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







Fate decrees that mortals be unable to complete certain tasks, and that characters like Sisyphus – punished by the gods – must labor at them ceaselessly but futilely. Those who seek completion, control and closure of such monumental undertakings are doomed to disappointment. In their Battleship Desk Reference compilation of cancels used by companies on Spanish-American War proprietary revenue stamps, Mustacich and Giacomelli posited that the known universe of cancels encompassed the pharmaceutical industry and allied trades. Having examined still-extant masses of the millions of proprietary battleship revenues cancelled between 1898 and 1901, as well as meticulously scoured contemporaneous source material, they estimated that there were some 6,000 manufacturers of patent medicine and about 40,000 retail druggists. Self-admittedly incomplete, their tome enumerated 18,000 listings. Some listing paired known cancels with known manufacturers, distributors or retailers of pharmaceuticals. However, most listings simply juxtaposed identified letter cancel combinations with known company names. Lacking empirical evidence to conclusively link them, the authors were obliged to leave those names essentially arranged in long lists of parallel columns, one column being the letter cancels and the adjacent column being a list of companies whose initials might fit the letter combinations.

MerchantsFreezingCo-3RV2     MerchantsFreezingCo-3RV4


Once in a while, as battleship proprietary revenues turn up among philatelic offerings, an interested observer views a cancel which completely confounds expectations. The stamp pictured at the top of this column is such a cancel, since it reveals enough of a company name to suggest a proprietary stamp revenue user who operated outside the known universe created by Mustacich and Giacomelli. Its existence hints that there were other users of the battleship proprietary revenues, such as freezing and cold storage companies, whose principal business lay outside the pharmaceutical world and whose connection to that world, if any, was tangential. The appearance of such a cancel seems to demonstrate that, even taking into account their ambitious 18,000 listings, Mustacich’s and Giacomelli’s view of the businesses which cancelled proprietary revenues is far too narrow, and further, that any quixotic attempt to circumscribe the entire universe of battleship revenue proprietary cancels in order to describe them all is utterly impossible and doomed.




Of course, there is an easy explanation for the existence of this stamp, and Occam’s Razor demands that it be offered. Perhaps the stamp was simply used incorrectly. The value pictured immediately above is similarly a 2¢ proprietary revenue. Since 2¢ was the amount of documentary tax paid to negotiate a bank check, and there was a red 2¢ documentary value, which was likewise intended to be cancelled with the name of the user to prove payment of the tax, the explanation for that pictured stamp’s use may be no more complex than that a proprietary tax stamp was substituted on a company bank check for a documentary tax stamp, either in error or out of necessity because of the lack of documentary revenues. Both such circumstances are known to have occurred and examples of incorrect uses exist.  A larger view of the stamp shown immediately above, pictured as found, proves that nineteen days after the imposition of the tax, A. L. Howe’s initial cancel on that stamp in his capacity as Assistant Treasurer of the Arkansas Construction Co. was actually an incorrect use of the proprietary revenue stamp in place of a documentary revenue stamp:




Positive identification of that stamp as an erroneous use can only be made, however, because the entire document on which that stamp was used happened to survive. Without at least part of the check remaining with the stamp, the proper context of the cancel could not be established.




The more intriguing explanation is that the stamp was used correctly to pay the proprietary tax imposed on wine, which was its intended use. Sale of wine containers over a pint required payment of 2¢ tax. While admittedly unlikely, perhaps the company had a stock of such wine in its warehouse when the tax was imposed and stamped it to allow the wine to continue in commerce. Another user of proprietary stamps already profiled in this column, Clayton W. Holmes, found his way into the refrigeration business as an adjunct to the proprietary cosmetic he was producing. Maybe the connection between the cold storage business and the pharmaceutical business was more natural than has previously been considered. While one can idly speculate, until another example of the cancel turns up, either on a company check or on some wine bottle, such thoughts must remain conjecture.

