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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Searching for a Good Smoke - Part 3

Inhaling was exactly what Edwin C. Kirkwood ordered. While there were many different inhaling devices on the market in the 1870s for the treatment of catarrh, asthma, cough, and disease of the throat, lungs and nasal passages, Kirkwood's unit had the look of a portable scientific laboratory. A clear, thick glass goblet was to be filled half way with water while a second smaller interior receptacle held muriatic acid and a third held ammonia. The fumes of the two chemicals were drawn into the water by the siphoning pressure of inhaling. The resulting mixture of the ammonium chloride fumes were sucked by the sufferer of throat, sinus, or lung problems through a long gutta percha tube that was connected to the goblet through its lid. Then, like Taurus the bull and smokers of Dr. Perrin's cigarettes, exhale through the nose: "If the inhalations are for diseases of the nasal passages, the fumes should be ejected through the nostrils by closing the mouth." The illustration on the product advertising shows a well-dressed gentleman demonstrating the decorous medical snort.

The instruction manual also advised when to use the inhaler, which was almost anytime and at lest four times a day (like many of our medicines today, once every four hours): "Inhalations should always be taken before retiring, immediately after rising, and midway between meals, but never immediately after eating."

Kirkwood was the clerk of the U.S. Naval Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and with his great connections there was able to garner a lot of well-placed endorsements that included the Ex-Surgeon General, the Medical Inspector-General of Hospitals and Fleets, hospital directors, surgeons, and doctors, but easily the most notable testimonial was for and in behalf of King David Kalakaua of the Sandwich Islands. He had become king of that archipelago, later known as the Hawaiian Islands, in February 1874 and in November of that year he traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. He became afflicted with a cough and acute bronchial trouble during his visit, so Dr. T. J. Turner, Medical Inspector with the U.S. Navy, got the ailing King Kalakaua to use Kirkwood's Inhaler "with the most successful result," and the relieved monarch took another of the inhalers back with him to his home among the Sandwiches. Hope he didn't use it immediately after eating.

Postscript: King Kalakaua died in 1891 of kidney disease, probably caused by diabetes - but his lungs and throat were fine.

Post Postscript: In doing research for this blog post, I came across another wonderful website with great images and information about medical inhalers from the 19th and other centuries. It is called Inhalatorium; I have added it to my sidebar, "More Fascinating Quackery"; it's well worth the visit.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Searching for a Good Smoke - Part 2

Cushman's Menthol Inhaler made it look like you were smoking, except that there was no smoke. There was nothing subtle about the message for Dr. Perrin's Medicated Cubeb Cigarettes: these really are cigarettes and everybody's smoking them!

Just like the Cushman's trade card, this image was designed to initially shock the reader the reader into finding out why three females and two children were smoking. How could such behavior be tolerated? The answer was that they were literally smoking their way to health, or so Dr. Perrin promised.

These were medicated cigarettes; the back of the trade card said they were "the Wonder of the Age" and the way they worked was "the Acme of Perfection." They cured the condition (some called it a disease) that was called catarrh - essentially the symptoms of the common cold. The trade card didn't explain how the medicated cigarettes worked, but a big clue was the word "cubeb" in the product name. In 1654, Nicholas Culpepper identified this peppery plant as useful in cleansing the head of phlegm, strengthening the brain, heating the stomach, and provoking lust. Uh-oh.

Dr. Perrin apparently improved the cubeb's potency, because he advertised that his cubeb cigarettes were "A positive remedy for Catarrh, Bronchitis, Ministers' Sore Throat, Loss of Voice, Offensive Discharges from the Head, Partial Deafness, Sounds of Distant Waterfalls, Whizzing of Steam, etc. " Gee whiz.

So the Perrin Nation is shown smoking away. One big happy family? No. I think the artist just couldn't make it work; poorly executed illustrations made the potentially exciting message of a healing cigarette go up in smoke. The best effort was on Mamma in the middle with a look on her face of far-off contentment; but is she smoking or toking? Then check out Grampa and Gramma: Grampa looks either tired or still sick and Gramma has the emaciated look (sunken cheek and eye) of a consumptive (somebody suffering from tuberculosis) - not exactly the poster girl for smoking anything. Finally, take a gander at Junior and Sis in the top left and right corners. They are both drawn to be youngsters - Junior is wearing knickers and carrying schoolbooks under his arm - and Sis has on a short skirt - but let's face it, Sis looks like a hooker and Junior's probably playing hooky. Collectively the Perrin people still look sick or wasted while using the product. The healthy, cured, "after" image so popular in Victorian before-and-after advertising is altogether missing here; everybody still seems to be a "before." I think Dr. Perrin's artist only succeeded at half of his assignment - letting us know that everybody could have a legitimate reason to smoke cigarettes; but the next time you get a bad head cold, try looking at this picture and telling yourself that this looks like the road to relief - I don't think so.

One more thing: if you look closely, all five are exhaling smoke through their nose. I'm sure this is intentional, to show for Dr. Perrin's miraculous cubebs to work, you must inhale. It would be another century before some of us would claim that we weren't really inhaling, but then again, they weren't cubeb cigs, either.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Searching for a Good Smoke - Part I

The emancipated woman of the Victorian era tried several ways to redefine society's roles for her as a helpless, frail vessel, subservient to man in every way, and designed by nature primarily to procreate and nurture. By society's prevailing standards, men smoked but women did not. This trade card suggests otherwise, but also teases the viewer into reading the advertisers copy to find out what was really going on.
This was, from the very first, an image designed to shock: an especially attractive young woman, dressed fashionably, but with an expression of self-assured nonchalance, appeared to be readying herself to smoke a cigarette - or even more irreverently - a cigar. The words nearest her lips, in quotations as if dialogue from the daring lady herself, defiantly proclaimed "No More!!"

I think the viewer was supposed to be startled, repulsed, and wickedly attracted, all at the same time to the thought that this fashionable female was declaring her emancipation from the prohibition against women smoking: she was in control and was going to do what she wanted, the naughty temptress.

But after the few moments' tease, all the flustered fathers, prickly old biddies, and frothing young men could feel their blood pressure calm down - She wasn't smoking after all; she was using the cigar-like Cushman's Menthol Inhaler - and only inhaling at that - for the cure of her headaches, neuralgia, and catarrh. The Inhaler was a glass tube filled with menthol crystals: by inhaling, the air passed through and around the crystals, drawing in medicated mentholated air into the head, throat, and lungs, to produce "the cool and exhilerating effect peculiar to Oil of Peppermint," relieving congestion, headaches, and destroying disease germs. For 50 cents, this sweet young thing could go everywhere and on every occasion she chose, looking very much like she was smoking, but only curing herself while giving the straight-laced in Victorian society a poke in the ol' solar plexus.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Food Quackery

After the Civil War, America's population growth swelled like a tsunami with boatloads of immigrants arriving, it seemed, on every ocean wave. Even more pressing than the need to heal the masses was to keep them fed, but demand coupled with greed, allowing quackery to become pervasive in the food industry, just as was happening in the medicine industry.

Just about every type of food had problems attributable to new methods or slippery salesmen. Tin cans had been invented primarily for long-term storage of food used in ships, but imperfect canning procedures and lead-based solder tainted contents; an entire Arctic expedition was lost because of the lead that had leached into their canned foods. When desperate, starving crewmen realized the canned food was killing their shipmates, some resorted to the only other food left - each other. While the world was unaware of what happened to that lost expedition, concern about poisonous tin cans was already being expressed in the newspapers, giving the alternative Mason jars a boost in popularity.

A new reform movement, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, exposed the public to the practice of bleeding calves days before being slaughtered so that the meat would be white. The calves were sick for days before being slaughtered, "so weak they cannot stand, cannot bleat."

More women were now working outside the home, leaving their babies to be fed with bottles full of cow's milk. Some dairy farmers watered down their yields of cow's milk and then added chalk for coloring. Communities instituted milk statues forbidding the sale of milk produced by sick or diseased cows or which had been adulterated with any foreign substances, but complaints continued to roll in. One newspaper joked sarcastically that milkmen were leaving at the back door bottles of water that had been slightly adulterated with milk.

