California Fig Syrup Co. San Francisco, Cal.

According to blogger Jack Sullivan, “Around the end of the 19th Century a series of hucksters, promising remedies for various ailments, centered on the lowly fig as an elixir of great potency and healing.   Figs are known to have a mild laxative effect and it was that quality that spawned the widespread sale of fig remedies. Among the most notable was the “Syrup of Figs” produced by the California Fig Syrup Co. of San Francisco. It came in labeled, embossed bottles that sold in drug stores across America at the not inconsiderable cost of a half dollar.

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Embossed “California Fig Syrup Co. San Francisco, Cal.”

This company advertised widely in national magazines, frequently featuring comely women to illustrate its product.   It claimed offices in Louisville, Kentucky; New York City, and London, England. Another advertising method was offering colorful lithographed tin signs to pharmacies stocking the syrup, again featuring a young lovely. The California Fig Syrup Co. was not without its imitators.   Although figs are not native to Wisconsin, the Andrews Drug and Chemical Co. of Drillion had its own “Syrup of Figs.” Its product claimed to cure “many ills arising from an weak or inactive condition of the stomach, bowels, kidneys and liver.”

In the wake of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906, health authorities targeted the fig remedies. The American Medical Association (AMA) Journal wrote: “Syrup of Figs is a laxative whose chief advertising asset is its name.” It continued that any purging action was due to the presence in the mix of 25% senna, a tropical herb with well-recognized laxative effects. The AMA also noted that the syrup was 6% alcohol, about the potency of beer. Eventually Federal officials forced the fig syrup floggers to list senna and alcohol on the label. In England, however, the product continued to be sold the old way. California Fig Syrup Co. simply prepared two different boxes and labels.”

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Advertising card for the California Fig Syrup Co. San Francisco, front.

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Advertising card for the California Fig Syrup Co. San Francisco, back.

Ad from 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago for California Fig Syrup.

Ad from 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago for California Fig Syrup.

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1895 Advertising card for California Fig Syrup

The Medical world, Volume 13 by Roy Jackson, 1895

1895 Ad for California Fig Syrup Co.

1895 Ad for California Fig Syrup Co.

1920 Ad for California Fig Syrup Co.

1920 Ad for California Fig Syrup Co.

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About Jessica

I am the supervisor of the analysis of the archaeological collection recovered from the Old Main excavation.
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21 Responses to California Fig Syrup Co. San Francisco, Cal.

  1. Colin Dowsett says:

    Hello from New Zealand! A bottle identical to the one pictured on this page was recently unearthed on our property in Levin during work on drainage. We are intrigued to know how it might have got here.. Our villa dates from 1910. Several other old bottles of sundry provenance were also unearthed.

  2. Fiona says:

    Just found a bottle in my garden, my cottage was built in the 1700’s in Bethersden, Kent UK. I realise that the product was purchased in the 1800’s, obviously a very successful International product.

  3. d.Mar says:

    Found one on the top of the ground in Devon, UK this morning

  4. i just found one that looks the same as the one pictured at an excavation site for a new high rise building in yeppoon central Queensland Australia makes you wonder doesn’t it????

  5. Sandy says:

    Found one identical to the one pictured here in Evansville, Indiana USA

    • Shauna says:

      My husband just found one digging up an old fence post on our family farm in Southern Illinois. We’re just over an hour from Evansville.

  6. kevin krochak says:

    A friend just found one of these embossed bottle lying on the banks of the Assiniboine River in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada yesterday…..

  7. Sebring Sue says:

    Found the identical bottle as the one pictured here in Highlands County Florida,, USA. Property was owned by family that had been in this area from the late 1700’s.

  8. tracy says:

    Found identical bottle along the banks of the Smokey Hill River in Salina, Kansas

  9. Stuart Hargreaves says:

    Found one during a drainage exploration today in Loveclough, Rossendale, Lancashire UK

    • Krystian says:

      I found one in Barrow, Lancashire, UK. And other one with something inside, water with something shining, like pieces of metal. On the bottle is the inscription: Poison, not to be taken. The bottle is full, corked. Someone know what it can be? I found it underground, while digging.

  10. Dougie says:

    just found an identical bottle whilst walking ym dogs in a nearby field in Kingseat Dunfermline Fife

  11. Joanne Mclellan says:

    Found one identical to one pictured in my garden in llanfairtalhairan in north wales today while gardening.

  12. Kellie says:

    Just found one under the old house during demo … has Australia embossed.

  13. harold says:

    are they worth anything

    • Jessica says:

      The artifacts featured here were excavated and not purchased. I cannot make any claims to offer accurate appraisals, but for my own knowledge I look at sold listings on ebay to ascertain what others have paid for the item.

  14. My Son Harry has just found a bottle on our farm in Devon england

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