WHO WAS HENRY HELMBOLD?
This article originally appeared in the November 1912 Druggist Circular. It has been presented as found (with slight editing) to give the flavor of the times. The article is comprised of three biographical sketches by people who knew or worked for Mr. Helmbold.
Mr. Helmbold was a retail druggist who operated several drugstore stores at different times in Philadelphia and –New York. These stores, or some of them, were marvels of splendor for their time He put upon the market a preparation of buchu that he advertised in many unique and original ways and at enormous expense. Helmbold made and lost much money. His career was a checkered one in many particulars and that for fondness for publicity, and in ability to get it, he has probably never had all equal all the drug business. He was born at Philadelphia January 11th, 1826, and died at Long Branch September 12th, 1892.
BIRDS EYE VIEW OF HIS CAREER
By An Old Friend
The advertising of the buchu compound was commenced in a small way in 1850, at Philadelphia, and increased in volume until the amount expended reached the yearly sum of about $500,000 in 1869, 1870 and 1871. Europe and Asia were not excluded from the mark. of paint and ink, as you will note by these clippings from newspapers. In addition, the bare spaces available on the sides of the Rocky Mountains, which seemed to the Western traveler as almost inaccessible and insurmountable for the sign painter, displayed the irrepressible advertisement of "Helmbold's buchu." Even the ancient and revered pyramids of Egypt were not exempt from the activity of the advertising artist in the Doctor's employ.
July 4th, 1872, Dr. Helmbold extended a general invitation to all Americans in Paris, France, to be his guests, which invitation was generously responded to by many Americans; the shah of Persia on that date also called and paid his respects. It was reported that the bill for this Fourth of July entertainment amounted to about $19,000, for wine, flowers and other incidentals.
HIS OUTSIDE INTERESTS
The Doctor bought a summer residence at Long Branch, N. J. in 1868, arid built. a row of business houses on 0ean avenue and Broadway, that place. The latter are, known at present and designated as Helmbold's Block. He was also one of the original backers of the Monmouth Park race track in 1869. Gen. U. S. Grant was an occupant of the Doctor's four-in-hand a few times at this seaside resort. The Doctor's racehorse "Helmbold" won the Grand Union Hotel stakes at Saratoga in 187O. It was at Long Branch that Dr. Helmbold died in 1892. The Doctor was always perfectly rational, sensible and thoroughly conversant with affairs around him when entirely free from his occasional indulgence. In the heyday of his business progress he was always considerate arid solicitous of the welfare of his employees, who I have heard not only admired but loved him, and he was generous to a fault. He left no debts or any obligations for advertising. All his creditors were paid in full. The last five years of the Doctor's life were passed quietly at his old home at Long Branch, where he was visited occasionally by representatives of the press from all parts of the United States, and by such social acquaintances as Governor Biggs of Delaware, Senator John Mitchell of Oregon, and others. The Doctor's youngest son, Robert Pell Helmbold, married Miss Hattie Mitchell, the Oregon senator's daughter, this daughter being also a sister of the Duchess de la Rochefoueauld of France. I may say in conclusion that at one period of Dr. Helmbold's business career he operated three prosperous drug stores in Now York and Philadelphia, and including the employees of the retail stores and the laboratory, the advertising agents and commercial travelers, there were on his pay-roll 185 names. Probably no similar enterprise at that time was so large, and his advertising expenditures were probably the most extensive for a proprietary medicine.
Dr. Helmbold was a very short man-his height according to the American passport measurement being 5 feet and 1 inch-and weighed about 128 pounds. He always wore a mustache and full beard, which was black.
Dr. Helmbold's stable, a building which he owned, was at 142 West Seventeenth street, New York, where there were always from eighteen to twenty carriage and saddle horses;-all Kentucky bred and purchased for him by William Babcock, who afterwards became a timer in the judges' stand at Monmouth Park race course. Mr. Babcock was the trainer of the racehorse "Helmbold." His private residence was at 156 West Fourteenth Street, New York, then considered a very select residential neighborhood. Here lie resided from 1863 to 1870. The restaurant of the famous caterer, Delmonico, was located at Fourteenth street and Fifth avenue, at that time, and on frequent occasions this establishment served the Doctor with all the paraphernalia for his various entertainments to the members of the press, and drug trade. I might add that I have heard him say that regardless of the social conviviality of these receptions, lie always considered that they were productive of valuable results as advertising.
