Vintage Toronto Ads: Dr. Blosser’s Discovery

Originally published on Torontoist on March 13, 2012.


Toronto World, February 23, 1913.

Can you name all of the body parts represented by letters in the illustrations above? Do you think this ad makes crystal clear Dr. Blosser’s claims that his tobacco- and narcotic-free herbal smoke relieves catarrh? Are you confused by the length to which the illustrator attempted to prove Dr. Blosser’s superiority over other remedial aids?

Unlike some peddlers of cure-alls, Joseph Blosser was a trained physician who alternated between careers in medicine and ministry. Yet Blosser seems to have been less than virtuous in keeping the letters he received from customers in strict confidence. Samuel Hopkins Adams, in his landmark investigative reporting on the patent medicine industry for Collier’s magazine in 1905, cited Blosser among those who passed their testimonial letters and mailing lists on to other remedy makers. “The ink was hardly dry on that issue of Collier’s,” Adams later noted, “before Blosser was on the spot with a lawyer letter and a personal letter which breathed injured innocence.”

Backed by personal endorsements from prominent Atlanta citizens, Blosser claimed that Adams would be “utterly unable to sustain by proof” that any letters were sold. Adams contacted a New York–based letter broker, who had more than 113,000 letters sent to Blosser’s company ready for purchase. No legal action appears to have followed.

Blosser’s remedy, usually sold as herbal cigarettes, remained on the market for decades. Later ads dispensed with the detailed diagrams, forcing the illustrator to seek work in the scientific textbook field.

Additional material from the fourth edition of The Great American Fraud by Samuel Hopkins Adams (Chicago: American Medical Association, 1907).

Vintage Toronto Ads: Up in the Ozone

Originally published on Torontoist on September 27, 2011.


Toronto World, May 21, 1902.

“Facts are not too good for anybody,” eh? Alright then, here are the facts: it’s doubtful that the wonders attributed to Powley’s Liquified Ozone were due to the product in question. It’s likely that liquefied ozone would kill any germs affecting you, but only your mortician or whoever picked up the shattered frozen parts of your body that were exposed to it would know for sure. Any substance that turns into liquid when its temperature drops to -112 degrees Celsius would induce a bone-chilling effect. Based on a chemical analysis prepared for investigative journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams in 1905 the wonder product was 99 per cent water with trace amounts of sulphuric and sulphurous acids—the ad doesn’t mention if Mrs. Mason felt a burning sensation while the miraculous healing powers of Powley’s attacked her “female trouble.”


Toronto World, May 14, 1902.

By the time Adams uncovered “The Great American Fraud” of patent medicines in a series of articles for Collier’s Weekly, Toronto-based Powley’s Liquified Ozone had been bought by an American named Douglas Smith, who moved its operations to Chicago and renamed the product Liquozone. Under its new label, the product’s claims grew more exaggerated, its testimonials more suspect. J.B. Banks and Reverand C.A. Coakwell may well have written testimonials, but they also might have included complaints that were crossed out with a blue pencil. Respected institutions like Chicago’s Hull House denied providing the glowing recommendations that accompanied ads. A creative copywriter invented the tale of the remedy’s supposed inventor, a German named “Dr. Pauli” who endured 20 years of poverty and ridicule while perfecting a method of liquefying oxygen to revitalize sick souls. By the time Adams’s series reached print, Liquozone was banned in jurisdictions ranging from Kentucky to San Francisco. We suspect its fortunes in Toronto were also affected by the bad publicity, as advertising of Liquozone in local papers ceased by spring of 1906.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Compounding the Paine

Originally published on Torontoist on November 30, 2010.

Mail and Empire, April 11, 1896.

While modern medicine would likely have reservations about the true effectiveness of Paine’s Celery Compound, one thing was for sure: with an alcohol content of up to twenty-one percent, several spoonfuls would have dulled the user’s misery for a few hours.

Paine’s Celery Compound was created by Windsor, Vermont druggist Milton Kendall Paine from a combination of celery seed, camomile, sugar, and assorted barks and roots. After some local success, Paine sold the formula to Burlington, Vermont–based patent medicine manufacturer Wells & Richardson in 1887. By the end of the 19th century, the formula was advertised across North America through the time worn method of testimonials. The stories provided by users like Mrs. McMaster outlined the precarious state of their health before downing their first dose of Paine’s.

How legitimate those testimonials were is debatable. An expose of the patent medicine business published in the November 7, 1905 issue of Collier’s magazinenoted how Paine’s approached a prominent Chicago newspaper with a full-page ad that featured several blank spaces in the middle. The advertiser told the paper’s manager that if reporters could secure a handful of strong endorsements from local politicians, the ad was theirs. Of those people who wound up lending their names to the ad, several admitted they had never tried the product but were happy to appear in print as “prominent citizens.”

As for the statement Mrs. McMaster supposedly gave to a Star reporter? From the evidence we’ve dredged through, all we’ve determined is that this ad appeared in the Star the same day as it did in the Mail and Empire.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 4

Ten Thousand Doctors Can’t Be Wrong

Originally published on Torontoist on January 12, 2010.


