Tag: pharmaceuticals

The Rise and Fall of Pilulae

A little searching on EEBO suggests that “pilulae” (and variations such as “pilula” or “pilullae”) enjoyed a heyday of marketing authority for about 20 years in 17th-century England, right around the time people seemed particularly worried about the scurvy epidemic.

Although the earliest reference to pilulae in the title appeared in Patrick Anderson’s Grana angelica hoc est Pilularum hujus nominis in signis utilitas Quibus etiam accesserunt alia quaedam paucula de durioris alvi incommodis propter materiae cognationem, ac vice supplementi in fine adjuncta, published in Edinburgh in 1635, the term did not catch on right away. The next pamphlet to refer to pilulae was published in 1664: Lionel Lockyer’s An advertisement, concerning those most excellent pills called pillulae radijs solis extractae. Being an universal medicine, especially in all chronical and difficult distempers, as by the ensuing discourse will most clearly appear. Over the next twenty years another 15 pamphlets by at least 8 different authors were published, each advertising some wonder pill that cured all manner of disease.

The lists of places to purchase these pills offer a fascinating glimpse into the market for medicines in later 17th-century London. Booksellers seem to be the most common places to purchase these medicines. Coffeehouses seem to have sold medicines too. A few unexpected places apparently sold medicines: shoe makers, haberdashers, a cutler, and even a razor maker. These lists of places to purchase these pills could be used to map where things were sold. In some cases these pills were sold at a remarkable number of shops in London and beyond.

Finally most of these pamphlets also include prices, which ranged from about 2 shillings to about 6 shillings per box. A late pamphlet, J. T.’s Pilula Imperialis gel Sospitalis (London, 1700), advertised a cure for various venereal diseases for prices ranging from 2 shillings to 10 shillings “as occasion requireth.”

The pamphlets seem to conform to a standard set of conventions. Typically, they include a discussion of the sources of the diseases, a list of likely symptoms, a suggested course of treatment to accompany the pills, and some testimony or report of the pills efficacy. They are all clearly marketing tools.

It would be interesting to compile the diseases listed in these pamphlets to get an idea about what the public seemed to fear most in late 17th-century England. It would also be interesting to map where the pills were sold as well as begin to make a map of where different trades and shops did business. Perhaps there are other pamphlets that similarly indicate where certain items were sold that could be used to broaden the map of commerce in 17th-century London.

For those interested, here are the “pilulae” pamphlets. The titles link to the EEBO file (which, regrettably, requires a subscription to view):

Patrick Anderson, Grana angelica hoc est Pilularum hujus nominis in signis utilitas Quibus etiam accesserunt alia quaedam paucula de durioris alvi incommodis propter materiae cognationem, ac vice supplementi in fine adjuncta. (Edinburg, 1635). 40 pages.

Lionel Lockyer, An advertisement, concerning those most excellent pills called pillulae radijs solis extractae. Being an universal medicine, especially in all chronical and difficult distempers, as by the ensuing discourse will most clearly appear. Truly and only prepared by Lionel Lockier, licensed physitian. (London, 1664). 16 pages.
Sold by:

  • Mrs. Harfords at the Bible in Heart in Little Britain
  • Mr. Brugis, printer, next door to Red Lyon Inn, in Newstreet near Fetter Lane
  • Rich. Lownds, bookseller, at White Lion in St. Paul’s Churchyard
  • Mr. Russel’s in Mugwel Street near Cripple Gate
  • Mr. Randal’s at the Three Pigeons, beyond St. Clements Church, in the Strand
  • more than 20 shops beyond London

Cost: 4 shillings per box.

Lionel Lockyer, An advertisement concerning those most excellent pills, called, pillvlae radijs solis extractae. Being an universal medicine, especially in all chronical and difficult distempers, as by the insuing discourse will most clearly appear. / Truly and onely prepared by Lionel Lockier, licensed physitian. (London, 1664). 16 pages.
Sold by:

  • Mrs. Harfords at the Bible in Heart in Little Britain
  • Mr. Russel’s in Mugwel Street near Cripple Gate
  • Mr. Randal’s at the Three Pigeons, beyond St. Clements Church, in the Strand
  • Thomas Virgoes, cutler, upper end of New Fish Street
  • Mr. Brugis, printer, next door to Red Lyon Inn, in Newstreet near Fetter Lane
  • more than 20 shops beyond London

Cost: 4 shillings per box.

