Mr. Theodore Vinke’s elixir was perfectly legal at the time that the Galveston druggist was brewing and selling it, one bottle at a time.
Loaded with alcohol and cocaine, Vinke’s Coca Nerve Tonic, he claimed, could calm even the most agitated nervous system.
Not that it was only good for treating jangled nerves. No, Vinke’s Coca Nerve Tonic, as his frequent advertisements in The Daily News in the late 1880s averred, also could cure alcoholism and “opium eating.”
Nor was that all. Vinke’s also was guaranteed to bring relief to those suffering from “Indigestion, Headache, Dizziness.”
And Vinke had the testimonials to prove it.
One F. Franke, who apparently had been in an awful way if in fact he actually existed, was sold on the stuff.
“Dear Sir, Your Tonic was recommended to me very highly by a friend of mine,” he wrote in testament to the elixir’s miraculous benefits. “I tried one bottle and my nervous debility was greatly relieved.”
Mr. L. Guttmann was similarly in the thrall of Vinke’s medical miracle.
“Dear Sir, I am glad to say that your Coca Nerve Tonic has done me good already, although I have used a small quantity only,” he attested. “My nervousness dates from six or seven years back, when I was laid up with typhoid malarial, but it seems that your Tonic will cure me entirely.”
Little else is known of the druggist Vinke, other than that his pharmacy was on the island and that his name had popped up in a patent application at about that time for a method of converting “cotton hulls” into paper, although his particular role in the development otherwise went without remark.
Vinke, also, it is certain, was Galveston County’s sole distributor of a particularly fine Cuban cigar known as the Flor de Heliotrope, which could be had for a mere nickel.
“Flor de Heliotrope — Only one dealer in a town can secure it, and then only the store which has the finest trade. Theo. Vinke, Galveston, sole agent.”
Galveston city directories at the Rosenberg Library’s Galveston and Texas History Center contained no mention of Theodore Vinke or of his pharmacy — a backroom job? — but it was apparently well enough known that no address appeared in any of his ubiquitous advertisements for both coca tonic and Cuban cigars.
Vinke in creating his eponymous Coca Nerve Tonic may have been inspired by a product developed by an Atlanta druggist named John Stith Pemberton, who had come up with a concoction, Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, which was particularly favored “by upper-class intellectuals” and considered “a valuable brain tonic.” It contained — the name says it all — coca and alcohol, which in combination produce cocaethylene, essentially the chemically extracted form of coca known as cocaine.
It was then that serendipity in the guise of elected officials in Fulton County, of which Atlanta was the seat, made Pemberton wealthy.
In 1886, decades before the United States followed suit, the county prohibited the manufacture and sale of any and all beverages containing alcohol.
Pemberton, with the help of a fellow Atlanta druggist named Willis Venable, rejiggered his concoction, retaining the coca and replacing the alcohol with an extract of the kola nut and, too, sugar and fizz water. His “Coca-Cola,” as an associate dubbed it, soon was available at soda and lunch counters throughout the South and proved popular.
Coca-Cola was, ads assured, “Delicious! Refreshing! Exhilarating! Invigorating!”
No mention was made that the delicious, refreshing, exhilarating blend of coca and kola was also highly addictive, a boon to the bottom line.
In the day, cocaine was legal and touted by no less an expert on matters mental than Sigmund Freud, including the treatment of morphine addiction.
Pemberton had created his French Wine Coca is a bid to overcome his own addiction to morphine, the result of initial efforts to ease the ghastly pain stemming from a saber wound to the chest he had suffered during Georgia’s Battle of Columbus in April 1865, perhaps the final battle in the Civil War’s final month.
Still, Pemberton died in August 1888, still addicted to morphine, and presumably by then to cocaine as well, a drug the federal government only declared illegal a quarter century later.