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Popular among 19th century writers, artists, poets (and just about everyone else), laudanum was often referred to as the Victorians' favorite drug.
A highly addictive and often deadly tincture of opium mixed with alcohol, laudanum was commonly used as a household painkiller, much like aspirin, and was prescribed as a "cure all" for every ailment under the sun. It was readily available and more affordable than alcohol, making it accessible to all levels of society.
Many literary greats such as Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Lord Byron and Thomas De Quincey, praised laudanum for enhancing their imagination as well as spawning their creative inspiration. However, the drug's euphoric feelings were short lived and many creatives of the day became hopelessly dependent on the opioid and ultimately died an untimely death.
In 1868, England began regulating the sale of laudanum and also required the tincture to be labeled as a poison. In the US, however, the lure of laudanum was only just beginning.
During the Civil War, the US Army issued 10 million opium pills to soldiers plus 2.8 million ounces of opium powders and tinctures, such as laudanum.
By the late 1880s, unregulated opiates made up 15% of all prescriptions dispensed in America; women made up more than 60% of opium addicts -- from overusing laudanum to treat menstrual cramps, morning sickness and "nervous character."
During this period of no accountability, a number of drug companies made their way onto the scene selling tinctures and quack remedies to the masses. One such company was Gilbert Bros. & Co. out of Baltimore, Maryland.
Peddling concoctions such as worm confections and chloroform liniment, the Gilbert brothers faced many lawsuits around the turn of the century for causing blindness and death after consuming their products -- due to the incredibly high levels of toxic wood alcohol used in their tinctures.
It was because of companies such as Gilbert Bros. & Co. that the Food and Drug Administration was established in 1906.
While we love this bottle because of its amazing poison graphics, we also love it because it's a dark piece of unregulated US medical history. Was the original owner one of the 60% of female opioid addicts? We don't know. If only this thing could talk....
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