Ads for Hot Springs Liver Buttons, Munyon’s Rheumatism Cure, Gloria Tonic Tablets and hundreds of other nostrums filled newspaper columns – and coffers – in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Testimonials were a common feature of these ads. This 1905 ad for Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey, published in the Minneapolis Journal, stands out because of the jarring mismatch between the headline claim and the grim-looking woman depicted:
 
 
The text-heavy ad continued:
 
“ ‘I will be one hundred and six years old,’ writes Mrs. Tigue, ‘on the fifteenth of March, and really I don’t feel like I am a day over sixty, thanks to Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey. Friends say I look younger and stronger than I did 30 years ago. I have always enjoyed health and been able to eat and sleep well, though I have been a hard worker. Even now I wait on myself and am busy on a pretty piece of fancy work. My sight is so good I don’t even use glasses. Am still blest with all my faculties. The real secret of my great age, health, vigor and content is the fact that for many years I have taken regularly a little Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey, and it has been my only medicine. It’s wonderful how quickly it revives and keeps up one’s strength and spirits. I am certain I’d have died long ago had it not been for my faithful old friend ‘Duffy’s.’
 
“The sincere and grateful tribute of Mrs. Tigue to the invigorating and life-prolonging powers of Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey is one of the most remarkable and convincing on record. She sews, reads and is dependent upon no one for the little services and attentions of old age. Mrs. Tigue's memory is perfect, and her eyes sparkle with interest as she quaintly recalls events that have gone down into history of the past hundred years. Instead of pining, as many women half her age, she is firm in the belief that with the comforting and strengthening assistance of Duffy's Pure Malt Whiskey she will live another quarter of a century."
 
If you wish to keep young, active and vigorous, and have on your cheeks the roses of health, and retain full possession of your mental powers, you must take Duffy's Pure Malt Whiskey regularly as directed and avoid drugs of all kinds. It nourishes the vitality no matter how weak or feeble it may have become; feeds and enriches the blood, and stimulates the circulation, giving health and power to body, brain, nerve and muscle.
 
The absolute purity of Duffy's Pure Malt whiskey is attested by the fact that thousands of doctors and hospitals use it exclusively, and that it's the only whiskey recognized by the Government as a medicine. It contains no fusel oil.
 
CAUTION. — When you ask for Duffy's Pure Malt Whiskey be sure you get the genuine. Sold by reliable druggists and grocers everywhere in sealed bottles only, never in flask or bulk. Look for the trade-mark, the "Old Chemist," on the label, and be sure the seal over the cork is not broken. $1.00 a bottle.
 
Medical booklet with testimonials and doctor's advice free. Duffy Malt Whiskey Company, Rochester, N.Y.
 
A bit of Googling confirmed two of my suspicions:
 
• Mrs. Tigue was not the source of this enthusiastic testimonial.
 
• Mrs. Tigue was not long for this world.
 
The American Medical Association looked into these sorts of ads and found a pattern of dubious medical claims backed by dubious testimonials. The reports first appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association and were later collected in two books, “Nostrums and Quackery” (Volume 1, 1912, and Volume 2, 1921). In the case of Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey, the Journal concluded:
 
“But whether we consider Duffy's Malt Whiskey a 'patent medicine' or a low grade 'booze' makes little difference. As we have said elsewhere: A high grade whiskey has but a limited place in therapeutics; Duffy's Malt Whiskey has none.”
 
How did a testimonial attributed to Mrs. Tigue end up in a Duffy’s ad? According to the AMA’s 1905 report:
 
“About a year ago a young man from Indianapolis, a newspaperman, got off the train here one morning and called on Mr. Mike Tigue, and asked for a testimonial. Mr. Tigue gave him permission to see his mother, but refused the testimonial. The enterprising young man hired a horse and buggy from a livery stable, and taking Mr. Oscar Campbell, notary, Lafayette, drove out to the Old People's Home, about two miles, and saw the old lady, led her to think that her son Michael had sent them, that he wished her to sign the testimonial, which she did by making her mark, and without having a clear idea of the contents of her statement, and without having any idea at all of what use was to be made of it.”
 
Two physicians contacted by the AMA attested that Mrs. Tigue was nearly blind and did not use alcohol in any form. Mike Tigue was livid about the ad. In a statement dated Nov. 21, 1905, he said:
 
“I am the son of Mrs. Nancy Tigue, who is now an inmate of the St. Anthony’s Home, and I am 58 years old. My mother is one hundred and five years old, was born in Ireland. Our home is, or was, 413 S. 1st St., Lafayette. Mother is almost blind, and she has been cared for by the Sisters about four years – one year at the Old People’s Home. My mother never drank any intoxicating drinks at all. She does not know what Duffy’s Malt Whiskey is. She was imposed on in order to obtain the advertisement of Duffy’s Malt Whiskey, being nearly blind was influenced to sign a false affidavit by Duffy’s solicitor, which was published without our knowledge or consent.
 
“Michael G. Tigue”
 
Duffy’s Malt Whiskey, first marketed in 1886 as the "greatest known heart tonic," prospered for decades on the strength of its false medical claims and forged endorsements. But the rise of the temperance movement, passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, increased government scrutiny on the patent medicine industry and, eventually, Prohibition, spelled the concoction’s doom. The makers went out of business in 1926.
 
Nancy Tigue died at age 107 on June 24, 1906, little more than a year after her image appeared in American newspapers. She is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Lafayette, Ind., under a marker shared with the husband she outlived by 34 years.

Older Post

May 25, 1919: Chippewa centenarian does own housework

Newer Post

Oct. 14, 1914: Dight Avenue's Hitler connection