Medical developments come and go over the centuries, but one thing that unites us with our ancestors is that incurable misery of human life – the common cold. Snot hasn’t changed much since the Hippocratic writings of the 5th century BC described the ‘acrid mucus’ that runs from the nose, and presciently referred to colds as something ‘which we have all experienced and shall continue to do so.’
But it is, as they say, an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and one way to benefit from the common cold is to sell a purported cure. During the Victorian period, commercial over-the-counter remedies proliferated, anticipating the array of cold medicines available today. Big advertising budgets – plus the fact that most colds get better on their own no matter what you take – contributed to these products’ success. Here we look at ten of the remedies available to the bunged-up customers of 19th-century British and American pharmacies.