Lots of interesting stuff has been sold in the central San Joaquin Valley since the 1800s.
Trademark images for some of those products, such as “Burks Lightning Liniment for man or beast” – a now-gone Fresno miracle oil promising to cure most injuries, including poisonous bites – is included in a collection that is now available online.
The collection of nearly 4,000 digitized California trademark images and applications filed between 1861 and 1900 was put online Thursday at sos.ca.gov/archives/trademarks. It’s the largest digital collection of trademark images and applications ever assembled by State Archives, a division of the secretary of state’s office.
The images can be downloaded and used for free because there are no known copyright restrictions.
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Some are so bright and so multi-hued they jump off the page at you.
Bill Secrest Jr., local historian
“We can use modern technology to explore our past,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla wrote in a news release shared Thursday. “Digitization allows anyone to access the State Archives’ resources from their home or mobile device.”
Local historian Bill Secrest Jr. says the collection provides a glimpse at rare trademarks that are becoming prized collectibles for their ornate beauty.
“They are now heavily collected because they are decorative and they are beautiful,” Secrest says. “You can frame them and put them on the wall like they are art, which they really are.”
It could be that commercial and industrial design was overly elaborate to compensate for all the drabness that you would see otherwise. It was fabulously dirty back then.
Bill Secrest Jr., local historian
Fresno-area trademarks included advertise raisins, grapes, soap, rodent poison, creameries and the lightning liniment promising to cure “sprains, bruises, strains, ringbone, spavin, galls, poisonous bites, etc.” by applying to “cuts, scratches, burns and all flesh wounds.”
“Patent medicine was like solar energy – a lot of people were getting into it to make money,” Secrest says of the liniment he suspects contained a lot of alcohol or opiates, as was common for the era. “When you were living on the frontier, you had to resort to self-help and whatever medicines were around. It was pretty much a dark ages and trial and error for any type of medicine.”
Secrest researched a number of the local businesses included in the new digital collection, which he says are no longer in operation or were absorbed by other companies. Among them are several packing houses once located in downtown Fresno, a hub that’s since moved into more rural areas.
Prominent Fresnans behind some of the trademarks include Al E. Sunderland, a former mayor of Fresno, and Claudius Gordon Sayle, a former Fresno County district attorney and judge.
This is our history and it should be shared.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla
The digital collection covers State Archives’ “old series” starting in 1861, the year California passed its first trademark law, enacted nearly a decade before federal trademark legislation. It took about a year to digitize around 24,000 pages, supported by funding the National Historical Publications and Records Commission gave to The Friends of California Archives.
Going forward, Padilla is sponsoring AB 2674 to establish an Online Archives Program. Less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the State Archives’ 125,000 cubic feet of paper records is digitized.
“This is our history,” Padilla says, “and it should be shared.”