MerchantsFreezingCo-7RV     MerchantsFreezingCo-8RV1


Improbable as its existence might be, the stamp has survived, and, like other proprietary cancels featured in this column, its presence offers an opportunity to explore yet another facet of life in the Gilded Era in the United States. The story of the Merchants’ Freezing and Cold Storage Co. is yet another tale of Nineteenth Century ingenuity, not unlike the tales which have been chronicled previously in this column tracing the origins of today’s pharmaceutical industry. The company was the brain child of Israel Bowen Mason, President of I. B. Mason & Sons of Providence RI, who conducted a thriving and successful pork slaughterhouse (the cattle slaughtering business having already moved west), but was known to by his contemporaries as a “manufacturer and dealer in pork products.” It was he who first envisioned the potential for public rental of cold storage space in Providence.


I. B. MASON & SON AD, 1889

Born in East Killingly, CT in 1832, Mason had settled in Providence RI in 1850, married in 1854 and raised five children there. He lost his business in a devastating fire in 1869 and rebuilt it bigger and better. In 1877, after he brought his older son Edward into his business and changed the name of the business to I. B. Mason and Son, he left Edward in charge and, to rebuild his health broken from his exhausting endeavors, vacationed across the United States and in Europe in 1877 and 1878, using the time in Europe to cement connections with his European buyers. He lived luxuriously and the interior decorator of his house casually dropped his name in the decorator’s own ads.






He acted as an incorporator of a homeopathic hospital for the poor in 1878, and then served as a Republican representative for several sessions in the state assembly from 1879 to 1883. In 1888, he brought his other son, William B., into his business, and changed the name of the business to I. B. Mason and Sons. He was a trustee of his Unitarian church as well as landlord in 1892 to a Jewish synagogue. By 1889, Mason was also director of one local bank and President of the newly organized Rhode Island Mortgage and Trust Co. In short, I. B. Mason had grown to the stature of a pillar of his community.


I. B. MASON IN 1907

After experimenting for a year or two around 1890 with public rental of the cold storage space in his own pork plant, I. B. Mason realized that advances in refrigeration technology could help him exploit Providence’s location to make it the largest central warehouse and cold storage depot for produce and products traveling in, out and around New England outside of Boston itself. Using his positions as bank president and bank director, Mason enlisted several other banking colleagues, together with local dealers in fresh produce, as well as his sons, to raise the necessary financing to realize his idea. The Merchants’ Freezing and Cold Storage Co. was established in 1893. It functioned as a quasi-public utility, since its charter forbid it from dealing directly in the lines of goods or produce for which it provided storage services, and thus it never competed by self-dealing with the businesses of the clients for whom it provided storage space.  (This restriction in its charter, common to such warehouse businesses, might rule out the possibility that the proprietary stamp cancellation was anything but an improper usage.)



Rather than converting older warehouse space, Mason had the new company’s storage building specially designed and constructed to make the greatest use of newly developed refrigeration technology. The building was planned with its normal warehouse storage on the outer side, the elevators and receiving area in the middle, and the cold storage and refrigeration areas on the other side of the receiving area segregated by corridors from the outside walls of the building to prevent heat radiation. Next to that refrigeration area were the building offices as well as the tanks that held the salt brine which circulated as the cooling agent through the refrigeration area. Beyond the tanks and offices was a separate, slightly smaller building that housed the latest, powerful engines that drove the refrigeration machinery itself. Thus the refrigeration machinery, driven by boilers which generated heat, was completely isolated from the refrigeration area. Depending on the temperature deemed necessary and appropriate to keep it fresh, the arriving produce was assigned to a particular area in the building, either higher or lower in the building, nearer or further from the refrigeration machinery, such as the “apple”, “egg” or “butter” room. Considering that the floors of the building were projected to carry a load of 400 pounds per square foot, the site was specially prepared by driving 3000 piles into the ground each having a bearing capacity of ten tons, and Portland cement concrete was used to pour the foundation. The main storage area was constructed almost entirely out of wood and brick to avoid the much greater heat radiation which metal frame construction would allow. Mineral wool insulation, made by the then recently invented process of blowing hot air through molten slag or rock, was layered into the walls in a manner that created air pockets to trap heat and did not settle onto itself in a solid mass. The building was situated with one side located on a company-owed siding of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad and the other side opening on to a main commercial street so as to provide ease of loading and unloading. No sooner was the original building erected and functioning than demand forced the company to expand the facilities. The company continued to expand the building several more times until 1910.