Lionel Lockyer, An advertisement, concerning those most excellent pills called pilulae radiis solis extractae. being an universal medicine, especially in all chronical and difficult distempers as by the ensuing discourse will most clearly appear. / Truly and only prepared by Lionel Lockyer, licensed physitian (London, 1667). 21 pages.
Sold by Tho. Fydge, apothecary, at Bishopgate Street at the sign of the Sugarloaf.

B.P., Pilulae antipudendagriae, or, Venus’s refuge whereby every one may secretly cure and preserve themselves from all venereal evils, being a secret never before published : also, the plain and true discovery of the French disease (London: A Brooks, 1669). 16 pages.
Sold by

  • booksellers at the Gridiron near Turn-stile in Holborn
  • at the Three Bibles on London Bridge
  • at the Starr in Little Britian
  • at the Fethers in Westminster Hall
  • at the Angel and Horne in Gresham College
  • at the George in Fleetstreet near St. Dunstan’s Church.

Cost: 5 shillings

Anthony Colly, Natures champion, sounding a challenge to her stoutest assailants: or, a more ample explanation of the virtue and use of my pilulae aureae purgantes, whose operation is hemetick, purgative, diaphoretick, diuretick, anodyne, and narcotick. Whereunto is added a plain and short method, whereby every one of an indifferent capacity … may know under what distemper they labour, and how … my pill works their cure and deliverance. : Also, catalogue of cures performed by this pill … likewise account of twenty four eminent cures performed by an eminent doctor … when all other medicines (except my pill) proved successless. (London: Richard Lownes, 1670). 40 pages.
Sold by

  • Mr. Richard Lownes at the Sign of White Lyon in Duck Lane
  • Robert Horn, bookseller, at Entrance to Gresham College on Bishopgate Street
  • Peter Parker, bookseller, in Cornhill at corner of Popeshead Alley
  • John Place, bookseller, at Furnivals Inn Gate; Thomas Basset at St. George near Cliffords Inn
  • John Amery, bookseller, at Blackboy over against St. Clement’s Church
  • William Cademan, bookseller, at Popeshead in the New Exchange
  • Thomas Archer, bookseller, under St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleet Street
  • Abisha Brocas in Exeter
  • Ralph Shelmendine in Manchester.

Cost: 5 shillings for 48 pills.

Anthony Colly, A more full discovery of the use and vertue of those golden purging pills eminently helpful in the most inveterate diseases either in young or old; where other medicines prove ineffectual. Found by great study, costs, and pains, and now communicated for the publick good of all that stand in need of their balsamick vertue. Whereunto is added a plain, and short method, whereby every one of an indifferent capacity (by the signs and causes of most diseases of humane bodies) may know under what distemper they labor and how, and by what means my pill effects their relief. (London: Richard Lownes, 1671). 42 pages.

Mr. Elmy, At the blew Ball in Heydon yard in the Little Minories, London, near the Tower, liveth one Mr. Elmy, operator, who prepareth that most excellent and successful arcana, Pilula Homogenea (London, [between 1673–1680]). 2 pages.
Sold by

  • Mr. Elmy at the Blew Ball in Haydon Yard in the Minories
  • Mr. Benjamin Harris at the Stationer’s Arms in the Piazza under the Royal Exchange in Cornhill.

Cost: 3 shillings for 24 pills.

R. Fletcher, Good tydings to the sick and lame: or, The sick-man’s library. Teaching both high and low, rich and poor, next under God, how to prescribe to, or procure ease for the pained, strength for the weak, health for the sick, and cure for sores. Being a true and candid relation of the vertue and uses of four excellent medicines, viz. Arcanum vegetabilium, Pilulae vegetantes, Balsamum vitae, Unguentum refrigerans, whereunto is added, a few of the many testimonies and cures performed by the same … published for the good of all who labour under pain and misery. (London: R. Fletcher, 1674). 16 pages.
Sold by

  • William Rayman at Bred Street near Cheapside, between Angel and Bell.

Cost:

  • Pilulae vegetantes 4 shillings
  • Balsauum Vitae 1 shilling
  • Arcanum vigetabilum 4 shillings for a glass
  • Unguentum Refrigerans 1 shilling.

