November 9, 2010

Vintage Drugstore Carnival: 'Bile Beans'... To be attractively slim, and to ensure regular daily elimination!

While Bile Beans were initially pitched as a cure for biliousness, the influenza epidemic of 1899 was too good an opportunity to miss. Horrible though the flu was, a lot of people would recover after a week or so anyway, and it was an easy matter for quacks to point to cases where the recovery coincided with the taking of their medicine.

A leaflet enclosed with the Beans stated that they were also a cure for cirrhosis of the liver, blackheads, and all "female complaints" (Sorry about that, ladies), and later they were mainly targeted at women, using glamorous pictures that now appear incongruous with the unattractive product name. Although the leaflet said that the Beans did not include mercury, bismuth, or aloes, they did contain aloin - an aloe extract with laxative properties that is no longer considered safe because of its potential side effects. The other ingredients were cardamom, peppermint oil and wheat flour, with a black gelatin coating. Yummmy!
The story behind the Beans went that an Australian scientist, Charles Forde, had discovered an ancient aboriginal remedy. The actual inventor was a Canadian called Charles E. Fulford, and the story about the aborigines was completely made up. Although this was revealed during a 1905 court case where Fulford sued the proprietor of an imitation product, the Bile Beans became very popular in the 20th century and were still on sale in the 1980s.
~ Image taken from the postcard book, "Just what the doctor ordered": Health and Grooming in the Classic Age of Advertising. All info taken from


  1. I think the woman in the ad picture should be named "Bile Beans Betty." That is a super-duper hideous product name. ;)

  2. I think I may have to get myself a copy of that postcard book.
    Because these are really,

    yeah, that's it!

  3. Aha! I knew 'Bile Beans' sounded familiar to me. Here's a picture I took when I was in York last year:

    Loving the name 'Bile Beans Betty' :D

  4. Hey, MoonDoggie!
    Your shot of that old ad on the side of the building is GREAT! I love how it says, "Healthy, Bright-Eyed, & Slim" along the bottom. Wouldn't it be wonderful if that was on the side of an old house or brownstone that you could LIVE in?? I think it'd be awesome to have that on the side of MY home! ;)


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