The Most Unexpected Items People Used to Buy via Catalog

Not only could drugs like cocaine and heroin be purchased from catalogs, they could be shipped in the US Mail – legally. Sears

10. Sears was a drug dealer of cocaine, heroin, and morphine through its stores and catalog

Before the sale of drugs and foods was regulated by the government Sears and other retailers did a brisk business in the sale of patent medicines and other items which contained liberal amounts of what are now referred to as controlled substances. Patent medicines were marketed as both cures – panaceas for a diverse number of complaints – and as preventative tonics, which aided digestion, provided sound sleep, eased anxiety, and stimulated appetite. Nearly all contained various amounts of narcotics. Sears marketed a Peruvian Wine of Coca, which “sustains and refreshes both the body and the brain” according to its catalog description, “taken at any time with perfect safety”.

Coca wine was not the only means by which Sears sold the drug, as well as others. It was possible to order from the Sears catalog cocaine, morphine, and heroin, packaged with a syringe for use by the purchaser. Since all three drugs could be purchased openly from apothecaries and chemists, as well as from doctors, presumably Sears carried the narcotics in their catalog once again for the benefit of their more remote customers who did not have ready access to the conveniences of urban living. Most of the patent medicines and tonics which contained cocaine did not survive the need to rewrite their recipes in order to comply with changes to the law, though a few, including Coca-Cola and some cough syrups did, and are marketed still.