Let’s buy: Some Cordial Balm of Gilead. Guest post by Lynda Mugglestone

Very many thanks to Lynda Mugglestone for this analytical post on an advertisement for Solomon’s Cordial Balm of Gilead. This item is not in the Art of Advertising exhibition.

In Jo Baker’s Longbourn (2013), a novel in which the events of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are vividly retold from below stairs, it is perhaps fitting that Mrs. Bennet, sorely tried by the refusal of her daughter Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins, retires to her dressing room in the company of a bottle of Cordial Balsam of Gilead. As an early nineteenth-century advertising in the John Johnson Collection persuasively asserts, this was an ‘admirable remedy’, suitable alike for ‘debilitated conditions’, ‘nervous weakness’, and ‘hypochondriacal afflictions’.

Two page advertisement for S. Solomon's Cordial Balm of Gilead, c. 1804. Page 1
The Cordial Balm of Gilead. S. Solomon, [c. 1804].
John Johnson Collection. Patent Medicines 6 (34a)
Female vulnerabilities were overtly addressed. Any women ‘affected with Langour, Headach, or Hysterical affections’ would benefit, contemporary readers were assured. So, too, would anyone in need of ‘relaxation from juvenile indiscretion’. Given Elizabeth’s intransigence, Mrs. Bennet’s self-medication is generous and abundant. In Baker’s novel, half a bottle swiftly disappears.

Two page advertisement for S. Solomon's Cordial Balm of Gilead, c. 1804. Page 2

The medicinal qualities of balms can, in term of language, be traced to medieval times. A balm is an ‘aromatic ointment for soothing pain or healing wounds’, the OED confirms. Balm of Gilead has, however, its origin in Biblical authority. ‘Is there no balme at Gilead? is there no Physician there?’ as Book 8, Verse 22 of Jeremiah demands. The Liverpool-based Samuel Solomon (c.1768-1819) would, from c.1796, provide a very profitable response. On one hand, Solomon’s tactical appropriation of Balm of Gilead was used to denote one of the most prominent quack products of the late eighteenth century  and nineteenth centuries. On the other, a decision to appropriate the status and learning of the ‘physician’ was deployed to equally good effect, as in the ‘M.D.’ which followed Solomon’s name in the various promotional publications and pamphlets he produced. A quack, as Samuel Johnson had stated in 1755 was, by definition, ‘a Boastful pretender to arts which he does not understand’. A doctor, in contrast, brought an undisputable claim to authority.

Boastfulness is perhaps an inevitable property of the language of advertising. Even so, Solomon’s preferred diction in advertising his ‘Cordial Balm of Gilead’ remains striking. Prefixes (‘inestimable’, ‘unprecedented’) deftly remind of the unparalleled qualities now offered to the consumer. Efficacy (‘wonderful success’) is extolled in similar ways, in remedial effects marked by their speed (‘instantaneously receives’) and unqualified strength (‘braces the nervous system…disburdens the viscera’ while throwing off ‘viscid strong humours’). Its popularity was lauded to equal effect. Sales, Solomon declares, have been ‘wonderfully great’, with ‘demand far exceeding any medicine ever published’, and a geographic range that includes ‘Europe’ and ‘America’. Advertising can easily become eulogy: ‘Thousands at this moment live to praise the day they first applied to this remedy, and enjoy the blessings of health, who might have dropped into an untimely grave’. A balm, Solomon stresses, can be a ‘social benefit’. The Cordial Balm of Gilead, was undoubtedly expensive —but, given its range of uses, it was also promoted as a bargain at half a guinea a bottle.

