The term Coca Mariani encompassed a series of coca based products one of which was a Bordeaux produced wine infused with coca leaves called Vin Mariani. Originally formulated in the 1860’s by M. Angelo Mariani, it would go on to become extremely popular in the United States from the 1880’s up until the early 1900’s.
Born in 1838, the early part of Mariani’s career is described in a book entitled “A Brief History of Cocaine,” by Steven B. Karch, M. D., published in 2006.
It can be said with reasonable certainty, that Mariani worked as an apprentice pharmacist in Paris at Chantrels, a pharmacy located on the Rue de Clichy. Sometime during his apprenticeship years, Mariani moved to another pharmacy in Saint-Germain. He always claimed that he was a certified pharmacist, and his death certificate supports that claim, but there is no record that he ever passed the examination required for certification.
The book goes on to say that he first produced his coca wine while still working as a pharmacy assistant. Later, his advertisements would state that it was “introduced through the medical profession since 1863.” Whether this was the date he first produced the wine; the date he first went into business for himself or just a convenient date for advertising purposes is not clear. Suffice to say, as evidenced by this November 8, 1879 advertisement in the British Medical Journal, by the late 1870’s his business was not only up and running in Paris, at 41 Boulevard Haussmann, but he was also selling his coca wine in England through the reputable pharmacy of Roberts & Co.
In the United States, the company’s operation was headquartered in NewYork City, where Mariani & Co. were first listed in 1883 with an address of 50 Exchange Place. Later they listed 19 East 16th Street (1884 to 1885) and 127 Fifth Avenue (1886 to 1888) before ultimately moving to their long time location of 52 West 15th Street in 1889.
A May 23, 1896 story in the Minneapolis Tribune described their turn of the century operation.
Mr. Mariani has the largest laboratory in France, and here he prepares, in addition to Vin Mariani, a number of other preparations well known to the scientific world. In Burgandy he has large tracts of vine-land where, by means of the blending of certain varieties of wines, he produces the grape from which the wine itself used in Vin Mariani is obtained. He is the largest buyer in the world of Peruvian cocoa, selecting the best leaves for use in his preparations and re-selling the balance to the general trade. He alone, possesses the secret of extracting all the tonic and aromatic principles in the cocoa leaf, and at the same time eliminating the alkaloid. It is the secret, together with the magnificent old Burgundy employed, that has given Vin Mariani its world wide fame.
By the late 1880’s several “coca preparations” were being advertised in the United States under the Mariani name. In addition to his wine, called Vin Mariani, this December, 1885 advertisement mentioned a liqueur, Elixir Mariani; an extract, The Mariani and crystallized lozenges, Pate Mariani.
Vin Mariani was certainly the most heavily advertised and apparently most popular of the lot. This description of its affects was typical of newspaper advertisements from the late 1800’s.
Mariani Wine is certainly the greatest tonic the world has ever known. It strengthens the nerves and gives tone to the general system. It is invaluable as a spring medicine when the system is weakened by changes of temperature and especially susceptible to attacks of malaria and la grippe.
Mariani Wine is specially indicated for throat and lung diseases, general debility, weakness from whatever causes, overwork, profound depression and exhaustion, consumption, malaria and la grippe. It is an adjuvant in convalescence and a powerful rejuvenator. For overworked men, delicate women, sickly children it works wonders.
While its questionable as to whether or not Angelo Mariani was a certified pharmacist, there’s absolutely no question that he was a top notch marketer and one of the first to employ the use of celebrity endorsements in his advertising. According to “Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography,” by Dominic Streatfeild, published in 2001, Mariani would send free cases of wine to leading celebrities of the day, asking what they thought of it and requesting a signed photograph in return. The book goes on to say:
It is difficult to know whether the celebrities who responded were simply acknowledging the receipt of a gift, or whether they were generally impressed with the product, but the result was the same: a huge pile of letters from the most impressive men and women of the age, all apparently advocating the use of Vin Mariani.