M. Bromfield, A brief discovery of the true causes, symptoms and effects, of that most reigning disease, the scurvy. Together with the causes, symptoms, and effects of several other dangerous diseases. : Whereunto is added, a short account of those incomparable and most highly approved pills, called pilulae in omnes morbos: or, pills against all diseases (London, 1675). 16 pages.
Sold by

  • M. Bromfield at Blue Balls in Plowyard in Fetter Lane
  • Henry Brome, bookseller, at Gun near West end of St. Paul’s Church
  • Francis Ashborne at Bodies and Sleeves in Cheapside near Friday Street
  • Daniel Bennet, cutler, in Exchange Alley in Cornhill
  • Robert Boulter, bookseller, at Turk’s Head against Royal Exchange in Cornhill
  • John Painter, coffee man, at Johns Coffee House above Royal Exchange in Cornhill
  • Mr. Alkin, confectioner, at Lion and Ball against Cree Church in Leadenhal Street
  • Mr. Tuthil, bookseller, at Chiurgeons Sign near Armitage Bridge
  • Mr. Butther, distiller, Plow and Still against George Inn in Soutwark
  • Mr. Stevens, confectioner, Sugarloaf against Whitecross Stree joining Cripplegate Church
  • Tho. Chew, distiller, at the Greenman near Smithfield bars
  • George Lion, grocer, at Tobacco Roll at Little Queen Street End in High Holborn
  • John Baynes, tin man, at the Birdcage at Cock Lane End against High Holborn Conduit
  • Mrs. Firby, stationer, under Grays Inne Gate in Holborn
  • John Starkey, bookseller, at the Mitre in Fleetstreet near Temple Bar
  • Mr. Preston, bookseller, at Posthouse in Russel Street, Covent Garden
  • Mrs. Duke, coffee seller, against Starr Inn in the Strand near Charing Cross
  • more than 40 shops beyond London

Cost: 6 shillings for 80 pills.

Lionel Lockyer, An advertisement concerning those most excellent pills, called pilulae radiis solis extractae: being an universal medicin, especially in all chronical and difficult distempers as by the ensuing discourse will most clearly appear. / Truly and only prepared by me Lionel Lockyer (London, 1676). 2 pages.
Sold by

  • Tho. Fyge at the Sugarloaf in Bishops Gate
  • John Watts in S. Thomas Southwark

Cost: 4 shillings for 100 pills

M. Bromfield, A brief discovery of the true causes, symptoms and effects, of that most reigning disease, the scurvy. Together with the causes, symptoms, and effects of several other dangerous diseases. : Whereunto is added, a short account of those incomparable and most highly approved pills, called pilulae in omnes morbos: or, pills against all diseases (London, 1678). 16 pages.
Sold by

  • M. Bromfield at the Blue Balls in Plowyard in Fetter Lane
  • more than 50 shops beyond London

Cost: 6 shillings for 80 pills

M. Bromfield, A brief discovery of the chief causes, signs, and effects of that most reigning disease, the scurvy together with the causes, symptoms, & effects, of several other dangerous diseases most usually afflicting mankind. Whereunto is added, a short account of those imcomparable, and most highly approved pills; called pilulae in omnes morbos: or, pills against all diseases. Being the only famous medicine of this age against the scurvy, and most other curable distempers. Prepared and set forth for the publick benefit, by M. Bromfield (London, 1679). 16 pages.
Sold by

  • M. Bromfield at the Blue Balls in Plowyard in Fetter Lane
  • more than 50 shops beyond London

Cost: 3 shillings for 40 pills

M. Bromfield, A brief account of some wonderful cures, lately performed by that well known and most highly approved medicine, called pilulae in omnes morbos, or pills against all diseases. Together with a most useful discovery of the chief signs of the scurvey (London, 1679). 2 pages.
Sold by