As a cordial balm moreover, its branding usefully harnessed antithetic qualities. Balms are conventionally solids, applied externally in order to soothe and restore. Cordials, in contrast, were traditionally depicted as fortifying from within, quickening the circulation or increasing the power of the heart. A cordial is ‘any medicine that increases strength’, Johnson explained in 1755. A cordial balm, at least rhetorically, could suggest its own innovatory synthesis, able to calm as well as fortify, sooth as well as invigorate — in ways that gave substance to the diverse lists of ailments for which restitution was promised, whether ‘Flatulence’ or ‘Palpitations’, ‘pain’, or ‘Difficulty of Respiration’. A conspicuous clustering of Latinate terminology (‘viscid’, ‘viscera’), and a catalogue of diagnostic nouns (deglutition referred, for example, to ‘The act or power of swallowing’) brought their own implied authority. Price and polysyllables both reinforced the elite status of the patent medicine purveyed.

We might note, even so, some interesting absences. The advertisement details, across two pages, the diverse conditions for which remedy is now apparently provided. The rhetorical power of lists, and their cumulative effect, is plain. So, too, is the range of human debility and the anxieties that can thereby be manipulated, as in the deliberately affecting details by which, for those denied this medical miracle, ‘the body is weakened’ while other symptoms (‘paleness, bodily decay, emaciation, and the eyes sink into the head’) await the hapless sufferer. The power of purchase might intentionally be secured on several levels. But the purchaser is, in reality, no wiser about what is being bought. Conviction must rest on credulity, rather than on a list of ingredients and their tried and tested benefits. If, in other accounts, Solomon stresses the presence of ‘some of the choicest balsams and strengtheners’ as components of his ‘noble Medicine’, alongside its scientific basis (‘reiterated experiments, and close application to practical chemistry’), advertising maintained a determined non-specificity. As William Helfand suggests, the ‘Cordial Balm’ was, in reality, probably a composite of ‘a few herbs and spices dissolved in a substantial percentage of old French brandy’. Certainly, Mrs Bennet in Baker’s fictional account, quaffs it with alacrity, finding her troubles eased. A cordial, as Johnson added, can be ‘anything that comforts, gladdens, and exhilerates’. Ease can, however, also be addictive – evident perhaps in the invitation to purchase by the case for those who, whether by accident or design, had become regular consumers.


William Helfand, ‘Samuel Solomon and the Cordial Balm of Gilead’, Pharmacy in History 31 (1989), 151-59.


Let’s buy: An Antipestilential Quilt. Guest post by Lynda Mugglestone

Many thanks to Prof Lynda Mugglestone (Pembroke College, Oxford) for a fascinating analysis of one of the earliest exhibits in the Art of Advertising exhibition. The language of advertising is the focus of Lynda’s chapter in the accompanying book, The Art of Advertising.

Manner of Wearing the Antipestilential Quilt, [1690]
Manner of Wearing the Antipestilential Quilt, [1690]. JJColl: Patent Medicines 16 (19)
For modern readers, the Antipestilential Quilts advertised in the eighteenth century might perhaps suggest a more powerful version of an anti-allergy duvet –– a tempting fusion of warmth and protection in which unwanted symptoms are warded off as one sleeps. The reality was, however, rather different. Quilts of this kind were not comfortable coverings for a bed but portable artefacts worn on the body (near ‘the Pit of the Stomach’, as the advertisement above helpfully clarifies). As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, they are pads or dressings, layers of material used in the aim of medical treatment, and often coated with an unguent or ointment. For the OED, quilts of this kind were last recorded in 1684. The Antipestilential Quilts of Georgian England display, as such, surprising longevity.

They are surprising in other ways, too. ‘The great Art in Writing Advertisements is the finding out of a proper method to catch the reader’s Eye’, Addison declared in the Tatler in 1710. This advertisement proceeds, however, by stealth. The heading suggests, at first glance, a set of instructions for use — a piece of informative prose rather than persuasion. We are told where the quilt is to be worn, and how we might secure it (‘with a Ribband or Fillet’). We might, it indicates, need another ‘Ribband’, too, to go round the body. We are also told the best way to dry it, and the requirements of weekly application. Only gradually are its persuasive claims revealed, along with its stated efficacy against ‘the Small Pox’.

