Skoda's Discovery Patent Medicine by Charles Francis

During the 1870s and 1880s a fleet of sailing vessels the names of which all began with the letter “K” were frequent visitors to Belfast Harbor on Maine's Penobscot Bay. Among them were the Kambira, Kanada and the Katadin. These vessels were all owned by Charles Rufus Burgess of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and had been built in nearby Kingsport, which was why their names began with “K”. One of the Burgess vessels began with the letter”S', however. This was the Skoda, named for Skoda's Discovery, a patent medicine manufactured in Belfast. The Burgess vessels came to Belfast for the specific purpose of loading a cargo of Skoda Discovery Company nostrums and health care products. In the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth, the Skoda brand name was well known in both the United States and Canada. In fact the Belfast company that manufactured Skoda products was so successful that it established a franchise plant in Wolfville to better meet the needs of the Canadian market. Today Skoda patent medicine bottles are highly prized by bottle collectors on both sides of the border. They are consistently ranked among the top ten of Victorian Era medicine bottles, and sometimes at the very top. One reason for this is the striking golden amber and reddish colour that characterizes the majority of Skoda's Discovery tonic bottles. Another reason is that most Skoda bottles are liberally embossed with raised letters. At the time Skoda's Discovery tonic was being sold, however, it was not the container that attracted customers but the contents of the container. One of Skoda's advertisements, which was run in both the United States and Canada, featured a Mrs. Captain P. H. Lane of Rockland, Maine. Mrs. Lane claimed to suffer from heredity liver trouble. In fact, she stated her father died of consumption of the liver. According to the advertisement, Mrs. Lane had been diagnosed by two physicians as being at death's door due to her enlarged liver. Shortly after this distressing diagnosis Mrs. Lane heard about Skoda's Discovery, and throwing out her physician's prescribed medication, began taking it and Skoda's Little Tablets. Halfway through Skoda's recommended six-bottle course of treatment, the size of Mrs. Lane's liver was back to normal, and she was sleeping well and putting on weight. The chief ingredient of Skoda's Discovery was sarsaparilla; at least that was the only advertised ingredient. Undoubtedly it also contained a liberal dose of alcohol. However, due to Maine's strict temperance laws of the time, that ingredient would have been left unmentioned. Ironically, Skoda's Discovery tonic bottles were the same size as the bottles containing the most popular brands of the day's bootleg whiskey.

Specifically, Skoda's Discovery was advertised as “The Great Blood and Nerve Remedy”. It would cure ailments ranging from “palpitation of the heart” through “typhoid pneumonia” and “blood poisoning” to “nervous exhaustion”. This is quite a list of accomplishments. It is a list that brings us to the name Skoda, itself. The name Skoda did not come about through happenstance. Josef Skoda was a renowned physician of the mid nineteenth century. He was German, specifically Bohemian. One of Skoda's accomplishments was as a diagnostician. He diagnosed heart problems by listing to the valves of the heart. The diagnostic procedure was known as Skoda's Discovery. Josef Skoda practised in Vienna. His speciality was internal medicine. He was credited with almost single-handedly eliminating an epidemic of typhoid fever in the city. He was a great advocate of healthful styles of living and drinking pure water. His fame spread throughout Europe and across the Atlantic to North America. The Belfast Skoda Discovery Company began operation in the late 1860s. By the early 1870s Skoda Discovery products were marketed throughout the northeast and the ships of Charles Rufus Burgess were making regular calls to Belfast to pick up consignments of patent medicines for the Canadian market. This market extended as far west as Ontario. Then a plank of Prime Minister John A. MacDonald's National Policy instituted high protectionist tariffs to keep American products from competing in the Canadian market. The Skoda Discovery Company solution to this issue was to open a plant in Wolfville with Charles Rufus Burgess as its head. Rhodes Curry and Company built the Wolfville factory where Skoda's sarsaparilla based tonic was concocted in 1891. It was a four story building not far from the harbour and the D. A. Railway station. The franchise had a number of local stockholders including Professor J. T. Tufts of Acadia College. The venture had a respectable capitalization of $25,000. The Wolfville Skoda franchise did not last all that long, however. In 1898 the factory was moved and turned into a corn mill. Besides its tonic and Skoda's Little Tablets, the Skoda Company produced, at various times, Skoda's German Soap, Skoda's Pile Cure, Skoda's Ointment, Skoda's Peedgets and Skoda's Uterine Fluid. The Skoda Discovery Company went out of business in the US with the advent of pure food and drug law legislation. Skoda tonic bottles, ointment containers and uterine fluid bottles are still found today though and are what bottle collectors pay top dollar for. Skoda's Ointment containers and Skoda's Uterine Fluid bottles can sell for as much as forty dollars at auction or in an antique shop. It is the Skoda's Discovery tonic bottle which commands the highest price, however. A mint condition Skoda's Discovery tonic bottle with its unique amber colouring can have an asking price of over seventy-five dollars. The only difference between a Skoda bottle from Maine and one from Nova Scotia is that one will say Belfast and the other Wolfville. When Skoda products were being marketed in Canada and in the United States they carried the same price tags. Today, however, bottles with the Wolfville name bring five to ten dollars more than their Belfast counterparts. The chief reason for this is that they are much rarer due to the shorter time period the Nova Scotia plant was in operation.