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The history of Valentine’s Meat Juice

The 19th century tonic became a grocery store staple and built a fortune for a Richmond family.

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A look inside the Meat Juice Bottling Department. | Meat Juice Papers, The Valentine

For #DrinkUpRichmond, we’re looking to local historians for the story on what might be Richmond’s strangest brew. Christina Vida, the Curator of General Collections at The Valentine, filled us in on Valentine’s Meat Juice.

If you’ve ever taken a historic tour of the city, explored the halls of The Wickham House, or enjoyed a musical lunch break in the Valentine Garden, you have meat juice to thank.

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Mann’s wife, Anne Maria | The Valentine

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Meat juice maker Mann Valentine | The Valentine

It was 1870. Mann and Anne Maria Valentine — along with their six children — were living in Richmond. Late in the year, Anne Maria fell ill. Using his brief stint at William & Mary studying science and chemistry, Mann concocted a tonic to cure his ailing wife.

“It’s basically blood and meat and juices from a cow, boiled down,” Christina said. “Early on it’s mixed with egg whites, cooked a number of different ways, and really condensed down in order to create this tonic.”

Mann was pleased when — after giving Anne Maria the medicinal brew — she appeared to regain some of her strength.

“I think for us today, it’s pretty easy to understand iron tablets,” Christina said. “[...] This was really condensed iron, which is going to have some health benefits for those who are iron deficient.”

Although historians aren’t sure what illness Anne Maria was actually facing, Mann was confident in his tonic’s efficacy. He began producing, bottling, and selling Valentine’s Meat Juice.

By 1878, the patent medicine reached a global audience when Mann brought it to the Paris Exposition. It was already a favorite on pharmacy shelves and in medicine cabinets in the US, where it would remain for several decades.

Meat juice’s marketing changed when the Food and Drug Administration was established in 1906. The FDA started to regulate patent medicines, which previously had little to no oversight at all. Shortly after, Valentine’s Meat Juice rebranded as a cooking supplement for flavoring various dishes.

“There are plenty of people who are alive who remember seeing it on grocery store shelves, but not pharmacy shelves,” Christina said.

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Two versions of Valentine’s Meat Juice packaging. | Photo by RICtoday

Major manufacturing stopped in the 1950s, when the company closed up the largest factory at Brook Road and Chamberlayne Avenue. Even as shelves stopped stocking meat juice, the legacy of the tonic lived on.

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A meat juice ad | Meat Juice Papers, The Valentine

Mann Valentine’s meat juice fortune allowed for the creation of the Valentine museum. Mann and his brother, sculptor Edward V. Valentine, collected art and artifacts throughout their lifetimes, amassing a collection of hundreds of objects. Upon Mann’s death in 1893, he provided an endowment to display their findings.

The Valentine opened as the first private museum in the city in 1898, with Edward as president.

Although the company officially dissolved in the 1980s, the museum still holds the trademark. Christina tells us they plan on putting it to good use with a special bloody mary mix, coming soon. Don’t worry, it won’t have any actual meat in it.

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