Among the press clippings referred to by the writer of the foregoing are several in which Mrs Helmbold is referred to as a woman of unsurpassing, sweetness and grace. and the most brilliant and beautiful woman at the many fashionable resorts which ,she visited. Mrs. Helmbold died in 1907.
IN AN INSANE ASYLUM
.A press clipping dated January 3oth, 1885, tells of efforts made by Mrs. Helmbold before a Philadelphia court to secure the release of her husband from an insane asylum. It is stated in this clipping that the sales of Helmbold’s buchu had amounted to something like a million dollars a Year. Reference is also made to his four-in-hand -and his; quintet of Kentucky thoroughbreds, "' and it is stated that "his elegant equipages outshone any other, at Saratoga and Long, Branch." We also learn from the same source that in 1871 "Dr." Helmbold, accompanied by his wife and children, three bright boys of five, six and seven years respectively-, started on a trip to Europe and the Orient; that as soon as he was out of the country plans were made by those who were envious of his success to get possession of his business, that he was thrown into bankruptcy, although it was said that his; estate was solvent: and that upon his return to this country, he was placed in asylum for the insane. His brother Alfred came into possession of the drug store at 830 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, With its income, said to have been $20,000 a Year. Much legal work was done, commissioners appointed all that. In 1881, according to the same account, Mr. Helmbold was incarcerated in the Norristown Hospital. Mrs. Helmbold assured the court that her husband was perfectly sane and anxious to return to his family. "He promised never to drink again, and his long abstinence from intoxicating liquors, she thought, precluded any possibility of his return to the old habit.
In a dispatch to the New York Sun, from Long, Branch, dated August 19th (no Year given) the reporter quoted _Dr. Helmbold as saying: "Am I crazy? Well, I guess not. I'm not in a lunatic asylum that’s certain. I was never in better health." The reporter went on to say: "Mr. Helmbold is in appearance the same nervous, energetic little man that he was when in the midst of his wonderful business success and fast way of living. He talked rationally about a plan for the future, saying that he intended to stay here until the middle of September, and that about the lst of November he expected to open a drug store in New York, friends having proffered sufficient capital. His wife, who has lost none of the beauty that was once a social attraction at the Helmbold cottage, has been here nearly all the season with her children. This evening Mollenhauer's Ocean Hotel band serenaded Dr. Helmbold, and he made a brief responsive speech. John W. Ferrier, who at the present time conducted a pharmacy and cold-cream works at 1499 Broadway, New York, formerly managed the J. Niven Hegeman store at the northeast corner of Broadway and Thirtieth Street. He thinks that the store was not the Helmbold store. He says: "Mr. Hegeman bought it from a Dr. Nixon, a female homeopathic physician of great reputation, whose manager and factotum, George Dart, a splendid fellow, is now the druggist Of Tuxedo, N.Y. If he brought the Twenty-ninth Street (or Gilsey store) to Thirtieth street, I know not. The Gilsey store was owned by Helmbold, then by Slade, a former clerk of Helmbold's, and then by Wenck, the, present perfumer, who may be able to, corroborate or correct my statement. It then may have gone to Thirtieth Street, but Hegeman had no dealings with Helmbold."
Mr. Ferrier has a vivid recollection of Mr. Helmbold, having,, been a clerk in his most famous store, and what follows may be called-
AN INTIMATE VIEW OF HIM AS DRUG STORE PROPRIETOR
By John W. Ferrier
My connection with Helmbold dates back to 1871 or '72 about the time of his financial decline. In fact, I was several days with the sheriff who closed up the beautiful store at 594 Broadway, near Prince Street. This store was between the Metropolitan Hotel and Niblo's Theater, the rear wall of the latter forming the north wall of the store; when shooting went on during any melodrama the soda men could hear it through this wall and get ready for a "soda rush" in so many minutes afterward.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE STORE.