Toronto Star, March 5, 1915.

Trusting the judgment of her faithful nurse, the morose, near-suicidal patient took the tipple of Wincarnis. And another. And another. She wasn’t sure if the promised “new life” ran through her veins, but at least she was temporarily distracted from the other pressures of this mortal coil.

Wincarnis derived its name from its mixture of wine and meat byproducts. It was a snappier branding than the one it bore when introduced in Great Britain in 1887: Liebig’s Extract of Meat and Malt Wine. The current manufacturer continues to tout the medicinal qualities of the herbs and vitamins mixed into Wincarnis, even if it is officially marketed as an aperitif instead of a cure-all. We’ve also read that it tastes great mixed with Guinness and milk.

Golden Girls Galore

Originally published on Torontoist on April 27, 2010.


Toronto Sun, August 29, 1983.

Thirty years after this ad teased Toronto Sun readers, the phrase “golden girls” may not conjure up a night in a peeler joint, unless you’re a fan fiction writer willing to place the sitcom characters in such a setting (though given Betty White’s willingness to do anything lately, it might not be that great a stretch to imagine her in pasties and a g-string).

Besides overemphasizing the hair colour and lusty potential of the dancers, we wonder if club management had a soft spot for a classic Bob Dylan album. Would the non-blonde (unless the newsprint is lying) Viki Page have titillated her audience to the strains of “I Want You” or “Just Like a Woman”? Would the urging to get stoned in “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” combined with the lack of accessories on the dancers have caused club clientele to drop all discretion?

Later nightclub incarnations at the same address include Uberhaus, Tila Tequila, and Moda Night Life.

A Cure for Oilcers

Originally published on Torontoist on June 1, 2010.


New Liberty, March 1948.

Today’s ad is for readers who are puzzled whenever bags appear under the headlights of their vehicle that aren’t caused by scratches bestowed by other drivers exiting a tight parking space or provided by a bird in an artistic mood. Fret not: oilcers can be cured (however, that puddle of stomach battery acid on the ground might be a different story…).

For readers unable to decipher the good doctor’s prescription underneath the remedial box, our certified medical professional recommends that the patient should have “one complete set of Perfect Circle Custom Made Piston Rings—to be taken before the next meal. This to be followed by plenty of road work.”
Disclaimers: Only use Perfect Circle as recommended. Do not use if car develops fever, froths at the mouth, or responds to the name “Christine.”

Free to Go

Originally published on Torontoist on July 13, 2010.


Maclean’s, March 2, 1987.

Yes, this businesswoman is free to go…into the afterlife, that is. The glowing lights and yellow arches welcome her to whatever awaits after she shuffles off this mortal coil (though it looks like it will resemble a 1980s ad designer’s dream). She should have taken it as a warning sign when the pressure of balancing so many communications gadgets sitting atop her head, day after day, caused her face to assume a grape juice–like complexion. Poor Robert will receive neither a reply about the breaking developments with the coffee supply contract, nor will he receive the page she was preparing when her brain caved in.

National Pagette was acquired by Shaw Communications in 1995. At the time, it was described as Canada’s largest provider of telephone answering services and sixth-largest paging company.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Aren’t You Glad You Remembered Hutch?

Originally published on Torontoist on April 14, 2009.


Toronto World, February 19, 1900.

A flip through the pages of any Toronto newspaper published around 1900 reveals numerous pitches for castor oils, kidney pills, liver pills, trusses, nerve tonics, Asian catarrh treatments, and assorted cures for ailments that might not be believed when taking a sick day at the office (“I can’t come to work today due to tired blood!”). The advertising for Hutch, a remedy for indigestion, was among the most graphic of the time, as today’s samples testify. This poor fellow’s hallucinatory images while in the depths of his agony are the stuff of literary masters of horror.


Mail and Empire, November 4, 1899.

Hutch’s ad writers were less reserved about describing the reasons one might need to use their product than their modern counterparts, though the man on the left may illustrate their true feelings. Colourful language and archaic terms provide much of the entertainment value of discovering these old ads—try dropping “eructated” into a conversation on your next walk past the site of Hutch’s manufacturer on Colborne Street.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Holy Praise for Acid

Originally published on Torontoist on May 24, 2007.


Source: Truth, March 17, 1894.

Toronto rheumatism sufferers, are you ready to receive holy praise on the newest patent cure to hit the streets of our city?

This ad follows the formula of many period ads for remedies: an endorsement from a respected figure, extolling the virtues of how the product has helped their family over the years. We can verify the identity of this acid user — Reverend Alexander Gilray (1843-1915) had been minister of the College Street Presbyterian Church since the mid-1870s, presiding over the opening of its permanent home at the northwest corner of College and Bathurst in 1885. Gilray’s residence at 91 Bellevue Ave, built in 1887, is a heritage property that is now part of the St. Stephen’s Community House organization . His congregation later became College Street United Church.

One hopes he didn’t reek strongly of vinegar during the Sunday sermon.