in the 1890s and early 1900s, and then seemingly disappeared entirely.






AbbottAlkaloidalCo-2-RB23-1899-01-18-hs      AbbottAlkaloidalCo-2-RB23-1899-08-23-hs(exOrton)

AbbottAlkaloidalCo-2-RB25-1900-05-15-hs     AbbottAlkaloidalCo-2-RB25-1900-06-20-hs



AbbottAlkaloidalCo-2-RB20-1898-08-09-p(exOrton)    AbbottAlkaloidalCo-2-RB21-1898-07-27-p     AbbottAlkaloidalCo-2-RB22-1898-08-09-pAbbottAlkaloidalCo-2-RB24-1897-08-27-p     AbbottAlkaloidalCo-2-RB25-1898-09-15-p(exOrton)




          Wallace Calvin Abbott was a physician and owner of the People’s Drug Store in Chicago who began his business career marketing Dr Abbott’s Tooth Ache Drops. He was born in Bridgewater, VT in 1857, studied at St Johnsbury College and Dartmouth, and graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1885. According to the historical time line section of Abbott Laboratories’ website, he first prepared ” ‘dosimetric granules’ in the apartment” above his drugstore about 1888. This pharmacological innovation was a process for distilling potentially poisonous and addictive liquid pain killing drugs such as codeine, morphine, quinine and strychnine, all derived from alkaloid compounds, into solid form. Distillation both obviated spoilage of the precious drugs and made their dissemination in the form of measured pill dosages both predictable and accurate. To exploit his new process, he established the Abbott Alkaloidal Co in 1888.  By 1891, his venture had made him comfortable enough to build a Queen Anne style home located in the Ravenswood section of Chicago.



This house – re-purchased by the company in 1977 – still stands and was designated a historic landmark by Chicago in 2006. After the company incorporated in 1900, Dr Abbott himself, according to the company’s website, lived the life of a beloved eccentric, preferring to practice medicine and make house calls on his bicycle rather than laboring in the corporate boardroom.



In 1904, Dr Alfred S. Burdick joined Abbott, and he soon took on many of the administrative duties, ultimately succeeding Abbott as President of the Company. Abbott lived until 1921, long enough for the company to change its name in 1915 to Abbott Laboratories and to break ground for its first suburban office complex.



While he died a wealthy man, in an age of conspicuous ostentation, he seems to have lived relatively modestly, holding to both the Methodist faith and Republican views of the well-to-do of his era.

Abbott’s quiet and stable marriage to Clara Augusta Ingraham in 1886 yielded one daughter, Eleanor, born in 1899. She, in turn, graduated from Northwestern in 1922 and later must have persuaded her mother’s charitable foundation, established after her mother’s death, also in 1921, to make a million and a half dollar donation to Northwestern. While the gift was earmarked to stimulate the study of medical, chemical and surgical sciences, with the Foundation’s permission, the trustees of the school instead erected and dedicated in 1940 a dormitory called Abbott Hall in honor of Wallace and Clara, using the profits from room rental to fulfill the original grant purposes. During World War II, Abbott Hall housed the Navy’s Midshipmen Training School, whose most famous graduate was President John F Kennedy. Northwestern now uses Abbott Hall for graduate student housing. The Clara Abbott Foundation still exists to provide financial assistance and guidance to Abbott employees, retirees and their dependents. Eleanor married one Rollin Ford, who seems to have began his career as a chauffeur for Abbott Laboratories and was serving as the director of a gym facility for the Ravenswood Methodist Church at the time he and Eleanor met. She lived until 1960 and their estates apparently largely benefitted YMCA facilities, including a YMCA camp still functioning in Ryerson, MI where their son, a pilot killed in a military accident, had been a counselor. Eleanor Abbott Ford was a patroness of the arts and her name is memorialized on an arts center dedicated at Knox College in Galesberg, IL in 1964.





          The business of Abbott Laboratories continued to prosper. In 1907 it fielded its first sales force of seven representatives, and by 1910, it had offices in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto, with a London agent representing its European interests, and business interests in India.

