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The Great Chill and Fever Cure

By BillBaab

The Savannah River flows serenely past Augusta, Georgiaon its way to the Atlantic Ocean some 130-odd miles downstream,except in places below the city where sand bars create immenseflats covered by aquatic vegetation. During the early morninghours, fog-like mists arise from the flats where, during the 19thCentury and through the middle of the current century, it was commonplace to see American alligators sunningthemselves on the river banks. These mists sometimes invadedowntown Augusta and create a visibility problem for motorists onbusy Reynolds Street a block away from the river.

The River Swamp/Chilland (motif of alligator) Fever Cure/Augusta, GA.

The swirling, grayish mists were considered badfor a person's health by early physicians, who thought justbreathing in the moisture-laden clouds produced yellow fever andmalaria. These theories existed centuries before medical mendiscovered malaria was caused by bites from some 60 species ofthe Anopheles mosquito, depending on where you were in the world.Naturally, it wasn't long before cures began to appear on theAmerican medical market and Augusta's physicians began dreamingup their own doses.

The most famous of these is the celebratedRiver Swamp Chill and Fever Cure, whose embossed graphics of analligator reposing in a swamp-like habitat have helped it tobecome one of the most sought-after cures by collectors ofantique bottles.

Check out these auction prices: On July 8,1992, a River Swamp auctioned by Harmer Rooke in New York brought$950. In a Glass-Works auction on Nov. 6, 1995, one brought1,550. On July 15, 1996, another brought $925. Bear in mind thateach of those bottles sported a strong embossment. The stuff'sformula, of which alcohol certainly played a major part, was thebrainchild of Louis A. Gardelle, a French émigré who came toAugusta during the early part of the 19th century. He became apharmacist and introduced River Swamp to citizens in his adoptedcity in 1885.

1891ad: Grier's Almanac L.A. Gardelle -Druggist. River Swamp Chill & Fever Cure Bottle. (Photo: BillBaab)

"Guaranteed Cure forChills and Fever and Preventative of Malaria," boastedGardelle through a rare advertisement discovered in a May, 1905Grier's Almanac. An 1891 Grier's Almanac sports an ad thatguarantees "Where two bottles taken and fail to break upchills, the money will be refunded."

A regular-sized River Swamp cost 50 cents. Thelarge economy size sold for $1. The known bottles are variousshades of amber in color, with the regular size measuring 6-3/8by 2-1/4 by 1-1/4 inches, according to noted cure collector JohnWolfe of Dayton, Ohio. He has in his collection on of the rarelarge sizes and lists it as being 7 by 2-5/8 by 3/4 inches. Anaqua River Swamp was dug in Augusta during the mid-1960s bypioneer Augusta bottle collector Maxey Tarpley, who now lives inEdisto Beach, S.C. He doesn't recall what happened to it.

Gardelle's concoction was preceded in the early1880s by Barry's Malarial Antidote and Horsey's Antidote forMalaria, both Augusta bottles. In 1887, Frog Pond Chill and FeverCure hopped onto the Augusta scene from the inventive minds ofdruggists F.A. Beall and J.B. Davenport. The writer, who happilyowns a mint River Swamp of the regular size, has always wonderedhow many of his favorite cure bottles exist. He knows of up tosix in Augusta collections, but how many more are out there?

 


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