Even candy for kids was being adulterated for more profit. Terra Alba, or white earth, was being used instead of sugar because it was cheaper and gum drops sometimes got their chewy consistency from glue instead of gum arabic. "Poisons are much cheaper than genuine extracts," one paper pointed out, so prussic acid was used in place of almond flavor and pineapple flavoring was being created from the blending of rotten cheese and nitric acid. Food product labels began to be emblazoned with such promises as "wholesome," "fresh," and "unadulterated" because it had become such a big concern to the Victorian homemaker. She and/or her hired help made most of the family's food from scratch, so the quality of the ingredients - or at least the promise of quality - had become an increasingly important issue.

When she baked bread, one of the most frequently made foods in the Victorian home, she wanted to use real flour (not flour mixed with sawdust, as was sometimes the case) and quality yeast. The yeast meant everything to the success of the bread. Bad yeast made bad bread and wasted time and money. After all of the mixing and preparation of the bread ingredients and kneading the dough, the bread was often left overnight under a towel, for the miracle of the rising of the dough to occur. In the morning, the homemaker's hope was to see her towel looking like it was levitating in air because of the dough that had taken life from the yeast, rising and forming into a handsome loaf.

With this context, it's not at all strange to see a patent medicine maker also offering yeast. Hubert Harrington Warner was an extremely successful businessman with a shrewd appreciation for the power of advertising. His first business success was in the manufacture and sales of safes. He sold that business and then started a multi-million dollar patent medicine business, Warner's Safe Cures, with the safe as its trademark as well as its central message: whatever the medicine, if it's made by Warner, it's SAFE. The public latched on to his message and made him very, very wealthy in the 1880s. He applied the same trademark and message to his Warner's Safe Yeast product. His advertising promised the yeast was made "with the greatest care, without the touch of the human hand from mixing vat to packing case."
"Warner's Safe Yeast is guaranteed to be an absolutely Pure Dry Hop Yeast, and bread made with it will remain sweet and moist for many days. Be sure and insist upon getting Warner's Safe Yeast, the price of which is no more than the cheap and impure Yeasts with which the market is flooded."
Warner product advertising was found in newspapers and periodicals throughout the country, as well as in almanacs and trade cards. Two of those trade cards are shown here. They are fantastic custom-designed cards, employing the package of Warner's Safe Yeast to be not only at the center of visual attention, but symbolic of providing safety to the humans around it.

In glorious color, the first image shows the cardboard canister of Warner's Safe Yeast rising from the ocean, providing a lighthouse-like beacon to the small rowboat of shipwrecked sailors. These tiny humans (lower right corner) are dwarfed by the rough ocean and the dangerous rock outcroppings that lay ahead. The artist arranged those rock formations to have scary faces and painted messages of INDIGESTION and BAD HEALTH, but the didactic message is clear as is the sailor's escape from sure death: they will gain safe passage by heading for the Warner's Safe Yeast. Over the lighthouse we read the product's slogan, "Up With the Sun" - just what the homemaker hoped to see when she went into the kitchen at dawn - to find the levitating towel.

The second, equally eye-catching image shows two little children in their room, thrilled and amazed at one of the comets that filled the Victorian night sky. Their Warner's Safe Yeast canister is serving this time as a telescope which allows them to view the comet from the safety of their own room. It is also, therefore, the instrument through which they can see the light: Warner's.
In both trade cards the product promises both safety and light; Warner's is the lighthouse producing the light and the light in the sky (the comet). Don't be afraid of bad yeast - just use Warner's!

Safe food, safe medicine - it's what we all want - and it's the promise that made Warner one of the most successful quacks in the 19th century.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Have a Happy Vitapathic Thanksgiving!

As you sit down to enjoy your wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, you may want to consider starting a new tradition: the Vitapathic Blessing.

I'll let Dr. John Bunyan Campbell explain:

Food at the table, just before we eat it, can be vitalized by the VITAPATHIC BLESSING, as practiced by all good Vitapaths in their families at the commencement of every meal.
What is a Vitapathic Blessing, you ask? Well, it's not a prayer in the traditional sense. Vitapaths believed that Jesus Christ was a mortal who was able to heal the sick and eventually become immortal because he knew the vitapathic system inside-out, so you're not going to be praying to him. In fact, Dr. Campbell said,

All ... prayer is vain. Take is the only successful method of prayer; if you want air take it, if you want drink take it, if you want food take it ... if you want life, take it and LIVE.
So no gods and no prayers leaves what for a blessing? Dr. Campbell said you should all sit around the table that has the meal on it and then take a deep breath together in unison:

a long pull and a strong pull altogether, and thus take in vital spirit enough to vitalize oneself and each other, and to vitalize the food on the table, thus benefiting each and all. This breathing of vital spirit to increase soul power is more essential than eating food to increase bodily power, for the soul is more important than the body.
That's fine, but when your deeply inhaling the aromas - I mean the vital spirit - of the food in front of you, better keep one eye open for Uncle Louie - he's got his fork in his hand and I think he's gonna cheat.

Happy Thanksgiving!

from QuackMD

Give me a "V"! Give me a "D"! Whadaya got?

VD! Now there's something to tack to the end of your name!

Dr. Oliver Bliss (see the blog post of 11/22/09) listed himself as an "electric and vitapathic" physician in the late 1880s. Odds are, then, that he went to the American Health College in Cincinnati to get his V.D. degree - Vitapathic Doctor - not what you were thinking!

A doctor out of the American Health College? Sounds impressive, but let's find out a little more about this prestigious medical institution before we look to be healed by a guy with VD at the end of his name ...

Vitapathy was the self-proclaimed culmination of John Bunyan Campbell's life's work as a doctor. By his own account he had started as an allopathic (conventional) doctor, then studied and practiced the whole gamut of 19th century medicine: botanic medicine > eclecticism > homeopathy > electricity > hydropathy > mesmerism + magnetism + psychology + clairvoyance + spiritism + spiritualism + mental healing + Christian Science + metaphysical treatment + statuvolence + psychomancy. He basically took what he wanted out of each method and formed his ultimate healing method, Vitapathy; as he put it, the rest "are but ... single spokes in the full wheel of Vitapathy."

American Health College did not have a football team because school wasn't in session long enough; the whole course of study was three months. For $100 tuition, students got a copy of Campbell's book on Vitapathy and an electro-magnetic battery he called the "Little Giant," and three months of instruction, not on anatomy, physiology, and medicine, but on Vitapathy.

"Spiritual Vitapathy is an entirely new system of health practice," Campbell explained, "it is an entirely spiritual system, and employs only spirit and spiritualized remedies for the cure of disease leaving all drugs and so-called medicines behind ..." thus eliminating the need for CVS and Walgreen. Campbell had discovered vital spirit, sort of like the cosmic life force, in all things: air, water, food, heat, light, electricity, etc., and Vitapathic minister-physicians (VD's for short), were trained how to draw that stuff out and inject it into the sick and weak. In addition to healing the sick, a VD was fully authorized to preach the gospel of life (Vitapathy), minister over funerals, solemnize marriages, commune with angels, and cast out devils.

The VD's could infuse the Vita into letters they wrote, handkerchiefs, or stockings and the sick who received them, though miles away, could wear those items and get better (yup, he even told the ill to "wear [the] magnetized letter on the part of his body diseased as long as the letter will last and this will keep up the connection between doctor and patient and a continuous treatment, and they will be much benefitted.") Vitapathy was such strong mojo, Dr. John Bunyan Campbell said it could even raise the dead and make a person immortal; personally, I think he got those tall tales from the Bunyan side of his family.