AbbottAlkaloidalCo-10-1RV      AbbottAlkaloidalCo-10-2RV




During World War I, it purchased from the Alien Property Custodian of the United States government patents and trademarks formerly held by German companies, and used these rights to manufacture drugs formerly produced by these German companies and their United States subsidiaries for the United States market, as well as inventing some important substitute compounds. Between the wars, the company became a publically held corporation by selling stock on the Chicago Stock Exchange in 1929.



In this period, its major innovations were introducing Nembutal, an important anaesthetic, as well as Sodium Pentothal, commonly thought of as “truth serum.”



During World War II, it became a key producer of penicillin. In 1952, it introduced Erythrocin, an important antibiotic. In the latter part of the Twentieth Century, among other activities, it produced the cyclamate Sucaryl, a sugar substitute banned as a carcinogen in 1969; marketed Similac, an infant’s dietary supplement as well as Ensure, an “adult” nutritional supplement; engaged in AIDS research, ultimately developing the first AIDS diagnostic test; and, in the 1990s, developed Prevacid, still today touted endlessly on television as the answer to heartburn (although no longer owned or controlled by Abbott Laboratories), all the time growing larger through various mergers.

In 2009, Abbott lost a legal case, Abbott v. Sandoz, in which a national federal appellate court cleared up conflicting rulings by various other federal courts and made a significant ruling concerning a modern form of patents, called a “process patent,” that a second drug company that develops, through an admittedly different manufacturing process, the same formula as a patented drug does not infringe the first drug company’s patent, since the manufacturing process, if described in the patent (thus making it a “process patent”), is self-limiting to the process described.

AbbottAlkaloidalCo-4a-1959-2a(ALaboratories)      AbbottAlkaloidalCo-4a-1959-2b(ALaboratories)


          On January 1, 2013, Abbott, although a company boasting annual revenues exceeding $38 million and 90,000 employees, voluntarily spun off a portion of its business into a new company, AbbVie, claiming the new configuration could better exploit changing market conditions. The CEO of Abbott Laboratories continued as the CEO of the newer, smaller Abbott Laboratories, capitalized at $21.5 million. This company retained the medical products portion of its business, covering medical devices, nutritional care, diagnostics, and animal health. The Executive Vice President of the older Abbott Laboratories became CEO of AbbVie, capitalized at $17.4 million. The new company consisted of the proprietary pharmaceutical holdings of the former Abbott Laboratories, notably the drug Humira, an effective treatment of auto-immune diseases which retains patent protection until 2016. Stockholders of the parent company were automatically assigned proportional shares in the new company, which was immediately listed and separately traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Both companies remain headquartered outside of Chicago. On their websites, the new Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie both proudly retain the original Abbott Laboratories’ declaration that it was a “global citizen.” Abbott Laboratories states it sells its products in more than 150 countries, and employs approximately 69,000 people. AbbVie claims to transact business in over 170 countries, and has approximately 25,000 employees. It also inherited the parent company’s research centers located at its headquarters, in Massachusetts, California, China and Germany.

Just over a year into their split existences, the two companies still appear to be acting in sync with one other, even though the division portends that they will operate completely separately at some future time. Time will tell what ultimately lies in store for the new companies.

© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2014





The ABBOTTS: C. W. Abbott & Co.

C. W. Abbott & Co.




AbbottCW-2-RB26-2-1899-08-21     AbbottCW-2-RB26-1899-09-09     AbbottCW-2-RB26-1900-09-01


Bitters are defined as brews of various liquors and pungently flavored plant extracts that have been produced since prehistoric times. From that hallowed “time immemorial,” they have been extolled as possessing medicinal power to calm digestive ailments, particularly those discomforts resulting from overstuffed stomachs abused by feasting and banqueting. C. W. Abbott & Co. began to produce its Abbott’s Bitters in 1872. Cornelius W. Abbott, whose name graced the business after 1876, was the son of the founder of the business, Cornelius F. Abbott. F had begun the company in 1865 and remained an active partner until his death in1894. W, born in 1855, entered his father’s business at the tender age of 17, and stepped to the helm of the bitters business not long after his 21st birthday.