  • Henry Brome, bookseller, at the Gun near West end of St. Paul’s Church
  • Robert Boulter, bookseller, Turk’s Head against Royal Exchange in Cornhill
  • John Painter, coffee man, John’s Coffeehouse above Royal Exchange in Cornhill
  • Mrs. Alkin, confectioner, Lion and Ball against Cree Church in Leaden Hall Street
  • Mr. Tuthill, bookseller, Chiurgions Sign near Armitage Bridge
  • Tho. Chew, distiller, Green man near Smithfield Bars
  • Daniel Bennet, cutler, Popeshead Alley in Cornhill
  • Mr. Milward, at Westminster Hall Gate
  • Mrs. Lion, grocer, at Tobacco Roll at Little Queen Street in High Holborn
  • John Bayns, Tin man, Birdcage at Cock Lane against Holborn Conduit
  • John Starkey, bookseller, Mitre in Fleet Street near Temple Bar
  • Robert Bentley, bookseller, Posthouse in Russel Street, Covent Garden
  • Mrs. Duke, coffee seller, against the Star Inne in the Strand near Charing Cross
  • Mrs. Pierson, distiller, at the Golden Still against the Mitre Tavern in Kings Street Westminster
  • Mr. Flaxmore at the Maidenhead near Cherry Garden Stairs on Redrif Wall
  • Mr. Crosdeal, chandler, Kingshead near Battle Bridge in Tooly Street
  • James Allen, haberdasher of hats, at the Hat and Harrow against the Bull Inn within Bishops Gate
  • Thomas Stent, cheesemonger, against Hog Lane in Bishops Gate Street
  • Mr. King, razor maker, at the Flying Horse against St. Clements Church in the Strand
  • Thomas Pilkinton, hosier, against Criple Gate Church
  • Gabriel Kunhold, stationer, Kings Head against the Muse near Charing Cross
  • Edmund Trimmer at the Bear Key near the Custome House
  • Richard Northcot, bookseller, New Fish Street Hill near London Bridge and at his shop in St. Peter’s Alley in Cornhill
  • Humphry Cooper, distiller, Queen Hive stairs
  • Edward Chandler, shoemaker, Old Bedlam Gate into Moor Fields
  • Ralph Smith, bookseller, at the Bible under the Royal Exchange in Cornhill
  • William Marshall, bookseller at the Bible in New Gate Street, at end of Ivy Lane
  • Mr. Man’s, coffee man, in Exchange Alley in Cornhill and at his coffeehouse in Abchurch Lane
  • “my house” at the Blew Balls in Plowyard in Fetter Lane

Cost: 3 shillings for 40 pills

Anon., Pilulae Antiscorbuticae. Pills against that epidemic disease the scurvy, with all its symptoms (London, 1680). 2 pages.
Sold by

  • Mr. Hallifax, ironmonger, next door to Cross Inn, Oxford
  • Mr. Troughton’s, bookseller, near Broad Gate, Conventry
  • Whitehall Coffeehouse in Buckingham Court near Whitehall
  • Mrs. Mores’s, salter, next door to White Hart Inn, Southwark
  • James Neale’s near Redriff Stairs
  • Hen. Barbers in Ship Alley in Well Close
  • “my house” at Carv’d Posts in Stonecutter Street, between Shoe Lane and Fleet Ditch

Cost:

  • Antiscorbuticae 1 shilling 6 pence for 18 pills
  • Solamen miseris 1 shilling 6 pence for a pot
  • Febrifuga 5 shillings
  • Exukiano 3 shillings for purging powder, glass of elixir and pot of balsam

Anon., Pilulae Londinenses. or, the London pills, directed and prepared by a physician of many years standing in the College of Physicians in London, according to true rules of art, good for prevention, as well as the cure of all diseases, wherein purging is proper. (London, [1680?]). 2 pages.
Sold by

  • “several places in London”
  • “my house” at the Arch in Great Winchester Street

Cost: 2 shillings 6 pence

M. Bromfield, A brief discovery of the chief causes, signs and effects of that most reigning disease the scurvy together with the causes, symptoms, & effects of several other dangerous diseases most usually afflicting mankind. : Whereunto is added, a short account of those incomparable, and highly approved pills, called pilulae in omnes morbos : or, pills against all diseases (London, 1685). 16 pages.
Sold by

  • “my house” at the Blue Balls in Plowyard in Fetter Lane
  • more than 50 shops beyond London

Cost: 3 shillings for 40 pills

J.T., In the upper Moor fields, at the Globe and two Balls, liveth J.T. practitioner in astrology, and licensed physitian, who prepareth that successful pill, called Pilula Imperialis vel Sospitalis (London, 1700). 2 pages.
Sold by

  • J. T. at the Globe and Two Balls in Upper Moor Fields
  • J. T. at the Golden Ball in Wine Office Court, Fleet Street

Cost: 2 shillings 6 pence or 5 shillings or 10 shillings “as occasion requireth.”

A Historical Perspective on DTC Drug Marketing

An article in the NY Times reports on a recent research about Direct-to-Consumer drug marketing. The article draws attention to authority and power of a “survey” in convincing consumers to self-diagnos and to request particular drugs.

Dr. Jayne’s Almanac—Patent Medicine Propaganda by a local, Philadelphia company.

All this sounds a lot like the techniques used a century ago to market patent medicines. At that time Muckraking journalism helped expose an industry that was probably not helping anybody and might actually be harming many consumers.

In Markting Drugs Then and Now I draw out some of the many similarities between the two eras. There are a number of related posts on patent medicines linked to from that post.