R.V. Pierce’s The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser (Buffalo, N.Y.: World’s Dispensary-Printing Office and Bindery, 1875), is a household medicine and health guide, as well as an advertisement for its author and publisher’s products and services. First published in 1875, it remained in print through the 100th edition of 1935, sold millions of copies, and helped make its author one of the most successful manufacturer of home remedies in the late 19th century.
Ray Vaughn Pierce (1840-1914) was an American physician, pharmaceutical entrepreneur, author, publisher, and politician. Pierce was born and raised in Stark, New York. He was a school teacher briefly, then left to attend the Eclectic Medical College in Cincinnati, Ohio. After receiving his medical degree in 1862, he established a medical practice in Titusville, Pennsylvania. In 1867, he moved to Buffalo, New York, where he began manufacturing patent medicines and selling them by mail-order. To house his thriving manufacturing and mail-order operations, Pierce built the World’s Dispensary Building. In 1878, Pierce built Pierce’s Palace Hotel nearby to accommodate his many mail-order customers who came to Buffalo seeking his services as a physician. Pierce’s Palace Hotel burned down in 1881 and Pierce replaced it with the Invalids Hotel and Surgical Institute. His enterprise continued to expand, and at one point had an office in London, England. In 1883 Pierce consolidated all of his business ventures as TheWorld’s Dispensary Medical Association, which was later renamed Pierce’s Proprietaries. Pierce’s son, Dr. Valentine Mott Pierce, succeeded his father as head of the business through the 1940s.
In 1877, Pierce launched his political career, serving in the New York State Senate from 1877-1879, and in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 32nd Congressional District of New York as a Republican from March 4, 1879 until his resignation on September 18, 1880, due to ill health. He never held an elected office again, although he was an active opponent of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. In the last year of his life, Pierce retired to his winter home in St. Vincent, Florida, where he died on February 4, 1914.
Pierce was a master of marketing, using print media and signs to spread advertisements and testimonials for his products and services throughout the country. Not all publications were complimentary, and some, such as Colliers and Ladies Home Journal were extremely critical of his products. Pierce won his lawsuit against Ladies Home Journal, but his suit against Colliers was dismissed due to varying definitions of the word “quack.”
The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser is arranged in four main parts. The first, Physiology, is laid out like a textbook, containing a general overview of basic biology, human and animal, and the various systems of the body, including current theories of race, intelligence, and the relationship between physiognomy and character, with chapters on marriage and reproduction. The second part, Hygiene, covers various aspects of daily life, with recommendations for clean living and criticism of practices and theories with which Pierce disagreed. It also includes a section on diet, with recipes. The third section, Rational Medicine, consists of brief summaries of the various systems of medicine in vogue at the time, such as homoeopathy and hydropathy, a list of individual herbal and compounded preparations available for sale from The World’s Dispensary, and a list of the therapeutic value of various types of bath. The final and largest section, Diseases and Their Remedial Treatment, comprises over half the book, consisting mainly of list of disorders, with a description of the disorder, various possible treatments, cases, and glowing testimonials for the products and services of The World’s Dispensary. It ends with a section describing The World’s Dispensary and its services, how to arrange a visit, and how to submit a specimen for diagnosis by mail.
The Strauss Health Sciences Library’s copy of the first edition of The people’s common sense medical adviser is bound in green publisher’s cloth with blind-stamped boards and gilt-stamped spine. The plates have unprinted tissue guards sheets. It was given to the Health Sciences Library by G. Murray Edwards, M.D. The library also has the second edition (1876), the twentieth edition (1889), and the fortieth edition (1895).
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[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]
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