US Stamps

Faux stamps printed on Burdock Blood Bitters cards

Apr 12, 2021, 1 PM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Thanks to the National Museum of American History, we have some of the story of Burdock Blood Bitters, a medication for “invalid ladies.” It came to my attention as the result of my collection of faux stamps on postcards and advertising cards of the late 1800s to 1920s.

The front of one of these advertising cards is shown in Figure 1, and a second card is shown front and back in Figure 2. No United States stamps resembling those on the front of the cards have been issued.

The medication was manufactured in Buffalo, N.Y., but was available in at least the eastern United States through companies in Connecticut, Massachusetts and West Virginia. Their names are handstamped on the back of the cards.

Burdock Blood Bitters were introduced shortly before the Civil War and were available in bottled form into at least the 1930s. I gather that a formulation very much like it remains in use today — for treating acne.

The information on the back of advertising cards promote the following benefits: “It makes pure, healthy blood, and regulates all the organs to a proper action, cures constipation, liver and kidney complaints, female weakness, nervous and general debility, and all the distressing miseries from which two-thirds of the women of America are suffering. …”

The ingredients included burdock root, yellow dock, dandelion, seneca, cascara bark and goldenseal, plus about 20 percent alcohol. No doubt that last ingredient contributed to at least temporary relief of whatever ailed the invalid.

Exact dates for these advertising cards are not known, but the cancellations — which like the stamps are printed as part of the cards — say 1891.

The colorful faux stamps stand out on these cards, making an attractive presentation. They also add an element of curiosity, encouraging the viewer to look more closely. And despite the vertical orientation of the images of the women and inscription on these cards, the orientation of the stamps and cancellations make the cards resemble postcards.

Hardly anyone then or now could resist turning over a card to see what it says. All in all, the cards were effective advertising.

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