In 1910, the company changed its name to the Merchants Cold Storage and Warehouse Co, although the principals remained the same. Israel B. Mason died in 1916, but the company carried on. In 1916, Moody’s Railroad Manual offered a brief financial profile of the company:


After I. B. Mason’s death, his son, William B. Mason (1868-1945), acted as the company’s representative to warehouse trade groups. This W. B. Mason is not the William Betts Mason, who founded the W. B. Mason office supply company in 1898 in Brockton, MA. Rather, this W. B. Mason’s particular achievement is that he chaired a warehouse association committee that analyzed the costs of building and operating a million cubic foot cold storage plant in 1920 and offered a model pricing structure to standardized charge for storage services predicated on these costs. The report received acclaim within the industry at the time and still can be read verbatim on the internet today.



But, while W. B.’s father was lauded and profiled by his own business contemporaries in the kind of civic booster books filed with sketches of noteworthy individuals published by every American town and society during the Pre-World War I era with the purposes of both stimulating commercial interest in growing and competing communities as well as instructing and morally edifying the poor but aspiring masses, much less is discoverable about this W. B. Mason’s life at approximately one hundred years removal in time. Puff books describing the virtues of prominent businessmen disappeared at the same time as women’s bloomers, as World War I damped the belief in the constant progress of civilization that had prevailed before the Great War. Much of the minutiae from which profiles of notable citizens might otherwise be adduced remains cloaked by copyright law which operate to check free reproduction of material published after approximately 1925. While census records do reveal that W. B. Mason was married, had two daughters and was widowed late in life, only odd echoes and shadows of his life barely flicker at the edges of the discoverable records. On August 31, 1908, he received a ticket in Jaffrey, New Hampshire for operating his “automobile without sounding [his] horn,” an event apparently uncommon enough at that time to be recorded in the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s report to the legislature for 1908. In 1924, he took a trip to Bermuda, returning on the passenger ship Empress of Britain on February 24 through the Port of New York. In 1936, an article in the sports section of the New York Times names him as a member of a fishing party that reported a “good catch” of salmon on the Tabusintac River in New Brunswick, Canada, “despite high water and unfavorable conditions.” All in all, this W. B. Mason remains much more indistinct as a personality than his father, I. B. Mason.



I. B. Mason’s building remained a landmark in Providence, RI for nearly a hundred years, even as railroad traffic declined and its centrality as a storage depot faded. The warehouse, originally built as the exemplar of the most advanced technology in 1894 by Merchants’ Freezing and Cold Storage Co, remained, as expanded, an active cold storage site until 1992, when it was finally and permanently defrosted. In 1980, the U.S. Library of Congress documented and photographed the building as an engineering historical site because of its pioneer status in the refrigeration field. However, neither its clever and sturdy construction nor its acclaim as an engineering marvel of its age saved it from urban redevelopment. The building was dismantled between 1998 and 2000, and a condominium now occupies the former site of the building.  Local architectural websites seem to decry the change, and all one can say is sic transit gloria mundi.



©  Malcolm A. Goldstein 2016

I, M

Imperial Crown Perfumery Co.

Imperial Crown Perfumery Co., Manufacturer

Division of Meyer Brothers Drug Co.



Patent medicine and pharmaceutical companies whose names begin with “I” are somewhat scarce, so, in order to continue its review of these companies in an alphabetical order, this survey of battleship cancels now attempts to chronicle insights concerning the history of the Imperial Crown Perfumery Co. of St. Louis, MO. Sure enough, the oddest fact about this company in the Spanish-American War period is that it actually was not a separate entity at all, but rather operated as a division of the Meyer Brothers Drug Co., a large and extremely influential drug company that was most active as a wholesaler, but, obviously, had some manufacturing capacity as well.  Delving into the history of Meyer Brothers, in turn, leads to several other branches of inquiry, and future articles will explore them all.

     ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-10-1eRV     ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-10-1bRV     ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-10-1cRV


While it is unusual to find separate revenue issues for different divisions of the same company, Meyer Brothers might have chosen a to generate a separate printed cancel for Imperial Crown Perfumery Co. to distinguish its more upscale perfume and cosmetics trade from its larger, but more mundane drug business. However, that the printed cancel displayed above was still extant came as a complete shock to the company itself. According to the revenue stamp website rdhindstl.com, the cancel only came to light some years after the Spanish-American War, when a philatelist persuaded the Company to allow him to search its records, and he found a few printed cancel remainders in an archived file.


   ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-2-RB21-t1-1899(BranchOfMeyerBrosDrugCo)     ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-2-RB21-t1-1900-2

ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-2-RB25-t1-1898-1     ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-2-RB27-t1-1898-1(ex-Orton)

ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-2-RB28-t1-1898-2(ex-Orton)     ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-2-RB30-t1-1898-1(ex-Orton)



A much larger number of handstamped “ICP Co.” cancels also do exist, and these are also usually attributed to Imperial Crown Perfumery Co. The reasoning that supports this attribution is that when both handstamped and printed cancels exist with the same company initials, it is presumed that a company with a large volume of business used handstamped cancels to signify tax payment during periods either before the printed cancels were prepared or when the printed supply was unavailable.   No printed cancels were supplied by the government.  In the earlier era of revenue stamps, between 1862 and 1883, when the government had lacked any printing capacity, it relied on private printers to produce not only revenue stamps, but also all U.S. paper currency and postage stamps as well.  Therefore, when revenue stamps were required in 1862, it was natural to allow private designs approved by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue to be printed and distributed directly to the companies by the same printers who were otherwise busy printing both the government’s money, postage and revenue stamps.  While general government revenue issues for stamps used to pay the tax on patent medicines during this period bear either the Scott Stamp Catalogue designation R or RB, such privately generated medicine tax and perfume tax stamps bear the designation RS and RT.  By 1898, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had come into existence with enough capacity to print standardized designs for both postage and revenue stamps, so it was able to supply the basic battleship design for all values of revenue stamps needed.  These stamps now bear the Scott designations R for those used on documents and RB designations for those used for payment of tax on proprietary items such as medicine and perfume, although the option to generate an individual private die proprietary (RS) stamp remained (and a very few of the biggest company’s did issue such stamps).  The specific company cancels required by the 1898 revenue law were generated by passing government printed stamps, catalogued now as RB stamps, through a private press to be overprinted with the company’s initials.  Large companies had the printing capacity to do the overprinting themselves because printing for advertising purposes was an integral part of the business, and most of these companies had a separate functioning printing division incorporated within their operation.  Depending on the size of the company and the volume of product that required stamping, stamp press runs could be done as often as monthly, bi-monthly or even daily by the biggest companies.  If a company underestimated its need for printed cancels for a particular period, it could have a few sheets of stamps overprinted by hand to bridge the gap until a new overprinting run could be arranged.  However, some philatelists (particularly those who seem to assume that the existence of even a single copy of a printed cancel issued by a given company excludes the possibility of handstamped cancels issued by that same company) attribute these handstamped cancels to the Inn City Pharmacal Co. of Alleghany, PA. Regrettably that company has left no records or traces of its presence extant and exists now only as entry on a 1902 list of patent medicine manufacturers.  That listing itself may be a misprint!  A company known as the Iron City Pharmacal Co. listed at the same Alleghany, PA address exists on the exact counterpart of that 1902 list published a year earlier in 1901.  In that year alone – and in no other ever – that company ran a solicitation in a few publications seeking agents to sell Wilbert’s Non-Alcoholic Flavoring Powders and “five other popular specialties.”



On balance, given the enormous volume of Meyer Brothers’ business and the fleeting existence of Iron City Pharmacal Co., it seems more likely that the handstamped “ICP Co” cancels were used by Imperial Crown Perfumery Co.

ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-5-4a     ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-5-4b     ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-5-5a


As an odd philatelic aside, many manufacturers found that the 1898 revenue tax stamps were misinterpreted by customers as some kind of an unofficial government guarantee of quality when affixed to their products.  To reinforce and continue this misimpression, when the need for the tax ended, they generated their own private seals, which are classified by philatelists as “poster stamps” or “cinderellas” to distinguish them from official government issues.  Imperial Crown Perfumery Co. was one of those companies that chose to utilize this practice.

ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-10-1dRV2(CoSeal)     ImperialCrownPerfumeryCo-1(CompanyPosterStamp)


As indicated by the extensive number of battleship revenues values overprinted, Imperial Crown Perfumery had an extensive product list. The Perfume Encyclopedia lists over seventy-five different fragrances manufactured by it, ranging from Assyrian Lotus to Ylang-Ylang.  These fragrances could be obtained in a variety of assortments packaged in various different containers.

ICP-2(1898-MBDCat-v19-suppP1)-1RV    ICP-3(1898-MBDCat-v19-suppP2)-1RV     ICP-4(1898-MBDCat-v19-suppP3)-1RV     ICP-5(1898-MBDCat-v19-suppP4)-1RV


The fifty or so perfumes whose launch dates are recorded all lie between 1905 and 1924, but the perfume operation arose within Meyer Brothers as an integral part of its business, and existed well before 1905 (as evidenced by the use of battleship revenues in 1898).  Two of the perfume brands it advertised most ardently were its Purple Azalea and its Soul Kiss.

ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-5-3a     ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-5-3b     ICP-9(MiamiULibraryTradeCard)-1RV



ICP-8(1913-SoulKiss-NorthwesternDruggistr-v14-8-13p56)-1RV     ICP-6(1920-MBDCat-v41-p29)-1RV



MeyerBrosDrugCo-50-7(MeyerOtto-1908)     MeyerBrosDrugCo-50-7b(MeyerOtto-1921)


For almost the entire first third of the Twentieth Century, Imperial Crown Perfumery Co. was headed by Otto Paul Meyer, one of the sons of the founder of Meyer Brothers. He was born in St. Louis in 1870 and received his primary education there. He matriculated at the University of Michigan, receiving his degree in pharmacy in 1890, and immediately entered the family business of Meyer Brothers. He became a member of that firm in 1895, and as Vice-President of Meyer Brothers after 1905, he oversaw its manufacturing and laboratory divisions, which included Imperial Crown Perfumery. He also served as President of the Mutual Aid Association of Meyer Brothers, an employee benefit organization, and the business topics editor for Meyer Bros Druggist magazine, the industry trade publication that the company generated. As a member of the Meyer Brothers clan and an officer of the largest drug wholesaler west of the Mississippi, he also naturally became an officer of the National Wholesale Drug Association, the industry trade association. Married in 1894, he fathered two daughters, lived his life as an exemplary company man and died in 1934.


E. J. HELBIG – 1908

Another major figure in Imperial Crown Perfumery’s history was E. J. Helbig, the company’s buyer.  He traveled extensively on behalf of the company, and, as reported by another industry trade publication in 1916, he took a ribbing from the company’s internal magazine as being the typical archetypical “traveling salesman.”



According to the Missouri Corporate Registry, Imperial Crown Perfumery Co. was finally formally registered as a Missouri corporation in 1919. Today, while it is still listed in the Registry, its “name” is listed as “fictitious” and its “status” is listed as both “fictitious” and “expired.”  The reason for these listings, as will be recounted in another article, is that Meyer Brothers Drug Co. itself was eventually absorbed by another company, Fox-Vliet Co., which itself grew out of companies existing in this era, and which, in due course, also will be profiled in this series.

ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-5-2a     ImperialCrownPerfumeCo-5-2b


Note also that for its entire existence Imperial Crown Perfumery Co. competed with a rival company called The Crown Perfumery Co., which although founded by an American, was based in London and Paris. That company’s history also will be recounted in the future.  Because it still exists today, the far more abundant images of its products now crowd out on the Internet those of the Imperial Crown Perfumery Co., and absent an article like this one, Imperial Crown Perfumery Co.’s history will ultimately blend into the other company.



