A Magical Elixir

By Tisa Loewen, Archaeology Intern

As the Archaeology Intern at Historic Huguenot Street I find all sorts of interesting pieces within our collection that expand our knowledge about early life in New Paltz. Recently I came across this bottle cataloged in May 2007. It was discovered by the garden club during the flower garden project next to the Roosa House on Huguenot Street.

ayersmorphineThis vessel once a container of Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral medicine. This medicine was popular and most widely used from 1843 to 1870. Ayer’s was used to treat “dreaded childhood afflictions such as whooping cough, influenza, consumption, as well as all diseases of the lungs and throat.” [1] [2] The magical elixir contained a small quantity of opioids, which was legal and common in medications at the time. [1] [2]

The cure-all narcotic was widely successful and advertised with such colorful posters as the one below 3. Ayer’s popular remedy received global acclaim, and was even shipped in special “ornate boxes” to foreign dignitaries.

“When James Cook Ayer retired in the early 1870s, he had acquired a vast fortune from his patent medicine industry and was considered the wealthiest manufacturer of patent medicines in the country.” 1



1 Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral Bottle. Odyssey’s Virtual Museum.
2 “LHS Presentation: ‘J.C. Ayer & Co. and the Civil War.’” October 24, 2011. Lowell Historical Society.
3 “Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral Cures Colds, Coughs & All Diseases of the Throat and Lungs.” Images from the History of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine.