Vintage Mailorder Madness- A selection from the 1897 Sears Catalog


 Photos have been enlarged to allow you you to read them.

      In these modern days we can log on to Amazon or Ebay and just about buy anything we want. Well in the 19th century the people could do much the same via the mail from stores like Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Wards. You could buy everything for your household...even the stuff to make a house via these catalogs. Medicine, food, cosmetics, guns, books, name it! It could all be bought in very short order and delivered to your town thanks to the then modern marvel that was the railroad. I use a copy of the 1897 catalog in my American history classes to show just how cheap things were back then, but also the wide and sometimes whacky variety of products one could buy. Here are a few good ones I thought would entertain people.


1.  Laudanum- This product may or may not be familiar to you. Laudanum is basically a tincture of Opium, so it is very similar to a form of concentrated opium you would put into water and drink. It required no sort of prescription to buy and was very common in all shops in the late 19th century. It was like all opiates(morphine, heroin, ect) very addictive. In fact a few pages later is a "patented Opium habit cure" also sold by Sears intended to ween people off the substance. ( In today's money it would cost you 30.33, 55.14, or 82.71 to get your opium fix)

2. Arsenic Wafers- Arsenic is a  toxic heavy metal that is often used as poison or to embalm people among many things, but back in the 19th century is was something that was used by people to cure many ailments. It was one of the treatments along with mercury injections for treating Syphilis.  In the days before antibiotics (1940s), you could only manage bacterial diseases that your body could not fight off. Many people who treated themselves with arsenic for things like Syphilis noticed it improved ones complexion. Of course it also would cause nervous system and organ damage, but is that not a fair price to "repair even he most repulsive skin and complexion" (cost in today's money would be 117.17 for  a dozen small boxes or 220.56 for a dozen large boxes)

3. Coca Wine- Well you are already buying some Opium for what ails you, but that can make you tired so better get some Coca Wine to spruce yourself back up. Coca plants are of course the source for the drug Cocaine. Coca was an ingredient in many medicines of this time and indeed in soft drinks like Coca Cola (itself invented as a medicine). (Cost in today's money 26.19 each or 275.70 for 12)

4. Cures for "Weak Women"- For all those women out there in 1897, men and society thought the fairer sex was more prone to weakness of mental and moral character, especially during certain times of the month. So there were no shortages of cures for these "weaknesses", all of which you can see in the scanned description above. (Cost in today's money would be 16.54 each or 82.71 for 1/2 dozen)

5. Anatomical "Enhancements"- Again the past is much like today. There are no shortages of emails in my junk folder for miracle devices and medicines to enhance my male anatomy and in the 19th century it was much the same. Companies, preying on poor self image and esteem tried to sell the public things to make us "better". Women were often the target as you can see here. The Princess Bust Developer was combines with "bust developer" to grow bigger and more shapely chests for women. Goes to show the more things change, the more they stay the same. (Cost in today's money  would be 40.25)


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