In 1895, manufacturing chemists Warrick Brothers of Old Swan Lane, London produced a new tonic pill by mixing sub-carbonate of iron with jujube mass. The new product was named Iron ‘Jelloids’ and the individual pills were described on the early tins as ‘pilules’. Within a year they were being advertised in medical publications and recommended by doctors. To handle the demand for the product, Warrick Brothers set up The Jelloid Co., of Finsbury Pavement, which in 1917 became the limited liability company Iron Jelloid Co. Ltd., with headquarters in City Road – 189 Central Street, London, EC1 and a production line in Watford.
Throughout its history, the company made three varieties of Iron Jelloids. Iron ‘Jelloids’ no. 1 for children – gelatinous lozenges to help them grow; Iron ‘Jelloids’ no.2 for men and women with anaemia or feeling ‘a bit down’ and Iron ‘Jelloids’ no. 2a (as shown here), extra strong for men. In fact the composition of numbers 2 and 2a were similar, but 2a had added quinine, now used to treat malaria, but which can be toxic. The ‘Jelloids’ could be chewed, but were more likely to be swallowed with water, with a recommended dose of three per day. The ‘Jelloids’ were claimed not to cause constipation, a common side effect of taking iron supplements.
Examples of adverts for Iron ‘Jelloids’ are shown later, but though they would certainly help with anaemia, some of the claims would certainly be challenged today. ‘Freedom from cold, clear eyes, healthy colour, unblemished skin, strong healthy hair, and a patient’s claim it had prevented flu. No doubt at the height of its fame, diets were not as good as today and ‘poorness of blood’ may have been common. There was no NHS and home remedies promoted with advertisements in papers, magazines and in the street, played a valuable part. The testimonials included in the tin shown they were well regarded by health professionals.
So, how old is the tin shown here? A look at the address on the tin shown here reveals that it was made after 1917. A similar, but not identical tin is held in a collection of memorabilia from the First World War. In 1930 the Iron Jelloids Co. Ltd. was acquired by Beecham Pill Ltd. Production continued in Watford then moved the Beecham’s factory in St Helens, Lancs. The price of Iron ‘Jelloids’ in 1924 was 1/3d (one shilling and threepence) for a 14 day supply, which, if the consumer was taking the recommended dose of three jelloids a day, equates to 52 pills. There was a larger size priced at three shillings. By 1938 only 30 pills could be purchased for 1/3d. Three shillings bought a 36 day supply. This is the price shown inside the lid of ‘our’ tin. The address of the factory is still shown as Watford making the likely date of manufacture some time in the 1930s before production was moved to St. Helens. Production was discontinued in the mid-1970s or 1980s.
One claim to fame for this product is the following extract from James Joyce’s 1922 novel ‘Ulysses’, which relates to Gerty MacDowel: ‘Her figure was slight and graceful, inclining even to fragility but those iron jelloids she had been taking of late had done her a world of good much better than the Widow Welch’s female pills and she was much better of those discharges she used to get and that tired feeling.’