As you might expect, conventional doctors also took a few choice cracks at Dr. Campbell and Vitapathy. One said his book was "intended for the household use of the quack in petticoats" (meaning gullible women who looked after their family's health) and that Campbell was "nothing but a daring fakir, to whom vitapathy ... is a source of revenue." Another critic said most of his students were "ignorant dupes, illiterate dunces and mental imbeciles." Ouch.

Dr. Bliss was a vitapathic doctor, but his card also directed consumers to some medicines of his own making (which was anti-VD doctrine), so he was apparently adding one more spoke to his medical wheel - and the wagon of quackery just kept on rolling.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Would you use Dr. Bliss or Dr. Coffin???

In my research I have come across doctors with some pretty unnerving surnames. The oddest one was probably a Dr. Lummus who voluntarily changed his name shortly after becoming a doctor to Dr. Coffin. It was his mother's maiden name and there were reasons that changing to her surname made sense to him, but it had to give his patients pause.

"Hi Doc Lummus, I'm feelin' kinda sick. Can I come over to see you?"

"Oh, I've changed my name; I'm now Doc Coffin. How badly do you feel?"

"Uhhhhh, even worse now."

I'm certain that if I knew two doctors who seemed equally capable and one was named Dr. Coffin and the other was Dr. Bliss, I'd probably being going to Dr. Bliss. Well, Dr. Oliver Bliss of Springfield, Massachusetts wanted potential patients to know that he had even more going for him than his comforting name. His little business card tells a bigger story than its size would suggest. I'll go over it in the order that the reader would.

First, his portrait: it is very much part of the message - perhaps the central message - of the card. Although subliminal, it is very much meant to be read as much as the text. It is carefully rendered to give customers comfort. This well-groomed, well dressed, middle-aged man is the picture of wisdom, sobriety, knowledge, and confidence. In addition to looking self-assured, his expression is serene and reassuring, none of the body language that would intimate anger, confusion, doubt, or deception - you're in good hands with Dr. Bliss. There is an interesting dark ribbon in a v-shape over his vest, suggesting that he might be wearing a medallion of some honor or merit that he might have earned in his medical mission to suffering humanity (wearing such ribboned medals was very popular distinctions in Victorian America).

Right after reading his pluperfect name, we are told he was a RESIDENT PHYSICIAN - no gone-by-morning-light sort of quack. He lived where he worked; he was a pillar of the community; a good neighbor. He wanted that message to come across so clearly that he had it set in all upper case letters, even larger than his own name. (And he really was a resident of Springfield, Mass.; he is listed in the Springfield city directories from 1885 until his death in 1893, often as an electric and vitapathic physician, later as an eclectic, and still later for running a vapor bath house. i.e., steam baths.)

Now it gets really interesting. The first thing we learn about this august, conventional-looking doctor is that he promises he "Locates your Diseases, and Describes your Pains, Aches, and Bad Feelings, and no questions asked." How? Doesn't say. But if he could do that, he must be really good, huh? He was essentially making claim to some sort of psychic connection that precluded his need to ask questions - possibly through clairvoyance or mesmerism - but he was probably just a shrewd and perceptive judge of patients' aches and pains.

The back of his card further explained that he made a specialty of several illnesses: chills and feaver (as it was spelled on the card), rheumatism, neuralgia, and piles. He shows his colors some more by revealing that he cured dyspepsia with "no quinine, no mercury, but pleasant, and purely vegetable compounds," and consumption and hemorrhages "that defy the skill of old practitioners." Thus he was separating himself from the regular or conventional doctors that resorted to those medicines. Dr. Bliss was claiming to have found better methods than the standard physician and he was letting the public know he was proudly different and successful. The card back also gives short puffs for two of his own medicines, Golden Whooping Cough Syrup and Electro-Magnetic Powders for female complaints.

Whether he was mortising together or morphing through clairvoyance, mesmerism, magneto-electricity, vitapathy, eclecticism, steam baths, and proprietary medicines, Dr. Bliss used a hodgepodge of alternative methods in just an eight-year period of time, but he quacked quietly on his trade card, calmly assuring potential patients that he was as good as his name - it was a lot to live up to.

More on electric, vitapathic, and eclectic healing in future blog posts of Quack Cogitations!

Friday, November 20, 2009

"The Doctor Jokes" - keeping you in stitches in 1915

One of the pieces in my collection is a small leather-bound book owned by a Mrs. H. M. Hudson. She apparently delighted in collecting jokes about doctors. Her little book, which she titled "THE DOCTOR JOKES," is filled, cover to cover, with a hodgepodge of handwritten and pasted in jokes from various newspapers and magazines. Wherever dates are shown, they are always from the year 1915. She took extra effort to number each joke, suggesting she wanted to make easy reference to them for some other purpose - perhaps to publish them as a collection some day? Most of them are hackneyed and corny, but nonetheless an interesting insight into popular humor of that day. The things we complain about regarding the medical profession today are not so different from what they were jabbing about almost 100 years ago: the expense of the physician, their unfathomable knowledge, and their questionable skills. Here is a small selection of Mrs. Hudson's pearls (I will indicate the number of the joke and whether it was hand-written or pasted in; all spelling and punctuation as in originals):

#12 - handwritten:

"Are you of the Opinion, James," asked a slim-looking man of his companion, That Dr. Smith's medicine does any good?"
"Not unless you follow the directions."
"What are the directions?"
"Keep the bottle tightly corked."

- from Tit-Bits

#17 - handwritten:
"The Carvers" by Walt Mason

We used to call it gripes
When we had stomach trouble
And all our inward pipes
Would ache & bend us double
It was a common ill
That caused no awe or wonder
And granny's simple skill
Full soon would knock it under.
The poor men in their cots
The rich man in his castle,
Were often tied in knots
And with the gripes would wrastle.
A dose of home-made dope
Would quell the dire upheavel,
Restoring faith & hope,
Displacing pain & evil -
But now the doctor comes -
His science sure a blight is! -
He looks and haws and hums,
And cries "Appendicitis!"
He promptly spoils your peace,
And makes your courage mizzle;
A cleaver and some dirks,
And how the patient hollers
When he removes one's works,
And charges 90 dollars!
The docs are done with pills,
In this and other nations.
No matter what your ills,
They call for "operations."
Lumbago in our backs,
The jaundice and hay fever,
Demand the saw & axe,
The hatchet & the cleaver.
The druggist's trade is poor,
And soon he will be starving;
The doctors only cure,
These modern days, is carving.
- from Farm Journal, Jan 1915

#20 - pasted in:
Faint Hope.

Doctor (cuttingly) - Are you to be allowed to drink bear, eh? Didn't I tell you just a week ago to let the stuff alone?
Patient - I know, doctor; but, you see, I thought there might have been some progress in medical science since.
- from New York Post

#21 - pasted in:

Mean Fellow

"Your wife has a muscular affection which renders her speechless. I can cure her, but it will take time."
"Take all the time you want, doc," responded the mean man.
- from Kansas City Journal

#30 - pasted in:

A Wester paper speaks of a man "who died without the aid of a physician."
Such instances are indeed rare.

#42 - pasted in:

"The doctor said he'd have me on my feet in two weeks."
"Well, did he?"
"He sure did! I had to sell my car to pay his bill!"
- from Puck

#43 - pasted in:

His Translation.

Pat - "The doctors say O'Brien is afflicted with 'rheumatorial arthritis,' whatever that may be!"
Mike - "Oh, that's Latin for 'Mrs. O'Brien," I imagine!"
- from Life

#44 - handwritten:

The Atchison Globe says that when Rip Van Winkle awoke from his long snooze he consulted a physician. And the physician told him what he needed was a good rest.

#53 - pasted in:

A sick man inquired of a friend whom he should consult, and was recommended to an eminent specialist.

"Is he very expensive?" asked the patient.

"Him? No; he'll charge you $5 for the first visit, and $2.50 afterward."

So the invalid went off to the doctor in question, and upon being admitted to the consulting room slammed down $2.50, accompanied by the remark: "Well, doctor, here we are again."

The doctor calmly picked up the money, opened the drawer in his desk, placed it therein, and locked the drawer.