The store extended from Broadway to Crosby Street, and being perhaps the finest fitted tip place in the city at the time, drew visitors from every part of the country. Any clerk who was not busy would pilot the "Rubes" around and while showing the curiosities would extol the merits of our preparations and the greatness of Dr. Helmbold. There were two soda fountains, one of the sarcophagus style to the left as one entered, but not used, and the second in the center of the store about 50 feet back. There was method in this arrangement, for not only did customers have to pass through rows of show cases (there were, no "silent salesmen" then), but they got a curiosity- developing vista of the fairyland in the rear. Next came a parlor about 25 feet square, carpeted with an Axminster woven in one piece to fit the place, plentifully covered with silk-upholstered comfortable rockers and other chairs, some of which were so expensive that they were protected by a broad silk ribbon to prevent people, from sitting on them. On a table in the center of this parlor were magazines and papers for waiting clients; and wall cases tempted them by their rich and large assortment of perfumes and toilet articles. A substantial ornamental railing separated the parlor both from the front store and the rear part; a colored attendant with three colored aides, clothed in immaculate white, coats with brass buttons, ruled this domain. NO king ever had more ceremony-demanding guards. It was only after much questioning and card giving that the visitor could reach, "the Doctor". Then came another stretch of store, with rows of huge columns and two perfume fountains which owing to their size and the expense of running them, were usually at rest.
Next came the advertising department with its velveteen-coated workers (notice everyone wore a species of uniform), then on one side a doctor's office for medical consultation and on the other the "sanctum sanctorum" as the sign above the glass door to it read. This private office was small, fitted in a rich yet plain manner, the principal object, to my mind, having been a bust carved from some rare wood, representing the great "Doctor" himself--the then great H. T.
To give a small idea of the lavish expense in fitting up "Helmbold's Palace": Brass monograms were set into the marble floor at some places; every gas globe had a huge -H. T. H." on it and cost about $5; there must have been over a dozen mirrors reaching from floor to ceiling; the price of the wood-carving alone would have bought a small sized store; canary birds in cages hung along the fixtures; there was one of those distorting mirrors which reflected the image of the onlooker fat or thin as it was turned probably the only one of its kind in the city at the time. A splendid ladies' room with colored attendant was another luxury.
MAKING SODA WATER DOWN STAIRS.
There was a cellar and subcellar. In the latter were several huge vats ready for making the famous buchu compound had the Philadelphia laboratory been burned. These vats were never used. The soda water was made in the old way, with marble dust and, acid, and the heavy plaster-like residue was allowed to run into the lower cellar from the upper one. Just imagine what a job there was when the new tenant came in!.
THE MAN HIMSELF.
The "Doctor" himself was a very small man with intensely black hair and beard; he was very punctilious and courteous in his manners, and nearly wept one morning as he told his secretary that the men were losing all respect for him. This was because I had not seen him coming in and so had failed to bid him good morning.
Mr. Helmbold had a gorgeous open barouche drawn by three horses, tandem, and driven by "big Dave"-almost as well known as the "Doctor" himself-with one or two footmen, all in livery and each wearing a huge bunch of violets. The horses' heads also had a bunch of these flowers on each side. No emperor could have created more excitement as he drove up. Crowds would gather and the little great man walked between a double line of spectators. The huge glass doors of the store opened as if by magic (they were never locked until his failure) and he made his royal progress, through the long store, first through the lines of clerks drawn up between counters to receive him, past the Soda men, past the colored men-the chief of whom opened the little gate to let him into the parlor and out again on the opposite side, past the bookkeepers, and at last to the prime ministers," the Kearney brothers and the medicus, Dr. D. Every One said "Good morning, Sir."
The retreat in the afternoon was not so ceremonious for he would stop to chat with this one and the other. Frequently he took a glass of soda and almost always called the attendant "Clarence," no matter what his name might be: Clarence was the name of a former soda man to whom he had taken a liking. Occasionally his two sons would accompany him, and like most small boys, they got into all kinds of mischief, so that we were always glad when they left without having broken something. The "Doctor" walked with a brisk, energetic stop and spoke with a penetrating, not to say metallic, voice when giving orders. He impressed every one with an idea of business action.
LABELS AND 'NEWSPAPER ADVERTISING.
