Dr. Baker's Grape Cure
"Mildly poisonous"

And what was in the Kelsey-Baker potion? Apparently it was mixed up by Willis Barber, the Meriden pharmacist, but Kelsey was very secretive about a couple of the ingredients and insisted in adding them himself, with honest Mr Barber out of the way. Kelsey kept the formula in a sealed envelope labeled "GC," which Snow didn't find until years later.

Ten ounces of Grape Cure consisted of

    5 ounces of water;
    2 ounces of good sherry or port;
    ounce of glycerine;
    some extract of sarsaparilla, stillingia, ipecac, podophyllum,
       wintergreen, peppermint, and cassia -- various known
       herbal bitters, mildly poisonous, emetic, cathartic,
       or purgative -- but not enough to do any harm;
    and 80 grains of acetanilid dissolved in an ounce of alcohol.
       That was to make you feel good.

There was a pill form, which had the acetanilid and some of the herbal extracts, plus sugar and caffein, but no sherry.

No grapes, as such. But Kelsey's factory lot had grape vines growing back and front of the building, and perhaps he dropped in a grape or two in order, as he would say, to make it all truthful. And perhaps that was the secret ingredient that he insisted in adding himself. Anyway, Kelsey took the Grape Cure seriously enough to sink $20,000 into it, a debt that he was paying off for the next 25 years.

When Kelsey left the company in 1923, Glover Snow took it over, and investigated the Grape Cure. He learned from a local physician that the only significant ingredient was the acetanilid, the ingredient of Anacin and other pain cures--and that around the turn of the century there were a number of acetanilid addicts in Meriden. They were to be recognized by the fact that they were "as blue in the face and skin as my blue shirts, bluer in fact," said the doctor.

A few years after Snow arrived he had a letter from the bottle makers, Whittall Tatum, to say they had been holding the Grape Cure bottle mould for 34 years -- what should they do with it? Snow reported inheriting crates of unfilled Grape Cure bottles. They were being used for ink reducer, and had been so used, he reckoned, since about 1901. In 1960 he made a note that he had about exhausted the original supply of Grape Cure bottles and was about to start on a quantity of eye water bottles. And then, he said, there was all that bottled Bulgarian goat's milk...

Glover Snow was 26 when he joined the company in 1923 (and put an end to the lawnmower business). He was the grandson of the Gamaliel Snow who had helped Kelsey with the patterns for his first press. Glover had bought a Kelsey press as a boy, as had his father before him. So Glover counted as company family. He ran the company until the 1960s when he passed it to his son-in-law, Gene Mosher, who in turn passed it on to his sons just a few years ago. The Excelsior press part of the business is closed now, after 120 years. That is a sad loss to all Kelsey press lovers in the world--and yet it seems to me that the old man himself would have considered the closing entirely approporiate. The time had come.

Copyright 1994 Dr. Elizabeth Harris. Originally printed in "Campane," the NAPA newsletter, by Harold Segal.

About the Author, Dr. Elizabeth Harris...