Dr. Pierce’s Medical Discovery

For roughly eighteen years, I’ve driven south of the 101 highway through Sonoma County going to and from the Bay Area. Somewhere just outside of Cloverdale, unwinding from narrow curlicues of 128 west, I seem to pick up enough speed to shoot past a weathered old barn which stands by the side of the road next to a beautiful vineyard. It’s hard to miss. Almost anyone who has driven that road will notice with awe a barn of rustic beauty, its cryptic white letters emblazoned to face the road.

Yesterday, I made that barn my destination and went with camera ready. I’d planned to stop along 101 and risk a ticket, but when I pulled off the highway, I could see there was small frontage road just over the fence so I got back on the highway, pulled off at the first Geyserville exit, turned right and made a second hard right to drove about half a mile until the barn came into sight.



I pulled over on the gravel to get a better look, listening to unidentifiable birdsong and feeling the soothing breeze of a perfect spring afternoon, this is the beauty I saw.


Here it is even closer. It looks like the barn has been incorporated into a house or business. Maybe, it’s part of a winery. There doesn’t seem to be too much information about what it is. I’d love to know more. As for the mysterious Dr. Pierce, who was he?



His claims were grandiose…

“Proclaim the joyous news throughout all the land! Dr. Pierce’s Alterative Extract, or Goldenseal Medical Discovery arrest and cures consumption in its early stages…”–Decatur Weekly Republican, 1869

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“A very common cause of nervousness in women is a diseased condition of the delicate womanly organism”

Dr. R.V. Pierce from Buffalo, New York was a trained doctor of sorts and purveyor of nostrums–cure-all medicines for every ailment. He attended the Eclectic Medical College to study plant-based cures.

It turns out, he made not one but several “discoveries” and built a successful business offering hospital style cures to invalids, most of whom received one panacea or another.

Ray Vaughn Pierce attended the Eclectic Medical College in the mid 19th century. From there, he built up a vigorous trade selling “patent medicines”–essentially, quack cures sold by mail. Aided later in life by his son Valentine Motts Pierce, they built a medical empire whose biggest rival was Lydia E. Pinkham’s vegetable compound. Making claims that his treatments cured everything from consumption (tuberculosis) to skin ailments, blood problems, and the mysterious yet varied “women’s complaints” Dr. Pierce’s sophisticated media skills rivaled the best of today’s hucksters. He rightfully earned himself the nickname The Prince of Quacks.

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Deranged liver? Tormenting forms of skin disease? Dr. Pierce can cure it.


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“No use of taking large, repulsive, nauseous pills. These pellets (little pills) are scarcely larger than mustard seeds.”–Dr. R.V. Pierce


The Prince of Quacks, Dr. R.V. Pierce

8 Replies to “Dr. Pierce’s Medical Discovery”

  1. Deranged liver??? WTH? LOL! Who knew livers could have mental illness? Haha!

    But his explanations seem so conVINCing and scientifical! (Today’s copywriters should take a page from him. Oh wait, they already have.)

    What GORgeous photos! I love the greeeeeeeeen! I’ve often thought about pulling off the road and taking photos of that very barn. I’m so glad you decided to actually do it!

    1. Yes, there were lots of science bits in what he did and said. Sadly, I can imagine the desperation of someone needing a legitimate cure for Tuberculosis who instead finds she is scammed and yes, so much like things today. Thanks for reading and for the kind words on my photos. The barn is a beauty and speaks for herself.

  2. How times have changed! In the ad is a woman thrilled about weight gain, imagine that. From 125 to a healthy 165 lbs. Nowadays we have things the other way round. No woman alive will admit in public that she weighs 165.

    Loved the article and photos, Tonia.

  3. I have The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser!! Bought it for a few bucks years ago! Just saw the barn today and made the connection! Thanks for the history lesson on my 31 penny stamps book!!

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