Sunday, April 1, 2012
With the likelihood that Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate for President, increasing attention is being paid to his Mormon religious affiliation. One topic that will not likely come up is that of “Mormon Invigorators.” These invigorants had nothing to do with the Church of the Latter Day Saints and a lot to do with sleazy nostrum peddlers who saw a market for their quack medicines in the polygamous marriages that many early Mormons practiced.
Shown here is a picture of Brigham Young, famous leader in the Mormon church, surrounded by pictures of 21 of his wives. He also fathered at least 56 children. To many Americans of the late 18th Century, Young and other Mormons seemed the epitome of sexual vigor even into old age. Quick to pick up the scent of fast buck, a few druggists of the times linked the Mormons to remedies that were supposed to restore libido and provide a more active conjugal life.
Some linked their nostrums to a shrub named “tumera diffusa,” more popularly known as damiana. Traditionally reputed as an aphrodisiac, damiana had attracted the attention of the medical fraternity and commercial houses as early as 1870. It often was sold in bottles with semi-nude women and sometimes satyrs scampering around the label. Merchandised as the Mormon Elders Damiana Wafers, however, the advertising took a different tack. As shown here, one ad featured older gentlemen peering at the sign, apparently wondering if the wafers would be of use to them. Another showed an elderly man, clearly with lascivious thoughts in mind, grappling with a nubile lass who seems delighted that old age is catching up to her.
Other ads emphasized the idea that the Mormon Elder wafers would bring the light and joy of small children into one’s life as the invigorator took hold. As shown here, one shows a sprightly gent, obviously high on wafers, cavorting with his wife and new babe. The caption reads: “There is something back of this.” Below is provided the all too obvious answer: the Mormon wafer. A second baby is shown twirling a drum with the remedy’s initials. The text assures that the wafers permanently restores those weakened by early indiscretions, imparts youthful vigor, and is a positive cure for (note all caps) IMPOTENCY.
The Mormon Elders Damiana Wafers were the brainchild of a New York druggist named F.B. Crouch, who did business at 202 Grand Street in the Big Apple. He also boasted a London outlet at 51 Strand. While Crouch could be coy and indirect in his advertising, he resorted from time to time to the traditional methods of selling aphrodisiacs, by featuring a nude. She may have gotten one of his London dealers in hot water with authorities. In 1893, one John James Blissett Hay of Wellington Street, Covent Garden, was summoned to Bow Street Police Court for exhibiting indecent advertising cards promoting damiana wafers in his shop window. The full product name was not mentioned in the police report, but we can speculate it was Crouch’s naked lady who offended the sensibilities of a passing bobby. Because Hay took the advertisements down as soon as he was cited, his fine was only 20 shillings.
Crouch’s Mormon Elder wafers seem have enjoyed considerable success. They came in both pink and white, and sold for a pricey $1.00 and $2.00 a box. Crouch advertised them for almost two decades, into the 1900s. Sometimes he took full page ads that featured a Victorian couple seemingly on the verge of coupling. With this image frequently was included a passage from “The Mission Elders Book,” obviously a play on the Book of Mormon. The quote read: "At a certain time of life certain things cease to interest but about somethings when we cease to care, what will be the use of life, sight, or hearing?" Food -- and wafers -- for thought.
In a trade circular of 1888, the New York druggist explained how the remedy worked:
“Actually creates new Nervous Fluid and Brain Matter by supplying the Blood with VEGETABLE PHOSPHATES, its Electric Life Element, the very core and center of the Brain itself—Restoring the fullest and most Vigorous conditions of Robust Health of Body and Mind, so that all the Duties of Life may be pursued with Confidence and Pleasure, and whilst pleasant to the taste never fails to Purify and Enrich the Blood, and thoroughly invigorate the Brain, Nerves, and Muscles. Its energizing effects are shown from the first day of its administration by a remarkable Increase of Nerve and Intellectual Power, with a Feeling of Courage, Strength and Comfort, to which the Patient has long been unaccustomed.”
If sexual incapacity was not your problem, never mind, you might still be a customer for Mormon Elder Damiana Wafers. The product also was recommended as an infallible remedy for malaria, flatuency, and “nervous dyspepsia,” as well as an antidote for people with a craving for tobacco and alcoholic stimulants. Crouch also sold Mormon Elders’ Attraction, Mormon Elders’ Complexion, and Mormon Elders’ Laxative Fruit Wafers, all with ingredients undisclosed.
If you became disillusioned with the Mormon Elders invigorator but still lusted after Mormon virility, you could purchase for the same purpose from other vendors Mormon Bishop Pills or Brigham Young Tablets. When tested by federal authorities under the Pure Food and Drug Act, Brigham Young Tablets were found to be composed mostly of sugar. Because Mormon labeled nostrums generally were sold by mail, the Feds could crack down on false labeling and eventually ended their sales.
The government did not have had any jurisdiction to investigate the “Mormon Elder Suspensory Bandage.” Advertising material featured the illustration of one well-dressed man handing another a “confidential” package -- one guess, a suspensory bandage! The accompanying text suggests that the device helped guard against injury and disabilities. It came in three sizes: small, medium and large and two qualities, $1 or $2. The description reads like a prototype jock strap. I suppose “large” was the most favored size.
If there is any moral to be drawn here it is that either polygamy was abolished too early or Viagra invented too late. From the looks of the 21 wives of Brigham Young, he may well have yearned for an “invigorator” from time to time.