Saturday, March 29, 2008

From Atlanta, Georgia: 'French Wine of Coca' and 'Coca-Cola'

From my unpublished manuscript "Coca- Forgotten Medicine"

Vin Mariani's mystique was assuredly on the mind of a particular pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia with a strong faith in Coca's therapeutic potential, as reflected by his Coca Wine preparation, French Wine of Coca: Ideal Brain And Nerve Tonic.

Formulated by John Smyth Pemberton reportedly with red wine and coca leaf extract, this "French Wine of Coca" in a piece dated March 14, 1885, was advertised enthusiastically as a sort of tonic for life:
Americans are the most nervous people in the world . . . All who are suffering from any nervous complaints we commend to use that wonderful and delightful remedy, French Wine Coca, infallible in curing all who are afflicted with any nerve trouble, dyspepsia, mental and physical exhaustion, all chronic and wasting diseases, gastric irritability, constipation, sick headache, neuralgia, etc.. is quickly cured by the Coca Wine. It has proven the greatest blessing to the human family, Nature's (God's) best gift in medicine. To clergymen, lawyers, literary men, merchants, bankers, ladies, and all whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration, irregularities of the stomach, bowels, and kidneys, who require a nerve tonic and a pure, delightful diffusible stimulant, will find Wine Coca invaluable, a sure restorer to health and happiness. Coca is a most wonderful invigorator of the sexual organs and will cure sexual weakness, impotency, etc., when all other remedies fail. To the unfortunate who are addicted to the morphine or opium, or the excessive use of alcoholic stimulants, the French Wine Coca has proven a great blessing, and thousands proclaim it a most remarkable invigorator that has ever sustained a wasting and sinking system.
Pemberton's own words indicate his awareness of Coca's positive reputation. In a speech written for the 1886 annual convention of the Georgia Pharmaceutical Society, while formulating his latest rendition of his idea of a popular Coca tonic:
The use of the coca plant not only preserves the health of all who use it, but prolongs life to a very great old age and enables the coca eaters to perform prodigies of mental and physical labor.
Pemberton’s French Wine of Coca, sold well, yet formulated against the backdrop of an emerging prohibitionist mentality against alcohol by its inventor who foresaw a need for a non-alcoholic (and less expensive) Coca preparation, French Wine of Coca was destined to be superseded by its inventor’s creation of a non-alcoholic beverage: a mission undertook through replacing the wine with caramel colored soda water, this derivative being:
COCA-COLA SYRUP AND EXTRACT For Soda Water and other Carbonated Beverages. This Intellectual Beverage and Temperance Drink contains the valuable Tonic and Nerve Stimulant properties of the Coca plant and Cola (or Kola) nuts, and makes not only a delicious, exhilarating, refreshing and invigorating Beverage (dispensed from the soda water fountain or in other carbonated beverages), but as a valuable Brain Tonic and as a cure for all nervous affections- Sick Head-Ache, Neuralgia, Hysteria, Melancholy, etc. The peculiar flavor of COCA-COLA delights every palate.
Coca-Cola through the 1890s sold well, with a variety of claims, including that as a headache remedy. Its 1899 calendar as one example, proudly proclaimed the beverage "relieves mental and physical exhaustion" and "cures headaches"]

This reflected a growing appreciation in the south eastern regions of the U.S. where such Coca tonics -- as a 1908 report by the U.S. State Department would later attest -- enjoyed their strongest sale growth, no doubt in part to Coca's ability to make humidity more bearable.

Although one might guess otherwise from the Coca-Cola corporation of the twentieth century's reluctance to discuss their beverage's first 16 years of life as truly the "real thing," even helping to propagate the myth that the beverage never contained cocaine, it is unlikely that Coca-Cola's stirred much legitimate health concern beyond those associated with the improper use of caffeine containing tea, or Coffee- e.g. insomnia- something which Asa Candler, the individual who ran the Coca-Cola corporation after Pemberton, reported in a letter to his son, one would not be able to sleep at night if drinking too much during the evening.

Containing roughly one milligram of cocaine alkaloid per fluid ounce, the Coca-Cola of the 1890s was not a likely subject of abuse.

Quite to the contrary, Coca-Cola, following the basic trends of other Coca leaf based soft drinks, was seen favorably by numerous temperance groups, much like in Europe.

Although containing an alkaloid widely stigmatized through the 1900s, with a good percentage containing alcohol, these beverages were generally seen favorably by those who could be expected to be highly consciousness of a drink's abuse potential, e.g. temperance advocates. In Paris, Mesureur, the French Ex-Minister of Commerce, and the current (in 1910) Director of Hygiene and Public Health, who approved and signed the French government's radical poster campaign against alcoholism, would state that:
“The dangers of alcoholism would be avoided if no other stimulant were taken for mental or physical trials than that offered by the generous "."

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