The patient waited events. "Well, aren't you going to examine me? he said at length.

"No," said the specialist; "there's no need to do it again. Just keep on with the same medicine. Good day."

Mrs. Hudson and I hope you have a great weekend and a smile on your face.

New 4-minute video on the History of Quackery!

I have added another attachment to my "More Fascinating Quackery" sidebar on the right that I highly recommend to you. It was produced by England's world-famous Wellcome Library and shares delightful, interesting images and narration. Definitely check it out! Bravo, Wellcome!

Monday, November 16, 2009

More about Clairvoyant Medicine - I KNEW that's what you wanted to read about

A note from QuackMD - I was delighted to receive such positive responses of interest about Sleeping Lucy; I'm glad you enjoyed that information! Please keep in mind though, folks, you can even more easily post a comment right on the blog rather than have to send me private emails! Having said that, let me now tell you about Mrs. Morrill, another clairvoyant healer and one of Sleeping Lucy's Vermont neighbors.

On 29 July 1855 in Thetford, Vermont, someone named M. Quimby was pretty sick. She (I think it was a she) dictated a letter to a scribe that was to be sent to friends just over the Connecticut River in Piermont, New Hampshire. She probably resorted to an amanuensis because she was either illiterate or just too sick to write the letter herself; judging by the scribe's problems with spelling and sentence structure, she may have been both. (Spelling will be repeated as in the original letter.)

She wrote to the Risleys, her New Hampshire friends, that she suffered from "humor in the blood" and "apoplex shock." She suffered a particularly severe shock just three days earlier. "I thought my days wer finished," she dictated to her secretary. She told her friends she would not be able to visit them, but if they could visit her, then "do not fail to come it may be the last interview we may ever have."

Her decline had been rapid. "A year ago my health was such that I walked the distance of a mile a few times and could get out and in to a wagon nearly as well as ever now I am so dizzy and weak I can scaresly perform the task and I am seldom able to walk to our nearest neighbor the distance of ninety rods (less than a third of a mile)." The letter was written on July 29th, but subsequent short postscripts were added on July 30, 31, August 1, and 3. The next to the last postscript was ominously, "I am aware that my strength daily decays"

Ironically, even though she made great efforts to explain to the Risleys how sick she was, M. Quimby said she wrote the letter to tell her friends about the good benefit she had received from a clairvoyant physician. She didn't think the healer's instructions would cure her, but they at least made her feel a little better. She believed that Asa Risley was suffering from the same set of problems she had, so encouraged him to follow the instructions she had received from the clairvoyant and also included the healer's business card, just in case he wanted to visit for himself.

Quimby then briefly recounts her fascinating visit to Mrs. J. H. Morrill, the Clairvoyant Physician and Spiritual Medium, who was just 40 miles away from Sleeping Lucy's stomping grounds. Like Sleeping Lucy, she was both a clairvoyant and a medium, meaning she could reveal problems of health, wealth, or love, solve business problems, and help find lost treasures or hidden criminals.

"I went about three miles to see this lady we went into a retired room she sat down shut her eyes and in a moment or two she says you have suffered a great deal she acted and told me my complaints as to appearance as plain as you could disern anything with your naked eye then She began to direct me how to precede with my self and then prescribe the medicine - which I find makes me more comfortable while I live."
The clairvoyant physician's instructions to get the blood to circulate (apparently the course of action Mrs. Morrill recommended for "humor in the blood" and "apoplex shock") were bathing, vigorously rubbing the skin, and a light vegetarian diet - nothing mystical or zodiacal - just country common sense with a touch of mid-nineteenth century Thomsonian and Graham reforms mixed in:
"when you rise in the morning before dressing have a pan with a little warm suds made of Castile soap set your feet in it taik a large cloth Squeeze it out in the suds rub your head and neck get some one to rub your back thoroughly keep the cloth warm with the suds then rub the whole system till the skin looks red feet and all for a change ocationaly take a damp cloth & sprinnkle on mustard or Cayenne rub the whole system thoroughly with that Drink no sale coffe drink domestic coffee if you wish drink allittle tea to keep your spirits good let your food be vegetable much as you can eat no warm bread of any kind shun all pastry and biscuit eat a little Brown bread or very light wheat bread crackers suit me best make no use of salt vituals nor any thing sour nor pepper drink no cold water"
It is interesting to note on Mrs. Morrill's card: "First examination and prescription when the person to be examined is present, $1.00, when absent, $2.00." Since she was a clairvoyant, she didn't really need the person to be in front of her to know what was wrong with them. Asa Risley could just send his two bucks in the mail instead of having to travel over the river and through the woods. Didn't even need the Internet.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sleeping Lucy (I think I saw her in the post office line)

I have always had a special place in my heart for clairvoyant healers. I don't really know why, but I think it has something to do with how they dabbled in mental telepathy, astrology, numerology, and other shadowy subjects which feel forbidden but fascinating to me. They were able to control two worlds at the same time. Upon being mesmerized (i.e., hypnotized), they were are able to keep their patient waiting breathlessly as they sank into an unconscious world to find the cure; when I try it, I just sink to sleep.

There were bunches of these mystics in the 1830s and 1840s especially, honing their skills in mesmerism (it was also called animal magnetism); then in 1848 the Fox sisters took clairvoyance to the next level by introducing the living to the world of angels and ghosts and Great Grampa who died 52 years ago.

In the 1830s and 1840s, it was a little bit simpler. People looking for cures that their regular doctors couldn't give them often tried "the next new thing" in desperation - and one of those new ideas was clairvoyant healing. I have a few such healers to tell you about, but today I want to highlight Lucy Ainsworth Cooke, known in her day as "Sleeping Lucy."

She was one of twelve children of poor parents waffled between poor and broke; in 1860 her father was recognized as a pauper. He lost the family farm in central Vermont in 1829 and the nine living children had to be shuffled off to various homes. At just 8 years old, Lucy had to learn a trade to earn her keep. She learned to make straw bonnets then later became a tailor's apprentice. Then she became ill - desperately, dangerously ill - lucky girl. (Painting of Lucy Ainsworth Cooke from the Vermont Historical Society at

You see, one of the key formulas for the success of a nineteenth century healer or medicine seller was to have a near-death experience, followed by a miraculous recovery, finished by a pure desire to share their miracle with fellow sufferers. So our young heroine Lucy was on her sick bed for several months, "given over to die by three physicians," but finally, falling into an unusual sleep, in a dream-like state, a "suggestion" came into her mind to heal herself using certain roots and herbs prepared in a certain manner. She had not spoken aloud for six months, but when she awoke she was suddenly able to call aloud for some friend, requesting the roots and herbs and explaining how to prepare them. And guess what happened? She was cured and arose from her death bed!! Shocker.

She then resolved "to commence life anew by a constant study of disease and cure." She repeatedly experienced inner visions in her sleep and would awake speaking some mysterious instructions to the benefit of someone who had asked her for assistance. Sometimes the inner voice gave clairvoyant instruction to find a missing purse or to help the sheriff solve a crime; it even revealed where Captain Kidd had buried a chest of gold - deep in Vermont's countryside (although no gold has been found there yet). Most of the mysterious messages told her and her patients what cures they needed to get well: cordials, panaceas, syrups, liniments, salves, tinctures, powders, plasters, rheumatic pills, bitters, cough lozenges, diaphoretic drops, rose ointment, "R. W. Bitters," and golden ointment - she wasn't a clairvoyant healer, she was more of a clairvoyant pharmacy.

Lucy married Charles Cooke who had been her magnetizer (the person who would put her into an hypnotic trance) for two years, so that her clairvoyant voice could pronounce miraculous instructions. And thus she became known as "Sleeping Lucy," the clairvoyant healer.

One of her brothers also looked to medicine to make a few dollars. Luther Ainsworth became known as "Doc Ainsworth" even though he had no medical school education. He was remembered for prescribing buckshot as his panacea for "all human ills." Buckshot was supposed to make the patient immune to further illness - by being swallowed, not by being shot from a gun.

