Once Upon a Nostrum: Of Snake Oil and Lip Service

In Fort Worth newspapers of the late nineteenth century, the ads—almost as much as the new stories—tell us about life in old Cowtown. Take, for example, ads for patent medicines that were guaranteed to restore “lost manhood” and “vigor of men.”
In the ads below note the early use of “before” and “after” images. Also note that in each “before” image the man’s mustache is droopy, downtrodden. Sad, sad ’stache. But in each “after” image the man’s mustache has a definite uptilt. It’s positively poised to take flight. I think we all recognize a symbol when it’s right under our very nose.
Indapo was a “great Hindoo remedy” that would give “vigor and size to shrunken organs” and restore “lost manhood” in just thirty days. Indeed, the images show that after just twenty days the tips of the man’s mustache have risen above the horizon.
Cupidene was a “Vegetable Vitalizer” based on the prescription of a famous French physician. Cupidene cured “lost manhood” and “unfitness to marry.” “Cupidene strengthens and restores small weak organs.” And indeed, judging from the illustrations, Cupidene was guaranteed in just thirty days to transform a weak, debilitated man into Inspector Hercule Poirot.
Nerve Berries were guaranteed to restore the “vigor of men.” They were the cure for “weaknesses” resulting from “early errors and later excesses.” They stopped “unnatural losses caused by youthful errors or excessive use of tobacco, opium and liquor, which lead to consumption and insanity.” Once again we can see that after just thirty days of Nerve Berries, a man’s mustache would be cleared for takeoff on Runway Whoopee.
Today we dismiss such patent medicines as snake-oil quackery marketed to prey on the insecurity and gullibility of men, but such medicines were respectable in their time. Note that all three products were sold locally at the drugstore of J. P. Nicks on Main Street. Joseph Preston Nicks (1850-1899) was a prominent citizen: a city councilman, even mayor pro tem, a school board trustee, chairman of the city Democratic Executive Committee. He was president of the Tarrant County Druggists’ Association and a member of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church.
It is not known if he had a mustache.

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4 Responses to Once Upon a Nostrum: Of Snake Oil and Lip Service

  1. Steve A says:

    Almost as important, if he DID have a mustache, we are not told how droopy it was!

  2. Janis Smith Shaffer says:

    I am J. P. Nicks’ great grandaughter and yes he had a droopy mustache. If you like I will send a picture of him.

    • hometown says:

      Janis:
      Thanks for sending me the photo and information on your great-grandfather. His mustache may have drooped, but he had four children, and every good politician can stand on his record.

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