‘An eruptive distemper of great malignity’, as defined by Samuel Johnson in his own Dictionary of 1755, smallpox was the most dreaded – and most infectious — disease of the eighteenth century. Thought to be implicated in circa 1 in every 5 deaths, it displayed two-yearly cycles of virulence between 1750-1800.  In the advertisement above, it is woven into the text on four separate occasions, an insistent reminder of what is at stake. Like Covid-19, it was an air-borne and viral infection, a disease of proximity and contact which accounted for a third of childhood deaths in the seventeenth century, and some 400,000 deaths a year across Europe in the eighteenth. Those who survived were scarred for life.  A ‘pit or scar made by the smallpox’ was a pockhole, another entry in Johnson’s Dictionary confirms. Yet, at least within this advertisement, immunity from pocks and disease alike was extended to those in possession of a quilt of this kind, and who don it as directed. ‘No person who has not had the Small-Pox, or is obliged by his Profession to visit infected Places, ought to be without it’, readers were informed. Anxiety and reassurance are carefully balanced in the narrative which unfolds. For those with an Antipestilential Quilt, infection holds no fear. The quilt is a tangible form of shielding, actively ‘fortifying’ those who purchase it. Conversely, those without such protection are both vulnerable and exposed. Deft, too, is the reference to ‘Convulsion’. For infant sufferers of smallpox, convulsions were a telling – and dangerous – symptom; the ‘Cradle’ referred to in line 19 evokes innocence (and the prospect of innocent suffering) alongside a calculated prompt to parental responsibility and guilt. Being quiltless is made a calculated risk. Across the advertisement, positive verbal constructions work to the same ends, reinforcing the stated efficacy of a product that ‘will preserve … from Convulsions’ and by means of which ‘the Blood purges itself of malignant Humours’ to leave the body at ease.  If further ‘Equilibrium’ is required, a little ‘Wine and Water’ is all that is needed.

We are, of course, in the realm of quackery rather than medicine proper. Even so, embedded medical diction draws on the Latinate and authoritative (‘insensible Perspiration’) as well on the time-honoured and traditional. As such, it deploys not the new-fangled inoculation — a word used after 1700 in relation to smallpox, and a process adopted by the pioneering Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in 1718 — but the familiar model of the bodily ‘humours’, and the salience of sweating out ‘ill humours’ such that the balance that illness has disrupted is restored. Superlatives (it ‘may be worn … with the greatest Safety’) as well as economy (with careful use, it will last for ‘twenty Years or more’) do their own persuasive work. Only in the final paragraph do the clinching details appear of where this extraordinary, and exclusive, commodity can be obtained, and by which the ‘Manner of Wearing the Antipestilential Quilt’ is extended to anyone who can afford it. We might begin therefore with apparent instruction in something we already own.  We end with the details by which this potent object of desire can be acquired, alongside the promise it brings.

Promise is, of course, a weasel word in its own right. On one hand, as Johnson noted, it is a ‘declaration of some benefit to be conferred’. Nevertheless, as he added, it is equally bound to ‘hope’ and ‘expectation’ – and to that anticipated but not by any means realized. Here, too, the Antipestilential Quilt proves exemplary. Purchase might, at least temporarily, allay concern but striding into ‘infected places’, even if wearing an Antipestilential Quilt, risked highly adverse consequences. Few, in this light, would be in use for twenty years. The projected discourse of economy was, quite literally, false, as, of course, were the protective merits urged upon potential consumers. As other advertisements for this product in the late eighteenth century make plain, the real promise of the Antipestilential Quilt relied on credulity and the power of belief. It might, as in the London Chronicle in 1773, hence be depicted as ‘an infallible ANTIDOTE against the SMALL POX’ but, ‘worn by way of an Amulet’, it is, in essence, a talisman against infection. In this further strand of advertising, the details of ‘insensible Perspiration’ were removed in favour of prominent scare-mongering. Amulets, like the processes of infection, work in invisible ways. Empirical evidence is provided by an experiment ‘tried in Paris’ in which medical ethics – and childhood safeguarding — are conspicuously absent. Instead, six healthy children ‘put to Sleep with persons who had the Small Pox in the most inveterate Degree’, present proof of efficacy (and pressure to buy). Given the protective immunity of a Quilt, three children retain ‘perfect Health’. Those denied ‘this Preservative’ are less fortunate, being ‘seized with this Disease within 48 Hours’. For susceptible readers, the moral of was plain. The text – and the sales pitch — conclude with directions for purchase, and a reminder to acquire only the genuine article, available from Mr Baldwin in Fleet Street whose monopoly was thereby rendered secure.