Colorful family; colorful times.

Going Postal over Health Care

I'm going to post a new blog entry right after this one that will be the normal sort of fare I've been offering you (so please be patient with me), but I just want to take a moment to make a quick observation:
If the United States is going to have its health care services run by the same yahoos running our Post Office, we're gonna have a lot of sick, angry people in this country!
As you can probably tell, I just spent an hour and ten minutes in a line at the post office today to get to do three minutes worth of business. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Now I know where and why terrorist cells get started!!

Okay, I feel better and will behave again. We return you to our regularly scheduled program ...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

All Creatures of Our God and King

In 1858, Isaac Dowd Williamson, a Universalist minister, composer of a substantial portion of the ritual of the Order of Odd-Fellows, religious newspaper editor, and author of several theological and philosophy books, published a didactic work for children titled, Glimpses of the Wonderful: A Series of Instructive Sketches for the Young. The purpose of the book was to teach children about many of the world's wonders and oddities and to show how God had a hand in them all. He started the book with "Peeps Through the Microscope," wherein he observed that although we may feel like insignificant "pigmy insects" when we consider our tiny presence in the vastness of the universe that God created, there are other life forms far smaller than us that bear the signature of God:

"... there are myriads of living creatures swarming around us, each one framed with the nicest skill - each endowed with capacities of enjoyment - each having some service to perform in creation ... Yes, - every tiny leaf, every drop of water, is a world in which multitudes of God's creatures are born, with frames of workmanship as curious and as wondrous as ours; and there they live and sport with evident enjoyment throughout their little day, fulfil the end of their tiny being, and then give way to new generations."

The minister provided a wonderful illustration of the life that was found in a single drop of water by a mid-nineteenth century microscope and illustrator; the sample was replete with life forms resembling six-legged starfish, insect larvae, and all manner of micro-beasts bearded with cilia or propelled by a single rat-tailed flagellum:
"Looking through a powerful microscope at that tiny drop, we may see creatures of shapes like those depicted there, and many more besides ... Even for the pleasures and the needs of beings such as these, whose universe is a drop of water, God provides; and shall He not care for us?"
Today, 151 years later, man is working really hard to overcome his child-like fascination with the inhabitants of worlds both infinitesimal and celestial; as a species we seem to be diminishing the significance and even the existence of a God we cannot see and eliminating the existence of micro-organisms that we cannot see without the aid of microscopes, which few of us ever use. We look to the Lilliputian creatures of the water drop as the enemy that they often are, and take all kinds of modern, scientific measures to blow them out of the water, so to speak. Kleenex brand tissues are currently available in a variety that promises to kill 99.9% of all cold and flu viruses. They reinforce this lethal message with consumer packaging that shows cartoon versions of the creepy-crawlies that Isaac Dowd Williamson found in his 1858 microscope. They are no longer the creatures of wonder over which Williamson marveled because now Kleenex kills 'em dead. The comforting lesson of the good minister has been twisted into a new conundrum by modern science, and that is, if we can so quickly and easily and completely destroy those little "pigmy insects" because they are so troublesome, will God soon eradicate the troublesome human life forms on planet Earth with His giant Kleenex?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quackery in upstate New York in 1835

I am very fortunate to have a wonderful collection of things to do with quackery: bottles, trade cards, broadsides, billheads, letters, diaries, and so on. I think the letters and diaries are among my favorites because they are very personal and heartfelt, often intended to be read by only the writer, in the case of diaries, or the person being written to, in the case of letters. So today I am going to share with you one of my favorite letters; I hope you'll enjoy it.

This letter was written on the 17th of July 1835 by Charles Shepard, M.D. to James B. Hunt, an attorney. (I have left the spelling and capitalization as it is in the original, but added red for emphasis.) Doctor Shepard was living in Adams, which is upstate New York on the east end of Lake Ontario; Mr. Hunt was living in Herkimer, New York, which is half way between Syracuse and Albany. Doctor Shepard was having a tough time getting his medical practice going because of all the pestiferous quacks all around him. From the tone of his letter, it doesn't sound like he and Mr. Hunt were particularly close friends, but Doctor Shepard apparently respected Mr. Hunt enough for him to reach out and seek his advice (sort of an early nineteenth century version of networking). Doctor Shepard was ready to move all the way to Michigan if Hunt would tell him just one thing about the largely untamed frontier - not whether Michigan's Indians or wolves or cold winters were dangerous, but whether it was free of quacks:
I am in the village of Adams in good health but low spirits attempting to get a living by the practic of my profession, which is of all others the most contemptable in this place. The medical faculty of this plac consists of five besides myself and they are a strange mass of Drunkardness infidelety quackery and foolishness as was ever met with. They are a disgrace to the profession and a pest to society. Still the people after being duped and gulled by this professional kind of a nondescrip will employ them because they can pay them in whiskey which makes it rather small business for those that dont drink it. I understand you have been to Michigan I hope you have found a place for me as I am Sorely sick of this. It will be a great while before I Shall do enough to support myself beside my debts which I Shall never pay if I have got to earn the money by the practice of medicine in this place - There is six physicians to 12 or 1500 inhabitants. The ride is very much circumscribed there being physicians all around us within four or five miles. Mr Hunt please write me a few lines as soon as convenient and give me a history of your town and your opinion of Michigan. Likewise give me your opinion as to what I had better do as I shall Starve here. Give my respects to the people at Herkimer.

It's a fantastic slice of history, but alas, only a slice. I wish I knew what happened to the good doctor; perhaps I will someday with more research and time. If any of you know anything about him, please let me know! Of course, what I'd really like to know more about is those quacks that made Doctor Shephard's life so miserable!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Indian Compound - the Great Connubial Commandment

Well, without doing so on purpose, it seems I have strung together something of a story line by which to share some of the quackery going on in the 19th century. It started with my hypothetical story of a young man who used phrenology as a means to find the perfect woman. His phrenologist was able to find the perfect match, then the young man bought his soul mate a love token in the form of Galvanic Generator pendant and wondered if the matchmaking phrenologist got his analysis right.

We then saw the lovely young woman, restored from dyspepsia and nerves, looking lovely in her wedding trousseau, ready to get married. That brings us up to the day before Halloween, when I shared an image of the groom, proving conclusively that love is blind.

Today it seems fitting to transport you to the first scene of our newly married couple's domestic bliss. The wife has set the tone for their marriage by rewriting the Ten Commandments. In that this great trade card (or possibly a small blotter) has survived almost infers that someone appreciated its wit (or its wisdom) enough to preserve it; I choose to imagine that person was our bride.

I love the fact that the "Wife's Commandments" required fifteen immutable laws when God only required ten. The ground rules have been laid and our groom has his work cut out for him! It is also interesting to consider the issues of nineteenth century married life that underlie these commandments. The first, for example, makes it clear that the husband is not to entertain any notions of becoming polygamous, which was being actively practiced by the Mormons, and roundly excoriated by their critics, in the 1870s and 1880s (the time period during which this when this advertising piece was made). The second rule is another sexual taboo for the groom that infidelity will not be tolerated with household servants or nursemaids - another common concern and suspicion among the middle and upper class matrons who so frequently had female (and often foreign) servants living in the home with them and their husbands.

Commandments 8 (chewing tobacco), 10 (alcohol drinking and tavern visiting), and 11 (billiard halls and gambling) were all designed to have the husband continue walking a straight moral path, bringing honor to the family and ensuring that he stayed employed and also did not squander his earnings. Number 14 most likely repeated the commandment about avoiding liquor (the red spot on the middle of his face referring to the red nose of a drunkard), but for the life of me, I have no idea who "B. and W." is or are (if you have any idea, please let me know!) The other commandments would require the man to be a dutifully respectful and attentive husband, father, and son-in-law.

