a magazine for the next generation of stamp collectors

Stamp Spotlight: Hunt’s Remedy

Hunt’s Remedy • RS56

  • $0.03 patent medicine revenue stamp, private die
  • Issued around 1879
  • Commissioned by William E. Clarke
  • Engraved and printed by printed by the National Bank Note Company
  • Initial run of 9,000

We’ve got something a little different for you this week: a revenue stamp! And what a revenue stamp this is. Used to indicate tax paid on patent medicine (aka a bottle of utter quackery) a central design of “a man wrestling with death, who he is about to strike with a bottle which he holds in his uplifted hand,” you know you’re in for some drama.

Hunt’s Remedy, sold by William E. Clarke of Providence, RI, was one of many “miracle cures” peddled in the 19th century that promised to cure everything from back pain to “nervous diseases.” In fact, here’s a list of everything it said it could do, because it really is astounding: “CURES all diseases of the Kidneys, Liver, Bladder, and Urinary Organs; Dropsy, Gravel, Diabetes, Bright’s Disease, Pains in the Back, Loins, or Side; Nervous Diseases, Female Weaknesses, Excesses, Jaundice, Biliousness, Headache, Sour Stomach, Dyspepsia, Constipation & Piles.”

It’s difficult now to know if the brown liquid in the blue glass bottles sold as “the best KIDNEY and LIVER MEDICINE” did anything, positive or negative, but Mr. Clarke did sell each small bottle (which would have carried the $0.03 cent stamp) for $0.75, just over $20 in today’s dollars. It’s possible the net effect was neutral; Hunt’s Remedy did disappear from circulation not long after these stamps were printed, but it’s suspected that rather than being run out of town on a rail, Mr. Clarke passed away of natural causes and was not around to sell any more.

In 1998, the central design was replicated for the USPS’s Celebrate the Century series, appearing in a $0.32 stamp celebrating the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act, a 1906 consumer protection act which instituted many regulations related to the quality of medications and the accuracy of their labeling. Sick burn, USPS. If you would like to learn more about this incredible stamp, check out these resources from the National Postal Museum, the Ephemera Society of America, and the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors. If you want to learn more about patent medicine revenue stamps in general, check out Patent Medicine Tax Stamps by Henry W. Holcombe. It’s out of print but worth hunting for (and can be found in the American Philatelic Research Library here in Bellefonte!)