*On the historical background to smallpox in Britain, see S. R. Duncan, Susan Scott, and C. J. Duncan, ‘The Dynamics of Smallpox Epidemics in Britain, 1550-1800’, Demography vol.30 (1993), 405-23.

** Edward Jenner’s introduction of vaccination for smallpox at the very end of the eighteenth century gradually reduced mortality. Smallpox was formally eradicated in 1980.




A War Bride Story: a guest post by John G. Sayers

A very tiny piece of ephemera in The Sayers Collection represents a very big story.

Queen Mary cabin assignment for E. Appell, recto
Queen Mary cabin assignment for E. Appell, recto

The document, a piece of cardboard 3 x 2 inches, appears to be nothing more than a cabin assignment on board Cunard’s wonderful Queen Mary for a person named ‘E. Appell’.

This person was assigned to Cabin M71, in an Upper Berth. The possibility of a lower berth has been crossed out. “So, what”, you may think. “What makes this so special?”

What makes it special is the stamped franking on the back. It was applied in Southampton, so the passenger was travelling westbound. And the date? On 22 May 1946, the Queen Mary was totally engaged in ferrying War Brides – thousands of them – from Britain to North America at the end of the Second World War.

Queen Mary Cabin assignement for E. Appell, verso
Queen Mary Cabin assignement for E. Appell, verso

It took a lot of courage to travel from the U.K. to join a man who would not be wearing a handsome uniform when you were reunited with him, in an unfamiliar town or city where the language was the same but the houses and cars were different and people had a ‘a funny accent’.

In The Sayers Collection there is more ephemera from War Bride journeys – menus, postcards, Cunard Captain greetings, and even a note from one of the cabin crew reminiscing that they carried War Brides westward, and on the eastbound return trips they carried German Prisoners of War being repatriated to their homeland.

Ephemera brings new life to historical events. If a member of your family was a War Bride, you can now add more information to your genealogical resources.

This ephemera and a large number of other Ocean Liner items is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. A vast quantity of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.


The magic of chromolithography

An alternative approach to colour wood engraving was chromolithography, which became the main means of producing coloured advertising after the introduction of machine printing in the late 1860s. The design was drawn by a team of artists on a set of stones (later plates), each one devoted to a particular colour and parts of the image. These colours were then printed one after another so that they blended visually. The variety of lithographic markmaking and the far greater number of colours used (often 8 to 15 in advertising) meant that the end product could be richer and more subtle than a colour wood engraving. In this print the colours are shown separately in the margin.

Adams’s Furniture polish, [c. 1900], [1 p.], 202 x 326 mm. Ten-colour chromolithography with colour tablets
Adams’s Furniture polish, [c. 1900], [1 p.], 202 x 326 mm. Ten-colour chromolithography with colour tablets. JJ Advertising adds folder (1)
Adams's Furniture polish (detail)
Adams’s Furniture polish (detail)










As many as fifteen hues (ten in this case), printed from as many different stones, were routinely used by advertisers. This proof, still displaying its set of colour tablets, uses stippled dots to fuse the colours.

Like ‘ephemera’, the term ‘chromolithography’ is perhaps off-putting.  Both terms represent, however, items that are both familiar and immediately appealing.

Chromolithography is a magical process, resulting in (at best) beautiful images in colour, the richness of which results from the successive layers of colours and tones inherent in their printing.

