Patent medicine  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Patent medicine is the somewhat misleading term given to various medical compounds sold under a variety of names and labels, though they were, for the most part, actually medicines with trademarks, not patented medicines. In ancient times, such medicine was called nostrum remedium, "our remedy" in Latin, hence the name "nostrum," that is also used for such medicines; it is a medicine whose efficacy is questionable and whose ingredients are usually kept secret. The name patent medicine has become particularly associated with the sale of drug compounds in the nineteenth century under cover of colourful names and even more colourful claims. The promotion of patent medicines was one of the first major products of the advertising industry, and many advertising and sales techniques were pioneered by patent medicine promoters. Patent medicine advertising often talked up exotic ingredients, even if their actual effects came from more prosaic drugs. One memorable group of patent medicines — liniments that allegedly contained snake oil, supposedly a universal panacea — made snake oil salesman a lasting synonym for a charlatan.

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