©  Malcolm A. Goldstein 2015


Malena Company


The Malena Company was the brainchild of Chauncey F. York. During the Spanish-American War, it was located in Warriors Mark, PA, a town in central western Pennsylvania. In 1910, York opened a spacious new factory in Detroit, MI and moved his whole operation there. The local Huntingdon County Pennsylvania paper, fondly recalling the history of Warriors Mark a hundred years later, noted that York “became a millionaire” only after he moved the operation to Detroit.

York was born in New York City in March, 1850. In 1876, he graduated from Penn State located in State College, PA, and by 1880 had settled with his wife and infant son, Henry, born in 1879, in Warriors Mark, not far from Penn State. The Malena Company manufactured the basic compound Malena, meant to be used either as an ointment or salve, and later added Malena Liver Pills, Pills, Worm and Blood Tablets, as well as Gu-Ma Gum – “the best chew for a cent.” The pitch for the Liver Pills, a laxative, was stark and straight forward: “Constipation leads to death. Use Malena Liver Pills and don’t die.”

Trade card: front, above; reverse, below
Trade card front and back

From its factory in Warriors Mark, as well as the “medicines” themselves, the company poured forth scads and scads of colorful trade cards in a great variety of designs ranging across the gamut of traditional Victorian subjects, such as cheerful, chubby, dewy-cheeked children, cuddly kittens and puppies, landscapes, flowers, birds and assorted combinations of the foregoing. On the back of each trade card, the products were relentlessly touted. Malena, itself was advertised to remedy catarrh, neuralgia, rheumatism, stiff joints, rough or chapped skin, cuts, burns, scalds, blister, bruises, bites, stings, sore lips, mouth and throat, corns, dandruff, and warts. The idea seemed to be to persuade people to apply as much of the compound as possible at every moment. The graver the illness, the more product ought to be applied. The company also issued short story booklets, precursors of the comic books of a later age, with product plugs and testimonials woven in among the pages of the story.

Son Henry followed in his father’s footsteps and graduated from Penn State in 1900. He received his M.D. from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City in 1904, and opened a medical practice in Warriors Mark, where he married in 1906 and began his family. Father Chauncey soon moved on from central Pennsylvania. By 1908, he had relocated to Detroit and had a new, younger wife. In the 1910 Census, he reported an infant son with his new wife. He soon acquired an estate, which he named Malena Park, in central Michigan near Clark Lake in Columbia, MI. Henry moved to Detroit in 1910 and became the manager of the relocated company. In the 1914 edition of the local Who’s Who, Henry, now called Harry, listed himself as a Democrat and a Methodist. He was a member of the Detroit Chamber of Commerce and a Mason. His hobbies were hunting and fishing.

In 1915, Chauncey launched a new career. He became an author, publishing a book of stories called the Overlook Farm Books, which he stated “give a vivid description of the early, backwoods pioneer life and are replete with thrilling pioneer stories intensely interesting and instructive to everyone, especially the boys and girls.” A random excerpt from the book reads as follows:

“The landlord replied, ‘Over there sits your man,’ pointing toward me. ‘He is not a regular guide, but knows the north woods and has as much horse sense as anyone else around here, I reckon.’ “He engaged me at once. We were over three weeks on our way up from Augusta to the place known to the old settlers as PEG CABIN ‘Peg Town.’ As soon as Mr. Lee (that was the name of the young man) saw the amazing beauty of the surrounding country lie said, ‘Here is the place I will pitch my tent for the balance of the summer.’

If you mailed in a stamp, you could receive not only a sample copy of the book, but also free samples of the Malena line of products. In 1925, Chauncey sold his Michigan estate to the local township to use as a park, and retired to Florida. He died in Tarpon Springs, Fl in 1928. Malena continued to be advertised until the end of the 1920s, and disappeared during the Depression. Harry York seems not to have returned to medicine. A last random record closes present internet knowledge of his whereabouts. In 1942, a registration card which he filed in connection with the 4th Michigan Draft for World War II, covering men “born on or after April 28, 1877 and on or before February 16, 1897,” listed him as living in Detroit and employed by Rose Jewelers in Grand River, MI. Today, Malena’s principal legacy seems to lie in all of the foderol generated to sell it.

© Malcolm A. Goldstein 2012