Then we have Commandment No. 15 - the Great Commandment, I would suspect we are to believe. By this point in the list, the browbeaten husband has been pummeled into submission and would presumably acquiesce to this commandment as a final act of submission. I sure hope this humbled husband knew where to buy Dr. Miller's Indian Compound; I have tons of reference books and lists, but have been unable to find any quack medicine by that name in the nineteenth century. And for his sake, it better not contain alcohol, or he's never going to hear the end of it from his new wife!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Man of Her Dreams?




Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Picture of Health

Some of the American companies using trade cards to advertise their products made a considerable financial investment for the creation of customized, beautiful, high-quality, eye-catching designs. There must have been considerable expense involved with these custom creations, to get just the right look, convey the right message, etc. This trade card for Wells' Health Renewer, for example, conveys a clear message to the female consumer: this product will give you health.

Notice that the card is done in pleasant pastels - pink (to match the young beauty's rosy complexion) and powder blue (to match her eyes) - soft, soothing, and reassuring.

The graceful waves and flourishes on the words "Health Renewer" compliment the swirls and twirls of the young woman's flowing blonde hair.

She's framed by a delicate lace headdress, adding a message of purity to her portrait. The veil, along with her, earring, pearl necklace, and gold locket hint that she is dressed and ready for some social occasion. The gold locket might perhaps hold the picture of her beloved? In fact, the image may be of a young bride, about to embark on a lifetime of wedded bliss, a fairytale ending which was only made possible because her life had been saved by Well's Health Renewer.

The Renewer was a medicine to soothe nervous stomachs and to give strength and vigor to the system. What better stuff for a blushing bride on her wedding day?

The card back carries quick messages about Wells' other products, leaving the front of the card to convey everything women needed to know about the Health Renewer. The Wells company was apparently satisfied and confident that the card front's message about the Health Renewer was effectively conveyed just through the use of design and color. I think that's pretty amazing and a sophisticated piece of advertising.

On another Wells trade card we have a glimpse at someone who may have been this bride's counterpart - the man of her dreams. I'll share him with you tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Bottle By Any Other Name ...

I have been collecting bottles for a long, long time, and I've seen and read about many types of collections: based on a certain manufacturer, time period, location, etc.; most bottle collectors collect for color. For example, a collector may want to have every possible shade of brown that a certain bitters bottle comes in: brown, sand, wheat, amber, honey-amber, chocolate-brown, chocolate chip, etc. (okay, I made up the last one). Now I admit that it's a pretty sight to see one size and shape bottle displayed in a window in a progressive rainbow of hues, but here's what I don't get: a bottle label is often considered a deterrence to collectability. Huh?

That rationale is basically that you can't appreciate the pretty colors and age of the glass if there's this old label pasted over a part of the bottle. I understand what such collectors are saying, but I just don't feel that way at all, myself.

The label is HISTORY! It gives the bottle it's identity and often its character! MOST bottles did not have unusual shapes, colors, or embossing; all the proprietor could afford was the label. But those labels told the story! Whether it was a liquor bottle, a medicine, a cleaning solution, a flavoring extract, shoe gloss, or whatever, it gave the bottle its reason to exist! Labels tell who made the product, what it was, what it was for, where it was made, often clues to when, and much more. When it came to medicine bottles (obviously my favorite kind), it also listed what the medicine would cure. It was identification, instructions, and advertisement all in one!

Take this image for Dr. Abbott's Blood Purifying Sarsaparilla, made during the 1880s in Lynn, Massachusetts. The bottle is a common shape and the common aqua color (the brown you see is the dried residue of its contents). There is no embossing to tell any story. If the label wasn't on there, it would be considered a "junk" bottle by virtually every collector out there. Heck, even I wouldn't care about it. But the a-m-a-z-i-n-g label tells a story - WOW, what a story!



After years spent in the treatment of diseases, careful study and experiment, I am enabled to give to the world a medicine which I consider has no equal. Its composition is purely vegetable, and is designed to work chiefly upon the organs of digestion, assimilation, Liver, and Kidneys. It has also a specific action upon the heart. It increases the activity, and power of the Digestive organs, thus assisting nature in the digestion, assimilation, or transformation of our nourishment into a pure and vital fluid (the blood), which carries Vitality, Strength, and Vigor to every tissue. It has a cleansing and tonic effect upon the liver, by which bile is removed from the circulation. It produces an active and healthy condition of the kidneys, thus assisting in the removal of all wastes, and poisonous elements from the system. It also gives tonicity, force, and regularity to the tissues of the heart. There are also combined those principals which tends to overcome Constipation, Nervous Prostration, and to the extermination of Scrofulous, and Cancerous Humors, and is an excellent remedy for the cure of Dyspepsia, Sickheadached, Bronchitis, Catarrh, Rheumatism, Neuralgia, Jaundice, Dropsy, etc., diseases tending to Consumption, and of the Urinary, and Reproductive Organs, Female Weakness, Skin Affections, and all diseases arising from an impure state of the blood. Many valuable testimonials might be added, but a trial of the remedy is the only convincing proof of its true merit.


For an Adult, one Dessert Spoonful after meals, or sufficient quantity to gently relax the bowels; for Children, from five drops upward, according to age.


C.S. ABBOTT, M.D., Lynn, Mass.

Can be procured of any Druggist, or direct from Manufacturer.

Price, $1.00 per Bottle, or six for $5.00

Now here's what some of you probably don't know: a small number of the extreme collect-for-color bottle collectors will remove the label so the light can show through the glass; I have been told this by one or two collectors who do so. That just stuns me. What a waste; what a tragedy. if they like colored glass so much, why don't they just collect colored lamp shades or learn to make stained-glass windows! Good grief. Thank goodness that such a collector would have no motivation to take the label off Dr. Abbott's Sarsaparilla - the bottle is boring glass - thank goodness. I've tried to imagine it in some bright, eye-popping color, but it just doesn't work for me. Dr. Abbott, your quack medicine bottle is plain and homely ... and one of the most treasured in my collection.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A little more fine print about the Cholera medicine

Thought I'd also throw this in about yesterday's post:

The directions on the back of the Calcutta Cholera Mixture bottle instruct the user to add one teaspoon to half a wineglass of sweetened water and to take that dose every hour. Two quick observations about this instruction:
  1. There was only a smidge more than three teaspoons of medicine in the bottle, so the user better not have had a bad case of diarrhea, dysentery, cholera morbus, or whatever, because they only had three doses! Only enough to get cured in three hours!!
  2. This medicine was to be added to water - I sure hope they didn't use the bacteria-laden water that got them sick in the first place!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reading the Fine Print of Quackery

In the 1870s, druggist Warren Toppan of Lynn, Massachusetts made and sold Calcutta Cholera Mixture.

It must have been somekinda powerful: the bottle is only 3.75" (9.525 cm) tall from base to the top of the lip and held only 3.25 teaspoons of cure. That's okay, huge medical breakthroughs often come in small packages, right? Penicillin: big-time disease cure, small petri dish; aspirin: whopping headache cure, small pill; Calcutta Cholera Mixture: breakthrough cholera cure, small bottle.

Umm, not really.

You've probably never heard of this quack cure. Its maker did not become rich or famous and he did next to nothing to advertise this medicine. This may seem to be extraordinary modesty given that he was claiming to have invented a cure for cholera.

Well, that's what he claimed ... sort of. You have to read (and understand) the small print (admittedly, ALL the print on this tiny bottle is small). Under the name of the medicine we read, "For the Cure of Cholera Morbus, Dysentery, Diarrhoea, Colic, and all Inflammation of the Stomach and Bowels." Cholera and Cholera Morbus are not the same thing; cholera is the epidemic variety and cholera morbus was a term used to describe the non-epidemic family of gastrointestinal diseases whose symptoms resembled cholera. So he wasn't really talking about curing the epidemic type of cholera that people associated with the 1832 global pandemic that originated among the impoverished people in the Bengal region of India. He was only promising relief for the spectrum of gastrointestinal complaints that hit Lynn during late summer through the fall of each year. Yet he purposely called it the Calcutta Cholera Mixture. And he couched his promises in caveats of even tinier type size:
If given in the forming stages of Cholera, it will arrest the progress of the disease.
In other words, if you're too far gone, Toppan's cure can't be blamed. And if you're not too far gone, it really only promises to stop the disease's progress, not knock it out of your system. So at best, the stuff won't let you get worse, unless you are already worse, then tough luck, Charlie. It's what small print was invented for.

