In the late 1800’s/early 1900’s, the name “Camphorine,” was associated with a wide range of companies and products. So, recognizing that there’s no company name or address embossed on our bottle, more than just a few potential uses for it exist. The following turn of the century advertisements illustrate several of them. The obvious one is an insecticide for moths.
Others include a “Disinfecting Powder” and “Disinfecting Solution” manufactured by a British firm called the “Sanitary Dry Lime Company…”
…a toilet preparation called “Bishop’s Camphorine…
and even a “Camphorine Shampoo.”
With all these possibilities I had to narrow down the field, ultimately opting to research a purported ‘cure-all” simply called “Camphorine” that was concocted by a man named Reuben Hoyt. The patent medicine had its roots in Brooklyn, N.Y. and was later manufactured in Amityville, Long Island, within shouting distance of the Great South Bay where the bottle was found.
The name “Camphorine,” registered by Hoyt, appeared in the March 2, 1875 edition of the U.S. Patent Office’s “Official Gazette,” under the heading “List of Trademarks, Descriptions of Which Have Not Previously Appeared In Any Printed Publications.” This suggests that it was one of, if not the first product to actually exhibit the Camphorine name.
Hoyt was a New York City druggist dating back to the early 1850’s. Originally listed in the N.Y.C directories with an address of 537 Greenwich Street, sometime around 1855 he partnered with James Quinn and formed Reuben Hoyt & Company. The business remained listed at 537 Greenwich Street but was short-lived and ultimately dissolved three years later. The dissolution notice, dated February 9, 1858 was published in the February 11th edition of the “New York Times.”
Within two years Hoyt, still in the drug business, partnered with Sidney H. Blanchard under the name Hoyt and Blanchard. Throughout the 1860’s the partnership was located on Manhattan’s Fulton Street, initially at 215 Fulton Street (1860 to 1866) and later at 208 Fulton Street (1867 to 1868). Their business card appeared in the August, 1866 edition of the “Druggist Circular and Chemical Gazette.”
By 1870 the company moved again, this time to 203 Greenwich Street and it was around this time, five years before its name appeared in the U.S. Patent Office Gazette, that the partnership began advertising “Camphorine” as a “cure-all.” The earliest advertisement I can find was published in the July 5, 1870 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Shortly after these initial ads were published the Hoyt & Blanchard partnership apparently dissolved. As early as 1871 Blanchard was no longer listed at the 203 Greenwich Street address and “Camphorine” advertisements simply named Hoyt as the proprietor. An early example of the change is depicted in this December 12, 1872 advertisement published in the “Portchester (N.Y.) Journal.”
Between 1872 and 1874 “Reuben Hoyt” advertisements for “Camphorine” routinely appeared in newspapers throughout the northeastern United States from Maine on south to Maryland with many touting it as “The Greatest Discovery of the Age.”
After 1874, Hoyt’s advertisements for “Camphorine” drop off significantly but up through 1879 the N.Y.C. directories continued to list him at the 203 Greenwich Street address with the occupation “patent medicines.”
The following year, in 1880, the directory only listed Hoyt with a home address, and there was no longer any mention of “patent medicines,” or “drugs” as his occupation. Based on this its likely that the business did not survive into the 1880’s; a supposition that’s further supported by 1880 census records where Hoyt named his occupation as Custom House Officer. He ultimately passed away in February, 1896.
While this signaled the end of Reuben Hoyt’s association with “Camphorine,” it didin’t result in the end of the product as a “cure-all, when sometime in the late 1800’s its manufacture was apparently picked up by a man named Richard H. Williams. Also a New York City druggist, directories indicate that between 1875 and 1884 he was living in Brooklyn and working at 180 South Street in Manhattan. Then, according to his wife’s obituary, published in the February 3, 1911 edition of Babylon, Long Island’s “South Side Signal,” in 1886 the couple moved to the Long Island village of Amityville.
By 1900 Williams was certainly manufacturing “Camphorine” in Amityville and marketing it locally on Long Island, as evidenced by this story that appeared in the “South Side Signal,” on March 17, 1900.
Tomorrow (Saturday), weather permitting, our neighbor, R.H. Williams of Amityville, will be in town and will distribute at the residences in the village sample bottles of Camphorine and Silvershine, of which he is the manufacturer. Camphorine is a remedy with an established reputation as a pain reliever, and the Silvershine, as its name implies, is a preparation for cleaning silver. Both are good articles and well worthy of trial. When Mr. Williams or his representatives call on our readers we bespeak for him courteous treatment and counsel a fair trial for the articles he will leave. The goods are advertised in other parts of this issue, and will be placed on sale in Babylon and throughout the country.
The advertisement promised in the story also appeared in the March 17th edition of the “South Side Signal.” and bears a close resemblance to Reuben Hoyt’s previous advertisements, right down to the phrase “The Greatest Discovery of the Age,” strongly suggesting a connection between Reuben Hoyt and R.H. Williams.
While the above story appears introductory in nature, similar advertisements for “Camphorine” appeared sporadically in local Long Island newspapers dating back as far as the mid 1880’s. The earliest one I can find appeared in the December 11, 1886 edition of “The South Side Signal.”
Though none of these ads mention Williams by name, they’re almost identical to the one he published in advance of his sales trip to Babylon in 1900. This suggests that Williams may have begun manufacturing “Camphorine” as early as 1886 when he arrived on Long Island.
By the early 1900’s local newspaper advertisements for Camphorine as a ‘cure-all” disappear completely, a fact that’s not surprising considering that increased public awareness and stricter food and drug laws were clamping down on the outlandish claims of the patent medicine industry around that time.
This advertisement for “Camphorine” that appeared in Charles N. Crittenton’s 1902/1903 catalog of druggist sundries and proprietary medicines is one of the last ones I can find.
That being said, Williams was listed as a drug nanufacturer in the ERA druggist directories as late as 1911 and was still manufacturing ‘Camphorine” as late as 1920, as evidenced by its inclusion on this list of Price Changes published in the April 3, 1920 edition of the “Drug Trade Weekly” (at the bottom.)
The bottle I found is five inches tall with a 1-1/2 inch square cross-section. Mouth blown, its characteristics fit nicely into the late 1800’s/early 1900’s time period that “Camphorine” was manufactured and marketed on Long Island. Recognizing that Long Island is where the bottle was found, makes R.H. Williams a likely source.
That being said, he’s certainly not the only possible source. In addition to the varied uses mentioned at the start of this post, by the early 1900’s other companies were also manufacturing a patent medicine named “Camphorine.” Two even exhibited the Hoyt name. One was E. W. Hoyt & Co., of German Cologne fame and the other was the Hoyt Chemical Co., of Indianapolis, Indiana. As far as I can tell, other than their name, neither one bears any connection with Brooklyn’s Reuben Hoyt.