RB-0695.2 | "I Was Dying !"
"I Was Dying !"
Wells & Richardson Co.
1896, 19th century
24.7 x 17 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords: female (19035) , portrait (53878) , Print (10661)
Keys to History
The use of testimonials from people allegedly cured by the advertised product was widespread at the time. Many ads featured long excerpts from letters attesting to former ailments and lauding the benefits of the remedy and its secret ingredients. The strategy was to personalize the pitch, making readers feel as if they were hearing the story firsthand.
Most of these testimonials were partially made up by the advertisers. The actual letters were altered to exaggerate the writers' symptoms, thus playing up the remedy's far-reaching, miraculous properties. Correspondents generally received a sample of the manufacturer's product with the response. Their letters were sold to other companies looking for similar material to boost sales.
To allay consumer scepticism, advertisers promised vast sums of money to anyone who could prove the testimonials to be false. Manufacturers are far less likely to make such promises today.
D. Goulet, Le Commerce des maladies, (Quebec City: Institut québécois de recherche sur la culture, "Edmond De Nevers" series, 1987), pp. 86-87.
J. Collin and D. Béliveau, Histoire de la pharmacie au Québec (Montreal: Musée de la pharmacie du Québec, 1994), pp. 146-155.
Excerpts of a testimonial from an advertising pamphlet by Wells & Richardson, maker of Paine's Celery Compound.
Depending on the targeted clientele, the advertiser used testimonials from the U.S. or Canada. The pamphlet features numerous excerpts, including this one from Mrs. Lefebvre and one from Mrs. Pierce of Saint John, New Brunswick.
In the late 19th century, remedy manufacturers began deploying new strategies to win over readers: eye-catching headlines, testimonials from the allegedly cured, exaggerated illnesses and inflated product benefits.
Wells & Richardson was accused of conspiring with a Chicago daily to manufacture false testimonials in the late 19th century.