Royal Reels: Gambling


The cover has four single 1d red New South Wales stamps each postmarked with the rays ’25’ of Kiama and it could have been overweight for it attracted a tax stamping of T 10 and a blue crayon of 2, with a pair of 2 cents USA postage dues. It is addressed to J.C. Ayer Co., Lowell Mass., (United) States America (Figure 1).

The reverse clearly shows that the cover was posted in KIAMA/ AU 10/ 1898/ N.S.W with a transit SYDNEY/ AU 10/ 8.30 PM/ 98/ 43 duplex. The cover had a transit mark of CHICAGO/ SEP 14/ 11.30 AM/ 98 with a poor LOWELL, MASS/ SEP 16/ 7.30 AM/ 98 arrival (Figure 2).

James Cook Ayer was born May 5, 1818 in Connecticut, his father Frederick dying when James was 11 years old. To support himself he worked in his grandfather’s carding mill making flannel, but at the age of 15 he went to live with his maternal uncle James Cook in Lowell, Mass. The city at that time was a booming industrial city of 50,000 people, and James was destined to add to his own personal wealth and that of the city of Lowell.

In 1838 James became a clerk in Jacob Robbins Apothecary Shop where he worked for several years. He became acquainted with Dr. Samuel Dana, under whom he studied medicine, so that the title of Doctor that he subsequently used could have been legitimate. When aged only 22, he purchased the shop with money borrowed from his uncle for a sum of $2,486.61. In 1850 he married Josephine Mellen Southwick, daughter of a prominent Lowell carpet manufacturer.

According to the records in the U.S. Patent Office, Ayer introduced his first over the counter medication, Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral in 1844 (Figure 3); in 1854, this was followed by Ayer’s Cathartic Pills (Figure 4); in 1857, his Ayer’s Ague Cure was introduced (Figure 5); and in 1859, Ayer’s Sarsparilla was introduced (Figure 6).

The first 2 products listed were to become the company’s mainstays, for they were offered for nearly 100 years. Ayer’s Hair Vigor was introduced in 1864, but it had stiff competition from Hall’s Hair Renewer, so Ayer bought the firm. Ayer was a hard working man and he used advertising extensively as evidenced by the above trade cards. He advertised in five languages, including Spanish and Chinese. By 1871, Ayer was quoted as saying his laboratories produced nearly 630,000 doses of his various preparations per day. There is a website showing a newspaper advert listing more than 20 shops in Prince Edward Island, Canada that recommended Ayer’s products.

J.C. Ayer died in July 1878, and the company was then run by his brother, Frederick. In 1890 the company was quoted as distributing nearly 15 million almanacs per year and advertising in nearly 1900 newspapers. Ayer’s American Almanac for the use of farmers, planters, mechanics and all families, was published from at least 1857 until 1923 (Figure 7).

One must wonder whether the cover contained such an extensive listing of the N.S.W. sender’s requirements that it required additional postage for there was no other obvious reason for the tax and postage dues.?

Categories: Health Sciences