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.


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.


On board the S.S. Euripides. The long voyage from Australia. Guest post by John G. Sayers

Thanks to John Sayers for these insights into the long voyage from Sydney to England.

I can’t resist a group of photographic images related to my collecting passion of Ocean Liners. So, when I saw a combination of a dozen postcard and photograph images taken on board the SS Euripides of the Aberdeen Line as she sailed from Australia to England in 1921, I couldn’t resist. My wallet came out and money flowed to the happy dealer at the speed of light (well, they weren’t very expensive!)

S.S. Euripides. Event or Costume Party
Fig. 1. Event or Costume Party ‘Crossing the line?’ (on verso)
S.S. Euripides. Fancy dress. Crossing the Line
Fig. 2. ‘Crossing the Line?’ (on verso)

There are six photographs and six postcards, with no attribution to any photographer. Several have penciled captions which may not have been made by the original traveler. One gets that impression when a caption has a question mark after it. Figures 1 and 2 carry the caption of “Crossing the Line?” which makes me think that it may be a dealer’s guess rather than reality. Clever costumes, but were they instead for an onboard costume party, which was a normal feature of almost any voyage?

The pirate’s hat in the background to Figure 2, and the elaborate elephant outfit in Figure 1, suggest that it was an event planned by the ship’s crew and carried out by them as the ship ‘Crossed the Line’ i.e. crossed the Equator from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere. This ceremony, featuring King Neptune, occurred as a matter of tradition and continues to this day. These costumes could have been used many times by the ship, for many ceremonies.

One of the stops on the route to England would have been in Durban, South Africa and this is probably where the photo in Figure #3 was taken. Photos 4, 5, and 6 were all taken ‘at sea’, including the jaunty First Engineer in #6.

Rickshaw ride
Fig. 3. Rickshaw ride


S.S. Euripides. At sea en route to England
Fig. 4. At sea en route to England


S.S. Euripides. At the wheel en route to England
Fig. 5. At the wheel en route to England








S.S. Euripides. First Eng[ineer]
Fig. 6. First Eng[ineer?]










S.S. Euripides. Departure Festivities
Fig. 7. Departure Festivities (1)


Figures 7 and 8, postcards picturing the departure, are wonderful at capturing the emotions of the moment. You can almost watch the streamers float to the dock and hear the good wishes shouted by those on shore to those standing on the deck of the S.S. Euripides. This was an important event, considering the distance to be covered and the long time to be spent and the risks faced at sea.

S.S. Euripides. Departure Festivities (2)
Fig. 8. Departure Festivities (2)


S.S. Euripides: Crew: Dining Room Stewards?
Fig. 9. Crew: Dining Room Stewards?

The men pictured in postcards 9 and 10 are crew, but why would one want photos of groups of the crew? One’s Room Steward perhaps, and one’s Dining Room Steward(s), but why the entire lot of them?


S.S. Euripides: Crew: Cabin Stewards
Fig. 10. Crew: Cabin Stewards

Of course, Sydney to England by sea, with stops at several ports en route, would be a long voyage and a gregarious young man such as the one in Figure 12 would get to know many people. Note that there were no women in the crew. Men only at this stage of passenger shipping.

S.S. Euripides: Dinner event
Fig. 11. Dinner event

One of the bridges to get to know fellow passengers was mealtime and the grouping around the table in Figure 11 gives us a feeling for the moments when the ice was broken. Welcome Dinners, Gala Dinners, and other dining platforms all helped to pass the time. And of course, the Farewell Dinner, when table mates signed each other’s menus and vowed to keep in touch, brought down the curtain on the voyage.

Unfortunately, we do not know the name of the gentleman who made this voyage, but we do have a probable photograph of him on the postcard in Figure 12.

S.S. Euripides: The intrepid traveller
Fig. 12. The intrepid traveller

At the time of this note, the voyage was 96 years ago. The dashing young man, now no longer with us, who had perhaps already made his fortune in Australia, was heading to England to purchase an enormous country estate – or a Town House in London – or to claim an inheritance – or??? We do not know, and we will never know, but at least we have been able to enjoy part of his journey to England, almost one hundred years later!





Congratulations, Captain Cüppers. A guest post by John G. Sayers

We are grateful to John Sayers for this intriguing post, which ideally demonstrates the way in which ephemera can provide pieces of the jigsaw of social history.

Cigar case presented to Captain Cüppers, 1908
Cigar case presented to Captain Cüppers, May 1908

One has to wonder who gave the captain this charming gift. Was it the shipping line itself, or a frequent passenger who always tried to sail with Cüppers? Captains had the power of medieval kings on board their ship. No doubt if you could ingratiate yourself with the captain, you would be given whatever you wanted. But what ship was he on when he received this presentation? Pictured is a fascinating piece of ephemera – a cigar case presented to Captain Cüppers of the North German Lloyd line on the occasion of his 100th voyage. It appears to be made of Papier Mache shaped into the form of a convenient-sized cigar case that would fit easily into a pocket of the Captain’s uniform. On one side is the inscription shown here, and on the other side is the name and the crest of the North German Lloyd shipping line. The lettering is very professional, so it may have been made and presented on shore prior to the voyage.

Postcard (undivided back) showing Kapitain O Cüppers and his ship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, n.d.
Postcard (undivided back) showing Kapitain O Cüppers and his ship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, n.d.

