October 8, 2012

Jaques' Capsules had Plattsburgh roots

Little Wonder Capsules were shipped all over the country from Plattsburgh in early 1900s


---- — From time to time, I receive historically interesting feedback on the articles published in Collection Reflections. This paraphrased information comes from reader Phil Gordon in regards to the column on patent medicine:


Your article in the Press-Republican reminded me of Jaques’ Little Wonder Capsules, which were shipped all over the country from Plattsburgh in the early part of the century. W.B. Jaques’ drug store originally compounded the capsules in store as early as 1902. When we purchased the business in 1946 (and renamed it Gordon’s Drug), there was a large supply of wooden bottles in stock. We used to buy large tin containers of 25,000 capsules from Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company and fill the bottles, then label and box them for sale all over the country. We continued filing orders until 1959 when we sold the store.

Thank you, Phil! 

I set about to find more information regarding Jaques’ Little Wonder Capsules and discovered three old newspaper references dating from 1916, 1922 and 1937. 

One of the advertisements featured a round cardboard box with a picture of a smiling man and the words “Jaques’ (pronounced “Jakes”) Little Wonder Capsules - 60 cents.”  

Another ad made it clear that the pills were for the relief of stomach upset: “Nobody cares for chronic dyspeptic - Save your stomach - 1 capsule aids digestion of 5,000 grains of food - 60 cents.” 

In addition to the wooden bottles shown in Phil’s photo, the pills were also, at one time, packaged in a bright-red tin with yellow stripes. 


Phil also writes about two pieces of collectible plastic that he has: 

Q: I have two unusual mint Bakelite/Catalin items from old local estates that have been shelved for many years as I never sold costume jewelry in my shop or at shows. One is a rich-red, unusual bracelet and the other a compact in tortoise color with a silver twin dove medallion on the cover (believed to have been a Jensen piece or similar maker). I am not familiar with pricing or demand.

A: Bakelite and its colorful sister Catalin belong to a family of durable synthetic materials called “thermoset plastics.” Bakelite was first introduced by inventor Leo Baekland in 1909. Concocted of phenolic acid and formaldehyde, then stabilized with fillers like slate dust or wood flour, the substance was molded into shape using heat and hydraulic pressure. For this reason, Bakelite is always dark shades of brown, maroon or black. Molded Bakelite was ideal for things like pot handles, electrical fixtures and car distributor caps, but because it was so dark, it had little artistic appeal.

Catalin was introduced in 20 different colors by the American Catalin Corporation in 1927 when the Bakelite patents expired.  I was made from a purified form of phenolic resin — minus the dense fillers. The clear resin was dyed and cast into lead molds and baked at 176 degrees for six to 10 days, depending upon the color. Once thoroughly cured, the lead molds were smashed to release the hardened thermoset plastic. Shaped rods and hollow tubes were then sliced into individual pieces (much like a loaf of bread) then machined, carved and polished before embellishment with decorative components. It was labor-intensive work and, for this reason, Catalin jewelry was produced on a small scale for just a little more than a decade.

Your uncommonly shaped bracelet has a touch of whimsy that makes it appealing, but it lacks the chunky, heavily carved designs that inspire collectors to empty their pocketbooks. It would probably sell in the $22 range, whereas heavily carved, wide-bangle bracelets sell for $75 or more. The mottled tortoise-colored ladies compact with the Jensen-inspired Scandinavian-style silver-dove medallion was made in black Bakelite, as well as clear Lucite acrylic in 1943. It would sell for about $125 to $150 to the right collector.

Julie Robinson Robards is an antiques journalist and dealer living in Upper Jay. She is the author of two published books on celluloid, an advisor to several antique price guides and a writer for AntiqueWeek Newspaper since 1995. She may be reached through her website