Americans watched warily after the first (and worst) cholera pandemic hit the U.S. in 1832 and other scares in 1849 and 1866. But in 1849 John Snow of England demonstrated that cholera was spread through fouled water and many U.S. communities began to tap cleaner water sources and setting up water filtration systems. Lynn had a water pumping and filtering system by 1870, so why was there a need for a medicinal cure in Lynn in the mid-1870s?

Like many cities in the U.S., Lynn, Massachusetts was getting crowded. Its shoe factories required many workers; tenements stacked next to each other, forming three-story urban jungles. Poor immigrants filled the housing and were condescendingly regarded by the upper classes as a necessary evil. Delicate white bejeweled fingers pointed disdainfully at the poor as the source of filth, squalor, and disease. Toppan's Calcutta Cholera Mixture was not just a promised cure of the choleric symptoms that came from contagious gastrointestinal diseases, but also was an implied cure from the filth of the slums spilling over into upscale lives. It was bad enough if you got dysentery or cholera morbus, but even worse that you got their diseases, making you no better than them.

Warren Toppan's Calcutta Cholera Mixture was a cure for physical illness and social downfall. Small bottle, big attitude.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Bumpy Road to Health

So your friendly local phrenologist has checked out the bumps on the heads of you and your potential girlfriend and determined the two of you are a great match. Congratulations! Now what gift do you buy a girl with perfect bumps? It's got to be something special, something that will be close to her heart. Hey, how about one of those nifty galvanic necklace things that everyone is talking about (at least they were in the early 1880s, anyway). They were made in London and New York by George A. Scott, the same guy that invented those amazing Electric Hair Brushes that let you brush the headache out of your head in no time! Hey, if she likes this galvanic generator pendant, maybe you can get her the hair brush for Christmas!

But let's focus on the pendant first. This little galvanic charmer is made of fashionable gutta percha ("a beautiful material resembling ebony"), the design on the front is of a winged cherub flying au naturel, through a lovely flower garden. Could it be Cupid himself? If so, then Cupid has modernized, because instead of arrows, this guy's got fists full of lightning bolts! Hey, that could hurt, couldn't it?

But you see, dear, that's the whole point. Old Cupid has updated his arsenal because there are better ways to get to your heart. This is not just another piece of jewelry. This is a Galvanic Generator. Wear it like a locket over your heart. Flip it over to the backside to see the secret of its power - the Galvanic Battery or Generator. See the beautiful copper shield inlaid with a zinc design of Cupid's fist holding those lightning bolts? Well, when those two metals interact with the chemistry of your body, you will feel the electricity's warm current coursing through you and your bumps (and probably creating some new ones), without causing the slightest shock or unpleasant feeling.

Are you serious? Your sister had one and it turned her skin green wherever it rubbed against? And it caused a reddish burn on your Aunt Matilda's skin? And it did nothing for your mother at all? (I'm not surprised; you have to have a heart for it to work, but who knows what's in that old battle-ax.) No dear, I didn't say anything. But I really think you should give this a try anyway. It will quickly relieve stomach, liver, and kidney complaints, rheumatism, neuralgia, dyspepsia, lumbago, aches and pains, heartburn, flatulency, weak stomach, debility, weak back, vertigo, indigestion, and more; at least that's what it promised in the Harper's Weekly ad for October 30, 1880. No, no, I'm not saying you're flatulent! I just think these new gizmos are the very latest scientific breakthrough and are finally curing things that doctors haven't figured out in over 5,000 years of trying. Didn't your phrenological profile say you liked to try new things? And it only cost $1.00! Isn't that great? No, I'm not cheap - and yes, you're worth much more dear! But our profiles said we both loved frugality, right? (Is battle-ax an inherited bump?)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Scientific Matchmaking in 1870

These days I can't watch television without being accosted by a barrage of commercials offering to help me find a date. Never mind the fact that I have been very happily married for 32 years; they don't know or don't care and I suspect that if I'd pay the fee, they'd take it. One of the most heavily marketed dating services is eHarmony, an outfit whose pitch is the excellent results they've accomplished through the use of an extensive profile about your likes, dislikes, interests, and character traits. Each hopeful applicant fills out the profile survey and the computer does the rest, matching up profile answers to find the ideal date or mate. Not real romantic, but probably safer than bars and clubs.

As long as there have been men and women on this planet, there have been love-sick puppies looking for a kindred spirit (that is, everyone since Adam and Eve; they had a matchmaker who conveniently arranged to have the two meet in the same garden). In 1870, a doctor named John Cowan wrote a book that shared his infallible matchmaking system. Titled The Science of New Life, it was essentially a Victorian manual about the facts of life. I paid a lot more than Cowan's original asking price for his book, so I'm guessing that he wouldn't mind me sharing a few of his interesting thoughts on matchmaking with you:
"Taking it for granted that the man has arrived at a marriageable age - twenty-eight or thirty - and that he be of sound mind and perfect health ... he should avoid ... any woman having ill health, and especially if she be of a family having consumption or scrofula in its organization. There is no more important peculiarity to avoid than this one of inherent or transmitted sickness."
He then (wisely) recommends avoiding hysterical or lazy women, as well as those that wear corsets ("avoid them as you would the plagues of Egypt, for they encompass sickness, premature decay and death"), small women (unless you're a small man), ignorant or poorly educated women (those that have learned to speak foreign languages, sing operas or play piano), those with "a superficially beautiful face," or women who are "overloaded with outre-shaped ear-rings, bracelets, finger-rings, and other cheap, gilt trinkets," false hair, and extravagant dress with false forms (bustles, hoops, etc.). So how's a guy supposed to see past all the superficial beauty, sexiness, and class (assuming he wants to, that is)? Cowan's answer: Phrenology - the determination of human attributes by measuring the size, shape, and features of the head.
Each area of the skull was home to a certain character trait which a phrenologist could supposedly measure to be in deficit or abundance. The more your phrenological profile matched a prospective mate's, the better the match. The attached phrenological bust graphically maps out these character zones (the illustration comes from an 1862 treatise on consumption and lung diseases by another doctor, Charles R. Broadbent of Boston, who also couldn't praise phrenology enough). The ridge in front of the ear (the zygomatic arch), for example (where two men can be seen drinking liquor and eating what look like ridiculously large meatballs), was the zone of "Alimantativeness - appetite, desire of nutrition, sense of hunger, and capacity to enjoy food and drink." The more that boney ridge sticks out, the more desire that person will have to eat and drink. Funny, I've been looking at the bulge of my stomach to measure that. Guess I'm no scientist. Some called phrenology quackery, but others, like Doctors Broadbent and Cowan, insisted it was science. Cowan continued with his prescription for finding the ideal spouse:
"Go to a good phrenologist and obtain a written analysis of your character, with a fully marked chart, which retain for comparison. When you , in your search for a wife, come across a woman who you think has an appearance of approximating your standard of character, have her secure a chart ... and show it to you, when, having all her perfections and defects in print, you can compare it with yours. ... If the comparison is favorable to a perfect union, then an engagement may be formed, and until this precise point is arrived at, love, impulse and the feelings should not be exercised, but kept perfectly dormant. ... if you allow your feelings and impulses to run rampant, instead of choosing and marrying a woman suited to your characteristics, you will probably choose and marry a ringlet, a dimple, a set of white teeth, a silky eyelash, a peach-blossom cheek; a lithe and willowy waist, a glimpse of a pretty ankle, a chance touch of tender taper fingers, the lingering echo of a winsome laugh ... or any of numberless beautiful things ..."
The way I see it, the matchmaking methodology of eHarmony and Dr. Cowan is very much the same - measure and compare a couple's character traits to find the match; don't rely on impulse, sudden attraction, or "love at first sight." It's just hard to get us hornytoad humans to listen to common sense. I mean, my wife is a perfect match for me and I love her mind, heart, and soul, but mm-mmm, those pretty ankles ...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Mrs. Dinsmore