AbbottCW-3-1903-1a      AbbottCW-3-1903-1b





With their bitters selling well, the Baltimore Abbotts established themselves as part of that city’s upper crust. A contemporary thumbnail sketch of C W Abbott – contained in one of those abundant compilations of local notables that remain to us as a token of the confidence reposed in the pillars of America’s burgeoning capitalistic society of the Gilded Age – laid great stress on the imposing antecedents from which he sprang, speculating on his titled forebearers in England and tracing his ancestry in the United States directly back to one George Abbot who settled in Rowley, MA sometime between 1620 and his death in 1647. According to this portrait, C W prized quality over quantity, eschewing opportunities to expand his business unless he could guarantee the distinctiveness of his product, and was “straight and clean” in all his business transactions, affirming that “[c]ontact with his fellow man stirred up his ambition to build a good business character. The rest [of his success] has been a matter of growth.” Perhaps the most surprising fact revealed about C W in the sketch was that he was an Independent rather than a Republican. That forgivable aberration is explained by a last reference to his quirky Puritan forefathers, although the author hastened to assure the readers that even though the name Abbott derived from the Roman Catholic title abbot, the present Abbott was as staunch as his predecessors in his profession of Protestant beliefs. C W kept producing his Bitters until his death in 1932.



Perhaps the greatest wonder of Abbott’s Bitters is that they achieved their greatest fame long after the age of nostrums and patent medicines, when their piquant flavor made them the perfect mixer for Manhattan cocktails. Because of their great utility to bartenders, these bitters continued to be produced well into the 1950s. Surviving bottles retaining their original content are so prized among cocktail connoisseurs that modern websites discuss the precise spectrographic analysis of bitters’ samples of various ages with an eye to recreating the original formula now buried deep in the “sands of time,” as well as trumpeting, like moon rocket launches, each new attempt to recreate the precise Abbott’s Bitters taste.

AbbottCW-10-5aRV     AbbottCW-10-5b     AbbottCW-10-5c





1946 C. W. ABBOTT AD









However much C W Abbott stove to cooperate with his fellow men to attain a favorable business reputation, court records make plain that he spent an enormous amount of time and energy in litigation defending his right to market his Bitters as he chose. At the beginning, Abbott’s advertising featured them as Abbott’s Angostura Bitters. The matter of whose bitters were the genuine “Angostura Bitters” became a matter of repeated pointed legal clashes between Abbott’s and J W Wuppermann in the period between 1880 and 1905.




© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2014



THE ABBOTTS: J. W. Wuppermann (An honorary Abbott)

J. W. Wuppermann


SiegertDrJ-2-RB21(WuppermannJW)              SiegertDrJ-2-RB28(WuppermannJW)





The origins of the competing angostura bitters – always pointedly asserted to be the only true and proper “Angostura Bitters” – were much more romantic and glamorous than C W Abbott’s, stemming from revolutionary South America at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. One Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German doctor, born in 1796 and, according to legend, present among the military physicians who tended the Prussian wounded at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, thereafter emigrated to Venezuela in 1820 to aid Simon Bolivar in his fight to win freedom from Spain. He traveled to Bolivar’s headquarters at Angostura on the Orinoco River in Venezuela. Bolivar appointed him Surgeon General of the military hospital army at Angostura. The following year, after Bolivar had liberated Venezuela, he moved on to carry the fight to other Spanish colonies, but Siegert remained in Angostura. While tending his patients in 1824, Siegert developed a medicinal tonic. In 1830, he opened a distillery in Angostura to manufacture the tonic that he was now exporting to Trinidad and England. In 1850, he resigned his commission in the Venezuelan army to devote his energies entirely to the burgeoning tonic business. By 1867, he had brought his sons into the distillery, and when he died in 1870, he had established both a flourishing international business as well as a dynasty.



As his trade expanded, Siegert apparently seems to have formed a bond with another German expatriate, one Adolph Christian Wuppermann, who had spent time in Angostura as well, and ran an import-export business which maintained offices at the port city of Hamburg in Germany. A. C’s son, George Diogracia Wuppermann, was born in Angostura in 1838, trained in his father’s offices in Hamburg, and by 1863 had set himself up in international trade at Port-of-Spain, the capital of the British Carribean island colony of Trinidad. As well as acting as the German counsel in Trinidad, one of the other roles he immediately assumed was to act as distribution agent on behalf of the Siegert family tonic business. Later, in 1875, because of continuing political instability in Venezuela, the Siegerts relocated their entire business from Angostura to Port-of-Spain, possibly at G D Wuppermann’s suggestion.





