Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cascarets Token from a Bowl of Screws

From my growing collection of patent medicine marketing ephemera, this two-sided coin:

Note the classic slogan near the bottom of the design: "Best for the bowels."

Cascarets, which I had never heard of until I saw this coin in a bowl full of screws, nuts, and washers in my basement, was a brand of laxatives made from cascara, the bark of a bucktorn tree (Rhamnus purshiana, native to the Pacific Northwest). According to the Candy Professor,

Cascarets were made as brown octagonal tablets reputed to have a “pleasant taste — almost as pleasant as chocolate.” They were put up in rectangular tin boxes of six tablets designed to nestle easily in a vest pocket or small handbag. Cascarets quickly captured the nation.... their roll-out [was backed] with a $500,000 advertising push and incentives to retail druggists. By 1899, Cascarets were selling 5,000,000 boxes per year, and were poised to become the top-selling proprietary medicine in the U.S.

Cascara is a powerful drug with unambiguous effects. As the science staff at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital explain, “Cascarosides increase intestinal motility and lead to propulsive contractions.” But around 1900, Americans didn’t just associate constipation with abdominal discomfort or gas or indigestion. Constipation for our great-grandparents was the root evil of just about every ailment and malaise you could think of. And for whatever was wrong with you, a laxative (or purgative or cathartic–the terms were used pretty interchangeably) would do the trick....

But the real benefit in the new candy cathartic was the banishment of the old remedy:  castor oil. Doctors and mothers alike were desperate to find some way of avoiding the nightly struggle to force the nasty liquid down Junior’s screaming throat.  Imagine the relief of American children when Cascarets took the place of the daily dose of castor oil. 
The "always win" token is from a bit later in the product's history — the 1930s. Lots of people seem to have them for sale online, so I guess mine is not particularly valuable, but it does make for a nice reminder of the era.

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