Chromolithography was anything but simple: large, sometimes huge, slabs of stone had to be quarried (usually in Bavaria) and transported. The stones had to be prepared for printing. The desired image had to be divided into its component colours and tones for printing, each on a separate stone. All needed perfect registration. It is almost miraculous that it worked, never mind that it became commercially viable.  The (rare) surviving key-line drawings and ‘progressives’ are crucial to understanding the process. Although two colours are combined on each card, the Liebig series of collectable cards devoted to the creation of a twelve-colour chromolithograph shows something of its complexity.  We have this series, from 1906, in Italian.

iebig Chromolithography series (1)
Liebig Chromolithography series (1). JJ Food 10 (11a)
Liebig Chromolithography series (2)
Liebig Chromolithography series (2). JJ Food 10 (11b)
Liebig Chromolithography series (3)
Liebig Chromolithography series (3). JJ Food 10 (11c)
Liebig Chromolithography series (4)
Liebig Chromolithography series (4). JJ Food 10 (11d)
Liebig Chromolithography series (5)
Liebig Chromolithography series (5). JJ Food 10 (11e)
Liebig Chromolithography series (6)
Liebig Chromolithography series (6). JJ Food 10 (11f)

Around 1,881 series of Liebig cards were produced in several languages from 1872 to 1975, with some isolated later series in the 1990s and early 2000s.

It has been a privilege to benefit from the expertise of the world authority on lithography and chromolithography, Michael Twyman, who has identified the printing processes of all the exhibits in ‘The Art of Advertising’ including the number of colours in the (high proportion of) chromolithographs.  These analyses are available through the image captions in the online version of the exhibition and give an insight into typical practices of the time.




E. Ewen & Son: an exquisitely hand-coloured window bill

Colour printing did not immediately end hand colouring in advertising: both methods continued until print runs grew so large that hand colouring became impractical. In this example from the 1820s, all the colour has been added by hand.

E. Ewen & Son's hand-coloured window bill.
E. Ewen & Son’s hand-coloured window bill. JJColl: Window Bills and Advertisements folder 5 (1)
E. Ewen & Son's hand-coloured window bill (detail)
E. Ewen & Son’s hand-coloured window bill (detail)

Relief printed by [John Vandenburgh] Quick, with the letters of the word SOAP wood engraved, this 1820s hand-coloured window bill is one of my favourites in ‘The Art of Advertising’ exhibition. Destined to be displayed in E. Ewen & Son’s shop, it was a one-off, hence the elaborate hand colouring and superior printing.

With the exception of the letter S, which could represent the Ewen manufactory, the illustrations that make up the word SOAP bear little relation to the product. They are of a style often associated with alphabets. I have been unable to discover the significance of the Pink and Blue Saucer Manufactory, and would be delighted if historians of ceramics could shed any light on this.

I have also discovered nothing  in the subsequent work of John Vandenburgh Quick (fl. 1823-1853) approaching this calibre. It was an early work – perhaps a show piece, symbolising his aspirations before the reality of jobbing printing took over. Certainly, it is fitting for a shop patronised by royalty and nobility. We have several examples of his crime broadsides, songs, entertainment handbills and bellmen’s verses in the John Johnson Collection and 39 of his street ballads in the Bodleian’s collections. He produced a series of ‘candle-light amusements’ and is said to have printed peep-shows, dioramas, flap-books and pop-up books.  He did, however, print in interesting places including Hyde Park and 76 feet below high water-mark under the Thames in the Thames Tunnel.

