What has the Future in Store for You ?

Found in a box of pamphlets is this promotional booklet published on behalf of Mother Seigel’s Syrup, which was marketed c 1911 by the London-based A. J. White as a cure for indigestion, constipation and biliousness. It would seem that the Syrup had originally begun as a tonic concocted by the Shaker community in the States, and that later A. J. White took over its manufacture both in New York City and in London.

Essentially the booklet entices readers to learn about the health-giving properties of their product by inserting these claims between the pages of an astrologically-based calendar which tells, among other things, those born in certain months what kind of people they were and what were the lucky days in their months. By so doing it cynically exploits the gullible by juxtaposing possible solutions to their hopes and fears for the future with ‘cures‘ for their digestive problems. In other words, it creates a climate of fear (What has the Future in Store for you?) and then offers possible remedies.

It also appeals to the readers’ imagination and discrimination. Like anyone who has grown rich through catering to the fears of disease through poor nutrition, it promotes the Syrup in the same way that the manufacturers of Coca Cola, Worcester Sauce and indeed, Benedictine and Chartreuse, promoted their products. It is produced using a secret recipe based on ‘natural’ herbs and spices.

‘The true formula of Mother Seigel’s Syrup is known only to the Proprietors, and cannot be discovered by analysis. Even the most eminent analysts admit that it is impossible to accurately determine the composition of any mixture of vegetable extracts , by means of analysis…Concoctions prepared from any of the fictitious recipes which have been published from time to time, have not, and by reason of their composition, cannot possibly have, the same medicinal effect as the genuine Mother Seigel’s Syrup, which is prepared only by the Proprietors, A. J. White Ltd, 35, Farringdon Road, London, E.C.

So there ! Don’t bother to make your own version of our Syrup, because you’re wasting your time. That’s what is meant. There is also a veiled threat in this hectoring tone. Don’t even think of selling your version under some sound-alike title, because Mr White’s lawyers will be on your back, make no mistake! As it turned out, a chemical analysis later on revealed that the Syrup was composed of ‘treacle, water and dilute hydrochloric acid, tincture of capsicum and aloes.’

As usual, the case for the curative powers of the Syrup is based on half truths and misinformation. For instance, the advertisers claim that indigestion can produce, not only wind, pain and biliousness, but also ‘ low spirits ‘, nerves ( not strictly a medical condition) and depression ;in some severe cases this depression was enough to cause sufferers to consider suicide. Utter twaddle, obviously. Incidentally, from the symptoms listed by the many who provided testimonials, most seemed to have been suffering from what we now call ‘ irritable bowel syndrome ‘ , which then as now cannot be cured by guzzling bottles of a herbal tonic, which essentially was what Mother Seigel’s Syrup was. The condition, though not curable, can be kept at bay for intervals through a diet in which certain foodstuffs labelled by nutritionists as FODMAP are eliminated or controlled.

Needless to say, the advertisers took the opportunity to fill the final pages of the booklet with further spurious claims for Mother Seigel’s pills, plasters and cough balsam. There is also an ointment advertised for eczema and other skin conditions amusingly called Kno-Ska (geddit).

Production of the Syrup in the UK continued until at least the 1950s, although by this time its manufacture had passed to Menley and James of Camberwell. Back then, Paul Vaughan, who went on to join the BBC as the presenter of  ‘Kaleidoscope ‘ and ‘Horizon’, was the company’s export manager.  [R.M.Healey]


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