 Both the Siegerts and Wuppermann were expanding their horizons. To enlarge the company’s business and open new markets, J G B Siegert’s eldest son, Carlos, exhibited the family’s bitters in London, Paris, and Vienna in Europe, where he won medals, and even traveled to such far-flung shores as Australia and the United States. Mark Twain seems to have been an early American admirer of the bitters after he tasted them in London, even writing a letter to his wife to stock up on them in anticipation of his return from a speaking tour. G D Wuppermann also must have been involved in the push into the American market. In 1870, he married Josephine Wright Hancox, whose father, Joseph Wright Hancox, already wealthy from the steamship business, underwrote Wuppermann’s importing business in New York City under the name J W Hancox. The young Wuppermanns stepped right into fashionable American society. The new Mrs Wuppermann’s sister had earlier married the brother of E A Harriman, the railroad baron, and the new Wuppermanns were privileged to be married by E A’s father, the Rev Orlando Harriman. Sometime around 1876, G D Wuppermann changed the name of his business to J W Wuppermann, retaining his wife and father-in-law’s initials. While the bitters were continued to be manufactured by J G B Siegert & Sons in Trinidad, after that date they were marketed in the United States by J W Wuppermann, and either Siegert or Wuppermann was perpetually engaging in battles to protect the brand name. While Siegert never applied a cancel directly to U.S. proprietary revenues, the Wuppermann “J W W” initials do appear on the battleship revenues.



 WUPPERMANN COVERS – 1895 and circa 1930

Although the Siegerts and the Wuppermanns never seemed to have actually intermarried, one of G D Wuppermann’s children did bear Siegert among his middle names. And what a prolific progenitor G D Wuppermann was! There were eleven Wuppermann babies, most of whom survived into adulthood. The brother who bore the Siegert middle name not only traced a notable acting career as an undergraduate Columbia University, but also was generally regarded as a budding poet and scholar. Sadly, he died violently as U.S. Army intelligence officer in occupied Germany in 1919. His younger brother, acting under the stage name of Ralph Morgan, was a founder of the Screen Actors Guild, the union which to this day represents actors. However, the most famous of this clan was the youngest, Francis Philip Wuppermann, who followed his brother into show business, and, under his stage name, Frank Morgan, is forever beloved by any child who has ever seen the 1939 movie the Wizard of Oz as the slightly loopy Wizard himself.





In the long bitter “bitters war” between the Siegert/Wuppermann clan and the Abbotts, the Siegerts inevitably were the attackers. They alleged that their bitters were the true “Angostura Bitters” because the were manufactured at Angostura, Venezuela. The Siegerts brought the first battle of their campaign directly to the Abbotts by suing them in Maryland asking that the courts prohibit the Abbotts from advertising their bitters as “Angostura Bitters” on the grounds that the Abbott’s advertising misled people into buying their “Angostura Bitters” when they really meant to buy the genuine “Angostura Bitters” made by Siegerts.

???????????????????????????????                SiegertDrJ-10-1b           SiegertDrJ-10-1c

SiegertDrJ-10-9aRV     SiegertDrJ-10-9bRV     SiegertDrJ-10-9cRV

SiegertDrJ-10-13a     SiegertDrJ-10-13d     SiegertDrJ-10-13e


Their strategy and their suit misfired. They should have known better than to sue on the defendants’ home turf. The Maryland courts looked at the label on the Siegerts’ bottle and opined if the Siegerts were trying to prevent confusion, their own label actually engendered it. First, the Maryland court endorsed the Abbott’s argument that no one can claim exclusive use of a generally recognized geographic called location, like Angostura, Venezuela. In addition, it found that although the Siegerts called their Bitters “Angostura Bitters,” Angostura was by then known as Ciudad Bolivar, so the location itself was mis-identified. It further concluded that even if Angostura still existed, the bitters by then were not manufactured in Angostura, Venezuela, but rather in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, another misstatement. Next, it found that the Siegerts’ use of J G B’s signature to prove genuineness was disingenuous because it implied that J G B was in charge when he had been dead since 1870. Last, and most significantly, it pointed out that others bitters manufacturers advertised their bitters as Angostura bitters because the bitters themselves contained angostura bark, or the bitter bark of trees in the rue family native to South America, which in addition to being an old, recognized and respected folk medicine, lent their name to the region. Curiously, the Siegerts never alleged that their bitters actually contained angostura bark, which might have given them some plausible reason for calling them angostura bitters.


