Case 122 --

Lash's Bitters: Biochemical Analysis
of a Historical Proprietary Medicine


This bottle of Lash's Bitters (Fig. 2A, 2B, 2C) was found in the cellar of a Pittsburgh home owned by Dr. Kelly, a co-author of this report. The home was built circa 1916 and was owned for many years by a neighborhood (Shadyside) butcher. The bottle was unopened, stoppered with a cork, and was covered by foil wrapping. The bottle contained 22 fluid oz and the recommended dose was three to four tablespoons, about 2 oz.

Lash's Bitters were produced in San Francisco starting in 1884 by John Spieker and Tito Lash. Spieker and Lash also produced a number of other proprietary medicines and bitters and had facilities in Chicago and New York as well as San Francisco. Spieker eventually bought out his partner, but continued to produce Lash's bitters as well as another product, Webb's Stag bitters. Spieker died in 1914, but Lash's bitters continued to be produced under his wife's direction until at least 1934. (3)

The marketing of Lash's Bitters was directed largely toward men and Lash's was widely available in saloons. (4) Promotional materials included trade cards, which were typically given to customers by retail merchants. For many people of the time, pleasant, colorful images were not readily available in any other format and these trade cards became very popular, especially in the 1880's, with millions being produced (Fig 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 3E, 3F). Lash's bitters were marketed as a medicine that had cathartic (or laxative) and blood purifying abilities. One advertisement promised that Lash's Bitters "not only cleanses, but regulates and strengthens the bowels". (5) The manufacturer of Lash's Bitters advertised that the cathartic agent was an extract of Rhamnus purshiana (3). The alcohol content in the early years of its manufacture is unknown, but after the Pure Food and Drug Act, labels on the bottles reported an alcohol content that varied from 18 to 21%.


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