Witch Hazel - the Golden Treasure of Patent Medicines


Witch Hazel or Hamamelis is small tree native to North America. The extract from its branches makes a natural astringent valued in early medicines. Unlike many of the other patent medicines of the time this product did have some true benefit although not the miraculous powers often advertised.




"In the early 1840’s, Theron T. Pond, a resident of Utica, New York, became interested in, and associated more or less, with a tribe of Indians known as the Oneida tribe then located in Central New York. He found that they were using for burns, boils and wounds of every description a ‘tea’ made by their Medicine Man from a species of bush known as ‘witch hazel,’ a shrub supposed by them to grow only in Central New York. The Medicine Man made his extract by steeping the shrub in an ordinary teakettle. The liquid which he obtained was colored but as clear as water, and had a peculiar aroma obtained from no other shrub."  from HISTORY OF HAMAMELIS (WITCH HAZEL),EXTRACT AND DISTILLATE. BY JOHN URI LLOYD AND JOHN THOMAS LLOYD

Pond's Extract was said to be founded in 1846 , a date still embossed on the bottom of later bottles. Pond named the extract "Golden Treasure" possibly reflecting the yellow flowers on the plant.

"Theron T. Pond died some time between 1847 and 1850. It is said that he lost his life from exposure in the woods. Between 1846 and 1850, Pond and the Indian Medicine Man sold their business to Hart and Munson, iron foundry men of Utica, New York. They took in with them Isaiah A. Palmer, a friend and neighbor of  Theron T. Pond."

The medicine name was changed to Pond's Extract in honor of its discoverer.
"It should here be repeated that Palmer, Hart and Munson had given the product the name ‘Pond’s Extract,’ dropping the name ‘Golden Treasure.’ "

"Dr. Frederick Humphrey, a Methodist minister, and also a Homeopathic physician, proprietor of the Homeopathic Medicine Company, 562 Broadway, New York, claimed that for years he had been Mr. Pond’s family physician, and that Pond had given him the right to manufacture and sell the extract through his ‘Humphrey Homeopathic Medicine Company.’ He did, indeed, commence to manufacture the same, continuing the name, ‘Pond’s Extract.’ His claim was denied by Palmer, who commenced suit and applied for an injunction forbidding Humphrey from either using the name ‘Pond’s Extract,’ or manufacturing the article. A party from Connecticut who had worked for the original firm of Pond and the Indian, also claimed that he had the right to make ‘Golden Treasure,’ but he was unable to establish his claim."

The Connecticut party mentioned appears to be Hawes or Whittemore.

Pond's 1850 Ad



Early Pontil Marked Pond's Extract Bottles.


A late style Pond's Extract with 1846 embossed on bottom




Around the same time that Pond started producing his extract another manufacturer started making witch hazel extract. The product was named Hawes' Healing Extract supposedly after Charles Hawes who was an Indian missionary.
Dickinson's 'Witch Hazel' Will No Longer Be Manufactured in Essex   From Essex Events, Spring 1997

Other sources seem to indicate Hawes was one of the original workers for Pond who wanted to start his own business.

Hawes ad from 1847





Hawes Healing Extract started to be manufactured around 1846 in Essex Connecticut by druggist Alven F Whittemore. Whittemore maintained the "Golden Treasure" name coined by Pond.
Whittemore partnered with a Reverend Dickinson in Essex which became a major witch hazel manufacturing center.

"Reverend Dickinson successfully coordinated the cutting and distilling of the witch hazel bush (Hamamelis Virginiana), to which was added a 14% solution of alcohol.  This formula remained a Dickinson family secret during their control of the company.  He centralized production in Essex and by his death in 1900, had made it the "center of the world," as far as witch hazel was concerned. "

1866 Mr. T. N. Dickinson, the founder of the firm of E. E. Dickinson Co.of Essex, Conn., began the manufacture and sale of witch hazel in bulk.


Golden Treasure or Hawes' Healing Extract
Shown in a Glass Works online auction
A later form of the product often mistaken for a whiskey bottle

The well known Cambridge Massachusetts Druggist Henry Thayer got into witch hazel production around 1847 and it became one of his main  products.



Dr Humphrey's got involved with the Pond's company in the late 1860s.

Dr. Frederick Humphreys, whose reputation for his system of homeopathic medication is universal, removed to Ithaca, N. Y., where he practiced medicine successfully. Here he came In contact with a "Dr." Pond, who interested him In the subject of manufacturing an extract of witch hazel. Pond already had an extract in the local field which had quite a reputation in the vicinity. Dr. Humphreys devised the means of fixing the virtues of this preparation. Its ephemeral condition being Its chief drawback. Dr. Humphreys bought the rights of manufacture and the name and entered Into the systematic production of Pond's Extract, retaining the name for Its apparent trade-mark value. The sale and reputation of Pond's Extract Increased at a wonderful ratio.

In 1872 Dr. Humphreys sold out his rights In Pond's Extract to Mr. F. W. Hurt, who was interested In the Humphreys Medicine Company with him. Through the Hurt family the rights to the name have passed to the present well known Pond's Extract Co.

Humphreys started making his own witch hazel products in the late 1890s.


H T & CO - Henry Thayer & Co witch hazel