Statue of Achilles inStatue of Achilles in Hyde Park, c. 1822 Hyde Park, c. 1822
Statue of Achilles in Hyde Park, c. 1822. ‘Printed on the spot’. JJColl: Printed on the Ice 2 (3)







The Thames Tunnel Paper, March 25, 1843
The Thames Tunnel Paper, March 25, 1843. JJColl: Printed on the Ice 2 (7)



















Exquisite hand-colouring was usually reserved for high-quality prints or for costly items such as valentine cards. In advertising, early exponents of hand-colouring include lottery agents, who used a range of techniques to introduce colour into lottery bills. There are also hand-coloured inn tallies and trade cards, although these are rare. The two examples below are crude in comparison with the E. Ewen & Son’s window bill.  However, they exemplify the desire for colour that was to galavanise printers to experiment with printing in colour.

Lottery bill, hand-coloured
Lottery bill. JJColl: Lotteries vol. 13 (25)
Red Lion Inn. Hand-coloured inn tally.
Red Lion Inn. Hand-coloured inn tally. JJColl: Bill Headings 17 (69)




Advertising Saponine: an example of colour wood engraving

Colour printing began to be widely used in commercial printing from the second half of the 1830s. One approach was to use a set of wood-engraved blocks, each one dedicated to a particular colour. The engraver could produce a range of tones for each colour through lines and other marks engraved on the wood blocks. When printed one after the other the colours blended visually.

Saponine advertisement, 1865
Saponine advertisement, 1865. JJColl: Soap 12 (59)

This modestly sized magazine insert for Harper Twelvetrees’ soap substitute ‘Saponine’ is a fascinating document.  Not only does it include a rare image of a working laundry, but it is also interesting as an example of one of the experimental colour printing techniques that competed with chromolithography.



Saponine detail
Saponine (detail)



In this example, just four blocks – red, yellow, blue and black – create a range of colours, shades and tones.

Tomlinson's Butter Powder, c. 1867
Tomlinson’s Butter Powder, c. 1867. JJColl Food 3 (27)






Soon to be supplanted by the commercialisation of chromolithography, examples of colour wood engraving in advertising are not very common. There are, however, others in the John Johnson Collection, including this advertisement for  Tomlinson’s Butter Powder, from c. 1867.





Harper Twelvetrees was an interesting man. In 1863, as Chairman of the John Anderson Committee, he edited The life of John Anderson, a fugitive slave (published by William Tweedie, London). He was also a staunch advocate of the Temperance Movement. Saponine was produced in his factory in Bromley-le-Bow.

Label for Harper Twelvetrees' Soap Powder, showing his factory.
Label for Harper Twelvetrees’ Soap Powder, showing his factory. JJColl: Window Bills and Advertisements folder 5 (2a)

However, by 1878, he had given up soap making and had moved from Bromley-le-Bow, though not entirely from the East End. His works and East End showroom (the Paragon Show Room) were at Burdett Road, Bow Road (shown in the illustration). However, styling himself ‘Laundry Engineer and Machinist’, he also had a City showroom at Finsbury Circus.

1878 illustrated catalogue for Harper Rowntrees' washing machines, etc.
This 1878 catalogue for Harper Rowntrees’ washing machines, etc. is fully illustrated. JJColl: Ironmongery 2 (12)

His speciality was laundry equipment, such as washing machines, clothes wringers and mangles.  He also made knife cleaners and sold meat, suet and vegetable choppers, lawn mowers, fret-work scroll saws and treadles, lathes, and boot- and shoe-cleaning machines.

He offered free trials and hire purchase for his washing machinery.


An 1878 Harper Twelvetrees washing machine
An 1878 Harper Twelvetrees washing machine

An 1878 Harper Twelvetrees washing machine









But to return to laundries and the question of soap, the other laundry image in The Art of Advertising exhibition evokes some of the same problems: heat, steam and chapped hands. Harper Twelvetrees’ solution was a soap substitute (presumably, given the name, a saponin) while Lutticke’s appears to be a soap. Both resonate with us today, as we are encouraged to do cold water washes (albeit for different reasons). And Harper Twelvetrees got something else right too: one of our favourite labour-saving devices is surely the washing machine!

Lutticke window bill, c. 1884.
Lutticke window bill, c. 1884. JJ Coll: Window Bills and Advertisements folder 5 (12)