The Beech Is Back

Before we ease the tension and pass the gum around I would like to know what a Beech Nut is, and why it is involved with chewing gum. I never really thought about it before but I wanted to write about this great 1958 ad. I love ads that show old packaging, don’t you? Especially if they show a whole product line, like this ad.

Beech nuts or mast are the fruits of the beech tree, a deciduous hardwood; species of beech can be found all over the world, pretty much everywhere but Africa. Beech nuts are small, oily and a little bit bitter. Here at you can read all about gathering and eating beech nuts. It sounds like they are kind of difficult to get out of their husks, but that they are pretty good to eat once you do. Beware, though, because if you eat a lot of them you can get a stomach ache or, as one writer noted in 1823, “when eaten in great quantities [beech nuts] occasions headaches and giddiness.” Probably tension, too – in which case you’d want to chase the beech nuts with some Beech-Nut.

The Beech-Nut Packing Company, which made everything from the first vacuum jars to ketchup, candy, marmalade and, of course, gum, was originally called the Imperial Packing Company and was located in Canajoharie, New York. Back in the 1890s, Imperial made smoked hams which were called Beech-Nut hams. I located an 1891 ad for the ham which has given me a clue why they called the ham and then gum (and all the other foods) Beech-Nut. Because it was “Sweet As A Nut,” that’s why. And maybe there are a lot of beech trees in Canajoharie, New York. That’s all I’ve got. We may just have to leave this a mystery.

But we do know that there aren’t any actual beech nuts in the chewing gum. And on that note, I can ease the tension by chewing some gum while I go back to avoiding the laundry.

More about beech nuts here at Adirondack Almanac.

Hoffman and the Headache Powder

All good drugstores, back in 1890, probably had something like Hoffman’s Harmless Headache Powders for sale – though I can’t imagine any remedy having a better name than that, can you? It was, at the time, just the thing to have on hand when a little horned devil got inside your brain and started prodding your facial nerves.

Hoffman also made Hoffman’s Harmless Liver Pills that were “small, sure, and safe” in case you needed a laxative, “as is the case with some headaches,” says another 1890 ad, this one in the Pittsburg[h] Dispatch – featuring the same confused-looking gentleman and his inner demon. According to Home Medicine: The Newfoundland Experience by J.K. Crellin, Hoffman’s powders were among the first headache medicines ever to be sold in Newfoundland, Canada. Hoffman made his medicines both in New York State and Ontario.  However, powders like Hoffman’s usually contained coal-tar derivatives, which were (as you might imagine) rather toxic.  Not so harmless, really. And not so good for your headaches.

Happily, this is no longer the case. There are much better choices for us today, in real and – even more conveniently – in virtual drugstores. At Canada drugs, for example, you can buy over the counter drugs – whether you want to buy lipitor, or any number of other medicines. It’s quick and fully certified by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association. And I’m happy to say that they have plenty of excellent headache remedies, too; ones that would cure Mr. Hoffman’s hapless head in no time at all.

The Reactionary Lifter

Even back in 1890, people were beginning to think about the correlation between health and exercise – as you can see in the advertisement on the left, which shows an elegantly dressed lady standing on what looks like a very primitive sort of treadmill. Perhaps she ought to know that you can’t just stand there, you need to do something.

The Reactionary Lifter was invented in 1871 and, according to another ad in the collection of the New York Bar Association (link here), gentlemen and ladies were guaranteed to double their strength in three months “without necessitating a change of clothes.” Just come in from that grand party, take off your wraps, and clamber aboard!

Now, once you come away from the Lifter, you need to have something a trifle more dependable to help preserve your health. Brisk walks, balanced meals, and -  perhaps a little insurance. There was insurance – life and fire insurance mainly, back in the Victorian era. Health insurance was first available as “accident insurance” in the 1850s, but the modern version dates from the early 1900s. Medicare news, or rather its equivalent, was not as easy to find back then as it is now. But now you have a lot of choices about how much insurance you would like to have. Medicare supplements are a good way of making sure that you have all the coverage that you need. Final Expense Insurance is also a good idea when you’re planning far into the future.

Then once you’ve got that covered, you can dress up in your finest mutton-sleeved gown and go stand on the Reactionary Lifter again. Look how serene the ad lady looks! Just as if she had set up a great deal of insurance for herself, wouldn’t you say? I am quite sure that you will feel – as the ad says – your “health restored” and your circulation positively invigorated. And you won’t even need to change into your sweatpants.

The Fourteen Hour Wife

Vintage Ad Browser

Being a wife in the 1890s equals scrubbing the floor, according to Gold Dust Washing Powder. That Eight Hour Man is no captain of industry, or else his Fourteen Hour Wife would have a fleet of housemaids and they’d have to do the scrubbing.

As for me, there’s no powder in the world – gold-dust-enhanced or not – that would save me any time. Never mind strength or patience. I don’t know how much money it’d save either, but as soon as I’d saved enough I’d be off in my time machine looking for a Swiffer to take back to 1895.

The wording of this also implies (to me anyway) that she’s only a wife for fourteen hours. As soon as she clocks off, she turns into the Ten Hour Floozy. Now that sounds like fun! I’d like to see an ad featuring her.