Postcards give us the answer. A colour postcard picturing Cüppers is undated, but the undivided back places its age near the beginning of the career of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse which made her Maiden Voyage in 1897 and captured the Blue Riband that year. Was this Cüppers ship? Another card showing Captain Cüppers has a divided back, pictures the newer Kaiser Wilhelm II, is postally used, and the year ‘1908’ can be discerned from the postmark. We hit the proverbial Jackpot! The date matches our cigar case.

Postcard (divided back) showing Kapitän O Cüppers and his ship Kaiser Wilhelm II, dated 1908
Postcard (divided back) showing Kapitän O Cüppers and his ship Kaiser Wilhelm II, dated 1908

Was the Kaiser Wilhelm II a prominent ship, or just an ‘old tub’? Not just an ‘old tub’. When you name your ship after the Kaiser, it has to be the best. The Kaiser Wilhelm II made her Maiden Voyage in 1903, and in June 1906 she captured the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the North Atlantic. But Captain Cüppers already had a long-standing record as a captain. In an article in The Illustrated American of March 8, 1895, Captain Cüppers was pictured and included in an article profiling important German ship captains.

We can’t find what became of the Captain, but six years later the Kaiser Wilhelm II was interned in New York on the outbreak of the First War and if he were still its captain, Cüppers would have been detained in America and been subsumed into American history.

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, will continue to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection after lockdown!


Here Come the Home Children. Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are grateful to John Sayers for another post in his series on ocean liner ephemera.

Allan Line promotional flyer, 1890s
Allan Line promotional flyer, 1890s

The Allan Line ephemera in The Sayers Collection brings to mind the significant role that the Line played in shipping migrants to Canada. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the Canadian Government worked hard to encourage immigration of all types from the British Isles and the 1890 promotional flyer illustrated was a fascinating part of that effort. A specific example was the Home Children, orphaned and abandoned and then taken in by the Barnardo Homes among others.

A local building in our own home town in Canada housed Home Children a hundred years ago and they reportedly all came on Allan Line ships. One of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum’s prized artifacts is a child’s simply-constructed wooden box addressed as being sent via Allan Line’s RMS Corsican.

Coincidentally, the immigration promotion activity produced good business for the Allan Line. This flyer was found with an Allan Line Passenger List and hinted at the impetus for that traveller’s voyage. But if they were immigrating, he or she wasn’t your regular Steerage passenger, because Steerage Class received little documentation. Only a non-steerage passenger would receive a Passenger List or a Menu with a choice of meal offerings. The Home Children being sent to Canada would have had to accept whatever food was plopped onto their plates.

Allan Line immigration inspection card, 23 March 1911
Allan Line immigration inspection card, 23 March 1911

Other Allan Line ephemera in the extensive Sayers Collection includes a Landing Pass from a Corsican passenger, a Mr. William Harrison, showing that he had passed the Medical and Civil Examination criteria. And on the back were instructions in all of the major European languages, confirming that some passengers did not originate in the British Isles. Nationals of other countries were also looking for a new life in the New World.

This archive and a vast trove of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. Additional gems from The Sayers Collection continue to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.



Demise of the S.S. l’Atlantique. Two tragedies. Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are, as ever, very grateful to John Sayers for supplying us with blog posts contextualising treasures from his collection, now being transferred to the John Johnson Collection

This sad black-and-white image of a great liner, the S.S. L’Atlantique, has two aspects to its story. The first element is the ship itself, which went into service in 1930 for a subsidiary of the French Line for service to South America. At some 40,000 gross tons she was the largest – and the most luxurious – of all the ships providing that service.

Photograph of S.S. Atlantique, 1933
Photograph of S.S. Atlantique, 1933

If she had the good fortune of being like other newly-built ships of her era, she would have at least lasted until the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. Unfortunately, a fire broke out in August 1933 while she was being moved through the English Channel for some reconstruction work. The fire could not be extinguished, and she was totally destroyed.

A typed tissue label glued to the back of this crisp 8×10 inch photograph reports:

French luxury liner towed home. The remains of the ruined French liner “L’Atlantique” is towed into Cherbourg Harbour. The bow of the Atlantique and her broken mast photographed on arrival in Cherbourg Harbour. 8/1/33.

And herein lies the second part of the story. The fascinating image is a Press Photo, a remnant of the pre-digitizing age when a number of businesses specialized in providing timely photographic news images, along with a brief narrative on the back, to major newspapers. This crisp image, and a typed caption glued to the back, was labeled as by the Sport & General Press Agency Ltd, London.

Further notations on the back included ‘F194199’, and ‘688’. There is a rubber stamp that says ‘Pageant of the Century. For caption see page 688’. Another penciled notation indicates that an unknown user wants the width reduced to 6 ¾ inches. There is a further penciled notation in red that directs ‘1/14R’.

Each publication would have a library of these photographs, so that after their first usage they would remain available for any future news articles. Can you visualize drawers and drawers of historical 8×10 glossy photographs with brief but convenient captions on the backs? Guess where all these went when publications adopted digital imaging. What was once widespread is now rare because those drawers and drawers of photos are now digital images on the hard drive of a computer or even stored in a cloud.

The images themselves would have been dumped as unneeded. And the clerks who maintained the files, filing new photos and finding any old ones that were needed for a current story, succumbed to the employment ravages of the computer age. Two stories, each of them marking a sad end to an era.

This 8×10 inch glossy Press Photo, and a vast trove of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. Additional gems from The Sayers Collection continue to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.