Advertisements featuring celebrity endorsements from politicians, actors, musicians, religious leaders and even royalty began appearing in United States newspapers and magazines beginning in 1894. At minimum, the advertisements typically included a sketch of the celebrity and a quote from them. This May 14, 1898 advertisement in The (Washington D.C.) Evening Star featuring Victorien Sardou and Sarah Bernhardt was typical.
If one were to believe Mariani’s advertising, even the Empress of Russia was so impressed that she ordered a case of 50 bottles of Vin Miriani.
Anitchkoff Palace, St Petersburg, Dec. 6, 1894 – “Her Majesty Marie Feodorowna, finding great benefit from the use of your Tonic-Wine, requests that a case of 50 bottles Vin Mariani be sent immediately, addressed to Her Majesty the Empress.” By Order of the Court Physician.
Even Pope Leo XIII got involved, awarding Angelo Mariani a papal gold medal.
The advertising campaign was quite successful, as evidenced by this January 25, 1900 advertisement in the Manitoba Morning Free Press, that indicated by the turn of the century Vin Mariani’s availability had reached world-wide proportions.
“Vin Mariani Encircles the World,” and it is a truism to say “Vin Mariani is always attended by a noonday sun.”
By the early 1900’s however, in the United States the American Medical Association was clamping down on patent medicines and their outlandish claims. In a report published in their November 24, 1906 Journal they questioned the validity of the quotes in Mariani’s testimonials.
The testimonials of these great men and women are enough to convince the most skeptical that this remarkable medicine will do everything but raise the dead – and even under favorable conditions accomplish even this. And still more it will win battles! Witness this from the governor-general of Madagascar: “We were refreshed by Vin Mariani, and before morning carried the stronghold.” Alexander Dumas and Emile Zola are credited with calling it “the elixir of life.” One very strange thing about the testimonials in the circular used in this country is that all are written by foreigners. But Americans (President McKinley – think of it! – among others) are honored by having their testimonials quoted in the circulars used on the other side of the Atlantic. Why? Is it possible that the testimonials are fakes?
In the same journal the A.M.A. had other issues with Vin Mariani as well. Tests they performed revealed that only the Bordeaux wine was imported from France and much of the remaining ingredients, including coca and sugar were added in this country. As a result the A.M.A. took this position:
According to the above report Vin Mariani as imported is simply an ordinary cheap French wine, the preparation sold in this country as Vin Mariani being compounded in this country. Yet the advertising literature, the label on the bottle, etc., state directly that it is a French preparation. Until recently – presumably until the vendors realized that the truth regarding this point would come out – the advertisements in medical journals contained an analysis made by a chemist in Paris. The shape of the bottle, the character of the printed matter accompanying the bottle, etc., are evidently intended to convey the impression that it is imported. Vin Mariani is sold under gross misrepresentations and is a fraud.
No surprise the A.M.A., also claimed that the product made unwarranted, exaggerated and mis-leading statements as to its therapeutic value and, suggesting that it was intended not as a medicine but as a beverage, the report recommended that it be refused recognition as a medicine.
This appears to be the beginning of the end for Mariani’s coca preparations in the United States. Around this time their advertising had become less frequent, and ultimately , whether the result of stricter food and drug laws, looming National Prohibition, Angelo Mariani’s death in 1914, or more likely a combination of all three, by 1920 Mariani & Company was no longer listed in the New York City directories.
The bottle I found is mouth blown and embossed just below the shoulder “Coca Mariani,” and “Paris,” and there’s similar embossing on its base. It likely contained either Vin Mariani or Elixir Mariani both of which were sold in 17 ounce bottles similar to the one shown in an October 1893 advertisement published in a magazine called “The Alienist and Neurologist.” Other advertisements show that back in the day it was likely sold in a paper wrapper.
Based on the November, 1906 A.M.A. Journal quoted above, regardless of the embossing and labeling, it’s not likely that the bottle and/or its entire contents actually originated in France.