Its not often I come across an article that dates back as far as the 18th Century but it sure looks like I’ve stumbled onto one here. Likely of English origin, “J. Roche’s Embrocation for the Hooping Cough” was included in an inventory of patent medicines advertised for sale as early as February 26, 1799 in The Edinburgh (Scotland) Advertiser. The advertisement, for a medicinal wholesaler called Baxter’s Italian Warehouse, is partially reproduced below (Roche’s is on the left side, midway down).
Over the course of the next 140 years it was touted as:
An effectual Cure for the Hooping Cough, Without Inward Medicine
The medicine’s marketing message, aimed primarily at the parents of small children remained relatively consistent throughout the product’s long history. The following appeared in “Newcomb’s Midland Counties’ Almanac, and Rural Handbook for the Year 1866,” and was typical.
This is the only discovery affording a perfect CURE, without administering internal medicine, the difficulty and inconvenience of which in all disorders particularly incident to children, are too well known to need any comment. The Inventor and Proprietor of this EMBROCATION can with pleasure and satisfaction declare that, its salutary effects have been so universally experienced, and so generally acknowledged, that many of the most eminent of the Faculty now constantly recommend it as the only known safe and perfect cure, without restriction of diet or use of medicine.
Many thousands of children are cured annually by this remedy; on the first attack, an immediate application of the EMBROCATION will prevent the complaint taking any hold of the constitution, and a few times using often completely cures. The Proprietor therefore earnestly and conscientiously recommends it to parents, guardians, and all those who have the care of children.
While Roche was certainly distributing the article as early as the late 1700’s, it apparently wasn’t until sometime in the early 1800’s that he obtained an English patent for it. A notice (or is it an advertisement?) referencing the patent was published in London’s Morning Chronicle on January 17, 1809.
By Majesty’s Royal Letters Patent. – ROCHE’S ROYAL HERBAL EMBROCATION, and effectual Cure for the HOOPING COUGH, without Medicine. – The unrivaled reputation this Embrocation has gained, and the Inventor, anxious to secure it genuine to the public, and prevent the impositions daily practiced, by unprincipled persons vending dangerous compositions, his Majesty has been pleased to grant his Royal Letters Patent, for a security to the public, appointing him the sole benefit of his most invaluable discovery. The public and families may therefore be supplied wholesale and retail, at his house, No. 19, King Street, Holborn, and are requested to observe that Stamp is signed “J. Roche;” and with each bottle is given a full direction, at the top of which is his Majesty’s Arms. Price 4s. – All others are counterfeits.
The above notice suggests that Roche originally distributed his embrocation from a location on King Street in the Holborn district of London. Shortly afterwards however, he formed an association with a firm named Shaw & Evans to serve as his exclusive agent. This December 9, 1812 advertisement published in London’s Morning Chronicle named Shaw & Evans as the product’s “only wholesale vendors.”
Within two years Shaw & Edwards had apparently dissolved their partnership with the remaining partner, Evan Edwards, continuing the business under the name of simply “Edwards.” Another advertisement, this one published in the December 15, 1814 edition of the Morning Chronicle made it clear that Edwards had continued the association with Roche’s Embrocation. The advertisement, almost identical to the previous one, now referred to “Edwards,’ as the medicine’s “only wholesale and retail agent.”
Sometimes referred to as a “medicine warehouse,” the “Edwards” business was originally located at 66 St Paul’s Church Yard in London. An advertisement published in the November 29, 1817 edition of The (London) Times, included Roche’s Embrocation among a menu of patent medicines available at that location (Roche’s Embrocation appears on the left at the bottom). At the time the advertisement still referred to the business as the late “Shaw & Edwards.”
Over the course of the next 100 plus years the name Edwards remained intimately associated with Roche’s Embrocation. At some point the original proprietor, Evan Edwards, gave way to Wm. Edwards and by 1880 the company was named Wm. Edwards & Son. Always located in London, the company left their long time St Paul’s Church Yard location in 1867, first moving to 38 Old Change in 1867 before settling at 173 Queen Victoria Street in the late 1870’s. They remained there well into the 1920’s and possibly longer.
Roche’s Embrocation made its way across the Atlantic to North America by the late 1820’s. Its first documented appearance that I can find was in Canada where it was included on a list of medicines available from an importer called the Joseph Beckett & Co. Found under the heading “New Goods,” the list was published in the July 7, 1828 edition of the Montreal Gazette.
An advertisement for a New York City druggist named Patrick Dickie that appeared in the January 12, 1837 edition of the The (New York) Evening Post made it clear that by the late 1830’s Roche’s had arrived in the United States as well.
At some point, the drug importing firm of E. Fougera and Co. began serving as the United States agent for Roche’s Embrocation. This Fougera advertisement, aimed at druggists and published in the December, 1896 Druggist Circular and Chemical Gazette touted a “full assortment of imported French and English Pharmaceutical Specialties,” Roche’s Embrocation among them (bottom right).
E. Fougera & Co. was established in 1849, so it’s possible that their relationship with the Edward’s business extended back that far. That being said, I can’t find any evidence connecting the two firms until this December, 1889 Harpers Bazaar advertisement.
Coupled with the fact that up through the mid-1880’s U.S. advertisements for Roche’s were few and far between suggests that the 1880’s was closer to the start of their relationship.
Always located in Manhattan, Fougera was listed in the New York City directories at 26 to 30 North William Street until 1905 when they moved to 90 Beekman Street.
Later they would move again, this time to 75 Varick Street.
By the late 1920’s and early 1930’s Fougera’s advertising of Roche’s Embrocation had dropped off considerably and by the late 1930’s the article was no longer referenced in the newspapers. Its disappearance was surely related to a 1938 cease and desist order by the Federal Trade Commission that struck at the heart of their advertising.
E. Fougera & Co., Inc., a corporation, 75 Varick Street, New York City, vendor-advertiser, was engaged in selling a medicinal preparation designated Roche’s Embrocation and agreed in soliciting the sale of and selling said product in interstate commerce to cease and desist from representing it directly or otherwise:
a) That Roche’s Embrocation constitutes a competent treatment or an effective remedy for: 1. Croup, 2. Bronchitis, 3. Heavy chest colds, 4. Whooping cough, 5. Difficulty in breathing or 6. Fits of coughing
b) That it prevents choking, breaks up the true cause of any of the above conditions, or loosens phlegm fixed in the chest and stomach. (July 8, 1938)
The bottle I found is mouth blown, with a one inch square cross section and approximately five inches tall. It contains embossing on all four sides and appears to exactly match the example found in the following 1920 advertisement, although mouth blown, it likely dates somewhat earlier.
On a final note….Is it spelled “Whooping” or “Hooping” Cough?
At first I thought that the word “Hooping,” embossed on the bottle was a typographical error and should have been spelled “Whooping” Cough. However, several turn of the century dictionaries (The Century Dictionary – An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language, 1895 and 1914) indicate that both “Whooping,” and “Hooping” were acceptable spellings at that time. By the mid-20th century, Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, (Fifth Edition), makes no mention of the “Hooping” alternative.