        SiegertDrJ-5-1aRV2     SiegertDrJ-5-1cRV2



SiegertDrJ-6a-1887-1a     SiegertDrJ-6a-1902-1     SiegertDrJ-6a-1909-1RV


Having failed in Maryland, and, after modifying their label to meet the objections of the Maryland courts, the Siegerts moved the battle to New York State, since they maintained their own offices in New York City, and again brought suit to enjoin the Abbotts from selling their bitters as Angostura Bitters. The first judge who heard their request to stop the Abbott’s marketing practices agreed that the Abbotts should be barred from using that name, but on appeal, the reviewing court found that Angostura was a regional name, and reversed the trial judge. In 1894, the Abbotts mailed a double postcard to their customers summarizing their litigation victory on the outbound flap, and soliciting their customers’ orders on the return flap of the same card.  The Siegerts tried several more times, variously naming Abbott’s distributors as defendants, to attain sole masterly of the Angostura Bitters appellation, but were simply unable to convince the courts that the title was singular to Siegert, instead of a geographical location name which anyone from the region had equal right to utilize.

AbbottCW-4-1894-1a                               AbbottCW-4-1894-1b



Possibly because of its difficulty establishing its brand superiority in the United States, J G B Siegert & Sons always kept its manufacturing operations off-shore. When Carlos Siegert died in 1903, his younger brothers Alfredo and Luis took over control of the Siegert company. Alfredo became purveyor of bitters to the King of Prussia in 1904, to the King of Spain in 1907, and to the King of England in 1912, and the company has added royal endorsements at every opportunity since then. The company formed itself as an English corporation in 1912 and changed its name to Angostura Bitters Limited in 1921.



In the United States, the American Medical Association (AMA) finally took a hard slam at Angostura Bitters when the Wuppermann agency ran an ad in 1922 claiming that a late AMA Vice-President had testified in court that the Angostura Bitters had medical efficacy. The full page denunciation of the Bitters, published in the AMA’s Journal issue of September 23, 1922, made certain corrections to the ad which changed its meaning quite significantly, to wit, that the testimony came from a 1905 court proceeding, further, that the testifier had been a patent medicine nostrum producer himself, that the closest he had come to the leadership of the AMA was that he had held the fourth Vice-Presidency in the AMA thirty-six years earlier and, to boot, had, in fact, been dead for the last nine years. Unfazed by the AMA’s blast, the Wuppermann agency seems to have welcomed the role of its bitters as a cocktail mixer in the era of Prohibition, by incorporating and adding an Angostura to its name at some point, perhaps as early as 1925. Run by G D Wuppermann until his death in 1915, that company continued under his widow, Josephine, until her death in 1936, and then under their son, Adolph, who died less than a year after his mother. The American corporation then began to bring outsiders into the management, made a public offering of its stock in 1937, and built a new headquarters and plant in Elmhurst, Queens in New York City in 1957. It also published a number of drink mixing guides and cookbooks during this period to promote sale of the bitters.

      SiegertDrJ-20-1RV     SiegertDrJ-20-2RV

            SiegertDrJ-20-5aRV     SiegertDrJ-20-5bRV

                   DRINK RECEIPE BOOKS

               SiegertDrJ-25-1eeeRV       SiegertDrJ-25-1eeRV







1948 AD

The event that appears finally to have disrupted the balance between the English manufacturer and its American distributor, is that, in the 1950s, Angostura -Wuppermann, the American distributor, tried to buy Angostura Bitters Limited, the English manufacturer, and transfer the manufacturing operations out of Trinidad. That bid was thwarted by Trinidad & Tobago’s then Prime Minister, Eric Williams, who offered Limited’s shareholders enough to dissuade them from accepting Angostura-Wuppermann’s bid. After the 1950s (and perhaps that hostile bid against the producer of its goods), Angostura-Wuppermann disappeared from prominence, although the corporation existed at least through the end of the 1960s. In 1992, the English manufacturing company streamlined its name to Angostura Limited, and in 1997 it was purchased by a liquor distribution corporation headquartered in Scotland today known as C L World Brands. In 2008, that company’s financial profligacy briefly caused some minor economic palpitations concerning the Angostura brand’s survival, but the very large global corporation seems to have extracted itself from that peril and still manufactures its Angostura Bitters today. They can be purchased virtually at any liquor store or on the web.


© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2014



The ABBOTTS: Abbott’s Menthol Plaster Co.

Abbott’s Menthol Plaster Co.

AbbottMentholPlasterCo-2-RB23-1-1898RV(OrtonType1)     AbbottMentholPlasterCo-2-RB23-2-1899RV(OrtonType2)

AbbottMentholPlasterCo-2-RB23-3-1900RV(OrtonType3)     AbbottMentholPlasterCo-2-RB23-4-1899RV(Type4)


(minor variations in periods)

 This company arose in Worcester, MA in 1885 under the leadership of Peter P. Bradt. A drug trade magazine wrote in January, 1896: “About ten years ago, he induced a number of local capitalists to invest several thousand dollars in a stock company for the manufacture of Abbott’s Menthol Plasters and he became the active manager.” It is unclear how or why Bradt chose to call his plasters “Abbott’s.” According to Bizpedia, a business website, the company incorporated in Massachusetts in 1891, and is still listed today on the state’s roster of corporations. A contemporaneous report places the date of incorporation in February, 1891, and its initial capital at $35,000. Unfortunately for Peter Bradt, the occasion of the drug trade magazine’s comment about him was its obituary of him. He committed suicide at age 42, apparently shortly after losing a trade infringement suit to the Blood Cordial Co over his attempt to manufacture a remedy called Blood Cordial. After his death, David L Bradt, apparently Peter’s younger brother, served as treasurer and manager of the company, and managed the company’s business affairs. David was born in Litchfield, New Hampshire in 1858, graduated from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, worked for the well respected drug firm of Theodore Metcalf in Boston, and by 1885 was operating a drug store in Worcester with a partner, W E Turple. In 1887, he formed a partnership with William S Flint which operated two drug stores in Worcester until 1890 when Flint bought Bradt out. An index of Worcester “oddities” mentions David L Bradt’s “tame bears,” but the exploration of the full extent of his animal husbandry skills, or his personality quirks, will have to await another investigator’s perusal of the December 29, 1898 issue of the Worcester Evening Gazette, preserved in the Gazette’s archives in Worcester’s Public Library (but not on line), which contains the article mentioning the tame bears. Along with maintaining his interest in Abbott’s Menthol Plaster Co, Bradt organized the Apothecary Publishing Co, and listed his occupation as a publisher in the 1900 Census. He served as its treasurer for three years. The Abbott’s Menthol Plaster Co itself, is the listed publisher of a thirty-one page novella entitled a Romance in Boston by Bertha Norvin, published, among other such short books, as part of its advertising campaign in lieu of almanacs. In 1909, David Bradt moved to Passaic, NJ and became a manufacturer of “fancy paper” goods, a position he held until his death from acute Bright’s Disease in 1914. Apparently, the company languished in his absence. In early 1914, the Massachusetts legislature swept it into an omnibus dissolution act, usually reserved for companies that have failed to pay their state taxes. David’s widow, Katherine A Bradt, who had served on the company’s board of directors for approximately a decade, promptly re-incorporated it together with one Alice J Kelly and one John J Mansfield, again with the same $35,000 capitalization, but thereafter the company’s transactions drop from reported history. Only its lingering shadow on Bizpedia hints that it still may exist.


1902 AD


AbbottsMentholPlasterCo-10-1aRV     AbbottsMentholPlasterCo-10-1cRV



As its name suggests, the company manufactured plasters, the predecessors of what we today regard as bandages, and its trade listings always indicated the price of plasters as purchased by length. However, it experimented with other kinds of delivery systems for the soothing elements of the menthol it so prominently feature. One of the odder products that the company produced, in and around 1890, was the “electric” inhaler, which was an inhaler that, despite its name, had no electric component. Rather it had a stem to suck upon attached to a circular body with a face, like that of the man in the moon, pressed into it. The mouth contained a tiny lever, like a tongue, which when moved across the mouth caused to eyes to open, creating an air channel and allowing the menthol in the circular body to be inhaled. A trade card illustrates the look of the inhaler. The gadget itself holds its place of honor on the website devoted to memorializing inhalers (yes there is one of those, just as there is a website glorifying battleship revenue cancels).