The labels on the, principal Helmbold Preparations were steel-engraved works of art by one of the most famous companies and showed a pleasant fiction, viz., a full - rigged ship which was supposed to be On top of the building As a matter of fact, there were masts spars and rigging on the roof, but no sails. He never put less than a column advertisement in a paper, latterly. He had a man look over the Sample papers received from their publishers. Huge bins were filled with these, for reference, and when they were discarded they were sent out by the wagonload. His buchu preparation in particular was so popular that on one of the variety stages a sketch team, Delahanty and Hengler, if I remember right, portrayed Hottentots gathering the leaves for Helmbold,
Ad appeared in Saturday Evening Post August 22, 1857
The killing of "Jim" Fish and the orange riots were events that took place while I was employed at Helmbold's. On the morning of July 12th I was the only person who got through the Police lines at Tenth Street and Broadway. But "Sic transit gloria mundi"; my last glimpse of the famous 594 showed it a closed darkened store, in which a group of shirt-sleeved, card-playing, rough-voiced marshals were sitting at the carved table on the silk chairs, while the canary birds were silent in death. A former manager of Mr. Helmbold, who requests me not to mention his name, supplies facts, which are presented in connected form below. We may call this part of our story-
HELMBOLD AS PROPRIETARY MEDICINE MAN
By an Ex-Manager
Henry T. Helmbold told me that all the capital he had when he started in business was 50 cents. According to his story, he rented a basement for the manufacture of his so-called "highly concentrated compound fluid extract of buchu," and put advertisements in thee daily Papers, the bills for which were to be payable quarterly. Before the first payment was due he had enough money to meet his obligations. From that time on he continued to advertise on the same basis. Mr. Helmbold was not a doctor, although often addressed and spoken of as one. He was not even a graduate in pharmacy. The formula for preparing his compound given to me by Mr. Helmbold himself at 54 Broadway, New York, in 1878, was as follows:
The quantities are for 25 gross. The bottles held about 3 ˝ fluid ounces.
Medley (short buchu, 2 parts, uva)ursi, 1 part63 lbs. 12,oz.
Cubebs .. 21 lbs.,
Licorice root-cut .. 7 lbs.
Alcohol 18 gal., 9 fl.oz
Caramel 10 pts ,
Molasses 5 pts,
Oil of 8 fl. drams
Water. 112 ˝ gal
The product was prepared by pouring boiling water on the medley and licorice root. The liquid that ran through was colored with the caramel, sweetened with molasses and flavored with oil of peppermint to give it the peculiar mint flavor, characteristic of genuine buchu (U. S. P.) and 1/6 of the volume of tincture [?] of cubebs was added, and then sufficient water to bring it to the required amount. It was labeled "highly concentrated compound" fluid extract buchu.
Directions: Take one teaspoonful three times a day before meals. Children 8 to 12 years of age half a teaspoonful; under 8 years from 10 to 30 drops. None genuine unless signed Henry T. Helmbold."
The label was engraved by the National Bank Note Company of New York, and on it was a picture of "Henry T. Helmbold's Chemical Warehouse"; also "Helmbold's Genuine Preparations." The circular, printed on one side in English and on the other in German, recommended the preparation for the usual list of symptoms and ailments for which most nostrums are recommended by their proprietors, ending with a direful reference to insanity and consumption. The wording of the circular was no less a work of art than 'was the engraving on the label. The reader was referred to the United States Dispensatory for description of the medical properties of buchu; also to the medical works of Dewees, Dr. Physic, Dr. Ephraim McDowell, Berg, Travers and most of the old standard works on medicine. Then followed an affidavit in which Helmbold swore that his preparation contained no narcotic, no mercury, or other injurious drugs, but was, purely vegetable At that time his medical depot was at 104 South Tenth companies-street, below Chestnut street, Philadelphia. It was here that he rented the basement, if I am not mistaken. Helmbold published "The Patient's Guide," a treatise on diseases, a work of one hundred pages, which was sold for 10 cents.
The price of this wonderful (?) medicine at wholesale was $90 per gross, but I have been informed that its proprietor at one time was able to force it up to $112, and that the retailer at that time obtained $1.50 Per bottle for it instead of $1.
All of which I have gathered, set down and offer for publication in order that those of us who hear of the wonderful Helmbold from time to time may know who he was, and that there may be preserved for future generations a chronicle of one of the most erratic and successful geniuses that ever did business under a druggist's sign.