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Center for Inquiry Libraries

Nickell Collection of Dr. R.V. Pierce Medical Artifacts

About the Nickell Collection of Dr. R.V. Pierce Medical Artifacts:

Dr. Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry, owns many snake-oil items, quack medical devices, and patent-medicine artifacts. Of high interest to the Western New York region is Dr. Nickell’s collection of Pierce artifacts and memorabilia.

Dr. R(ay). V(aughn). Pierce (1840-1914) was a graduate of the Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati. After practicing medicine for a few years in Pennsylvania, Pierce moved to Buffalo and began the World Dispensary Medical Association. Pierce marketed many medical treatments which fall under the category of “patent medicines” and nostrums. Pierce was probably second only to the legendary Lydia Pinkham (1819-1883) as a marketer of medical tonics and mail order nostrums. His marketing placed advertisements for his products in newspapers everywhere, even having advertisements painted on the sides of buildings and barns throughout the country, some of which still remain today.

Pierce established the Palace Hotel, a manufacturing facility, and later the Invalids Hotel and Surgical Institute all within Buffalo, and even established an office in London. Pierce also was a U.S. Congressman, and fought for “free enterprise” enabling the sale of his various mixtures.

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 did little to stop these items from being sold, but probably made the company change the ingredients to safer ones that would be shown on the packaging as a requirement of this act. Pierce’s company, Pierce’s Proprietary’s, continued to sell items until the mid 1940s.



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