AbbottsMentholPlasterCo-5-1aRV           AbbottsMentholPlasterCo-5-1bRV




All three companies whose appellations contained the name Abbott arose in the Patent Medicine Era. One, Abbott Laboratories, is still going strong today, although embarking on a new and somewhat risky venture by splitting itself in two. The product of C. W. Abbott & Co, Abbott’s Bitters, is still valued, with the quest to emulate that original formula being akin to the quest for the Holy Grail in the circle of bitters connoisseurs. The third company, Abbott’s Menthol Plaster Co, appears to have yielded its place to more modern bandage technology, while leaving a few colorful artifacts in its wake.

© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2014


Allen & Hanburys Ltd.


The roots of Allen & Hanburys, Limited lie deep in English, not American, soil. It originated as the Plough Court Pharmacy in London in 1715, and its founder, Silvanus Beven, born in 1691, was accepted into the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries only after a seven years apprenticeship. That society, in turn, traced its beginnings to the Society of Pepperers, chartered in 1180. Beven traveled in well-to-do circles, marrying the daughter of the Royal clockmaker. His family followed him into the business, which continued during the Eighteenth Century as a succession of partnerships.

In 1792, William Allen became associated with the partnership, and soon came to dominate it. He was elected to the Royal Society for his work in botany and chemistry, spoke several languages and befriended some of the rulers of Europe, including George III of England and the Czar of Russia. Being a Quaker, Allen held strong abolitionist opinions, was a founding member of the British anti-slavery society that is now the oldest human rights organization in the world, and helped sponsor the first worldwide anti-slavery convention held in London in 1840. Allen survived his first two wives, and through the family of his second wife Charlotte, Daniel Bell Hanbury, who became a renowned scientist in his own right, apprenticed to the partnership in 1808.

Allen & Hanburys cancelled 1 1/4 cent proprietary stamps

After Allen’s death in 1843, Daniel Bell Hanbury and then his son, a second Daniel Bell Hanbury, took control of the business. In 1879, the American Pharmaceutical Association began awarding a gold medal for significant discoveries or advances in the pharmaceutical field in honor of the younger Hanbury, whose scientific achievements apparently even surpassed his father’s, but who suffered from a weak constitution and died in 1875. Daniel Bell’s second son, Thomas, having participated and grown wealthy in the business, became a notable horticulturist and after 1867 restored an estate on the Riviera , whose Hanbury Gardens remain renowned today. Because there were multiple Hanburys, by 1858 the company name was fixed as the plural, Allen & Hanburys, not Allen & Hanbury. Its incorporation in 1878 added the title “Ltd.” The company grew to have branch offices in Canada, South Africa, Australia, India, Malaysia and Argentina and agencies in many other countries. A reporter watching the manufacture of pastilles at one of the factories in 1906 marveled that “from the time the liquid mass leaves the pan until the pastilles reach the customer … a human hand shall not have touched them.”

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, when Allen & Hanburys, Ltd canceled battleship revenues at their warehouse in Niagara Falls, NY to comply with American tax requirements, it was involved in a variety of pharmaceutical businesses. As well as manufacturing a variety of infant formulas, up to and including Allenbury’s Rusks, a special first solid food for babies, the company also produced some eighty different varieties of Allenbury’s pastilles, as well as castor oil, soaps, and malt extracts, at that time considered particularly invigorating as a supplement for general nourishment. It was among the leaders in introducing cod liver oil to England and purchased special facilities for its manufacture on Norway’s Lofoten Island. The company also expanded into fabricating surgical instruments and even manufactured specialized operating tables for London’s notable St. Bart’s Hospital. It survived severe bombing damage inflicted on its plants during World Wars I and II. In 1958, the corporation was purchased by Glaxo. In 1968 it launched a treatment for asthma still utilized and respected today. At present, Allen & Hanburys, Ltd. operates under its own name as a division of GlaxoSmithKline.


© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2012