For over twenty years I have collected the medicine bottles, advertising, and promotional items associated with a 19th century proprietary medicine called Mrs. Dinsmore's Cough and Croup Balsam, made in Lynn, Massachusetts. The advertising (and a few of the bottle labels) have the stern image of Mrs. Dinsmore. Products like Aunt Jemima Syrup, the Betty Crocker Cookbook, and even Chicken of the Sea Tuna became HUGE commercial successes using images of women that never existed and it set me to wondering, was there really a Mrs. Dinsmore and if so, who was she? I mean, gee whiz, if she was real, why couldn't they use a friendlier image of her, maybe one that is at least smiling?? I realize she's not as cute as Betty Crocker or Aunt Jemima, so would her medicine have sold better with a more fetching image? Hmmmm - Chicken of the Sea Cough and Croup Balsam - umm, maybe not.

Well, through a combination of collecting, research, and pretty nifty detective work, I was able to determine that there really was a Mrs. Dinsmore, there was a reason she wasn't smiling, and her remedy sales were pretty terrific for decades, even though she didn't have blonde hair and a fishtail. You can check out the whole story by looking at an article I published a few years ago: The Man Behind the Woman's Face (just click on that title under the sidebar heading, "MORE FASCINATING QUACKERY" in the melon-colored sidebar on the right).

Every time I look over that article, my thoughts wander to the years of research, hundreds of miles travelled, and many dollars spent in my quest for the truth about Mrs. Dinsmore. I found out she existed, as well as about her parentage and siblings, and her husband and children; I followed them, figuratively and literally, as they travelled from China to St. John's, New Brunswick, Canada, then to Pittsfield, Maine, then to Lynn, Mass. - and why they made each move. I found out why their house smelled and I met their descendents who live in a wonderful house. And I found out that I was able to buy my first house because of her medicine. There's so much of a story behind the story of Mrs. Dinsmore. I thought it would make a great follow-up article to the first, but it still remains to be done. Maybe I'll do a blog entry in the future about Finding Mrs. Dinsmore. But right now, it's supper and I'm hoping that Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, or the mermaid have something waiting for me in the kitchen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Quackery is Alive and Well

Quackery is alive and well, but unfortunately, its victims are not.

I came upon an Associate Press story from MSNBC this morning of a California doctor who has been arrested and charged with defrauding her patients with the promise of a cancer cure. I'm used to reading such stories from 1809 and even 1909, but it always brings a sinking feeling in my stomach when I read about it happening in 2009. Quackery goes from being foolish and silly to upsetting and angering when it happens right now, around me. I've got a wife, children, and grandchildren and I want them to live in a world where they can trust medicine and doctors. Like ministers and police, if you can't trust them, who can you trust? Unfortunately, this story proves once again that we must do our homework, get second opinions, and never let our guard down. Here's the story of the California quack in a nutshell:
Dr. Christine Daniel, 55, has been arrested and charged with defrauding her terminally ill cancer patients, promising them they would be cured with the combination of her own medicine (made from herbs collected "around the world") and prayer. If convicted, she could spend up to 80 years in jail. At least six patients, ranging from 4 to 69 yrs old, died within seven months under her care. The Associate Press quoted Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns to have said, "This is an example of a doctor who is preying upon the most vulnerable people in our society. These patients were told they were being cured, but they were being eaten alive by cancer."

Daniel sold them a remedy she called "C-Extract" that she said would work not only on cancer, but even on multiple sclerosis, hepatitis, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. She told prospective patients that when they combined this brown liquid with prayer, their cancer would likely be cured. She even said on a television broadcast, "We have seen the dead raised."
I thought about giving this doctor an AQUA, but then I decided to be a good American and let our courts find her guilty or not guilty first. Some of you are probably thinking I'm being wimpy not giving her the award right now; maybe I am. I obviously think the reports about her quack loudly. Maybe there's another side to the story, so just in case and in the spirit of fairness, I will let Blind Justice decide. But I'm polishing up an AQUA just in case.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"It's so easy, a child could do it."

Advertising images can say so much without ever uttering a word. The Victorian advertisers understood this well and capitalized on the concept. Dr. Isaac Thompson's Eye Water had at least eight different images (that I know of) showing the use of this product by children. Applying a medicine to the eyes would seem to be a delicate affair requiring skill and a steady hand, but everyone in the Dr. Thompson card series display nothing but confidence and capability. Who needs a doctor? With this medicine, you don't even need an adult!

The eye water was promised to be good "for all complaints of the eyes," so, not only are children using it and applying it, the suggestion is also implicit that the person suffering from things that may be causing vision problems (blurriness, obstructions, and even partial blindness) could nonetheless apply the medicine to themselves.

As the second image demonstrates, use of this medicine allowed one to "doctor" another - painlessly and effortlessly, of course. Then the last image shown today shows another form of patient - a cat. Besides the "good for man or beast" implications, the image also demonstrates that animal owners could treat their own beasts and not have to undergo the expense of a veterinarian, either. No matter how adept the girl in this picture, I can't help but admire how calm and patient the cat is, too!

In all of the images, the children are dressed impeccably, not making the least little mess of their clothes or surroundings with spills. In the hands of children, the 25-cent bottle is money well-spent, although by the upscale look of their clothes, it looks like their parents didn't have to worry a whole bunch about a quarter for a bottle of medicine.

This medicine was said to have been "in constant use since 1795," and it existed until at least 1939, but its heyday was from the 1870s through 1890s. These cards date to about 1880s.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New AQUA Winner!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a new WINNER! Apparently state fairs in the U.S. seem to compete annually to offer the most outrageous thing we can put into our bodies. Could there be anything worse than the Fried Butter at the Texas State Fair? Well, maybe so: an entrepreneur at the Big E (the Massachu- setts State Fair) has created the Craz-E Burger: a cheeseburger with two strips of bacon wedged between a glazed donut! A new taste sensation? Salty and sweet? Crunchy and chewy? Probably more like heart attack and stroke.

Do you think there will ever be a speed-eating contest for these babies? It probably wouldn't be to see who could eat the most in thirty minutes, but more likely to see who was still alive after eating these for thirty minutes!

I have two sisters-in-law who can't wait to go to the Big E to enjoy the foods. Girls, I think you're Craz-E!!

(Props, by the way, to Stephen Dunn and William Weir of the Hartford Courant for this scrumptious photo and the article I've attached to the AQUA WINNERS sidebar. You have to hand it to the reporters who put their lives on the line to do this type of investigative reporting. Hopefully this Craz-E Burger got no closer to Stephen's mouth than we see in his photo.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Before-and-After Quackery

The Victorian Era created and developed many simple but powerful advertising concepts that are still used in the 21st century. One of the most easily recognizable is the Before-and-After illustration. This technique was illustrated on many advertising trade cards by showing the picture of a sick person before using the featured medicine and then a second illustration after doing so. It was a favorite technique of quack medicine makers for claiming miraculous curative powers. The illustrations are so well done, so dramatic, and usually funny, it would be a great category of trade card to collect all by itself. Another version of the Before-and-After used the same technique with the addition of a folded-over piece of the card whereby the Before is shown with the card in folded position and the After is revealed when the card is opened. These are known as Mechanical cards. They are often found torn apart at the fold because many of them have not been enable to endure the century and a half of folding and unfolding to see and enjoy the Before-and-After images. A card that is still solidly connected at the fold is a special little treasure.

Below are the Before-and-After images for a Mechanical trade card of Scovill's Sarsaparilla or Blood & Liver Syrup. It constantly amazes me just how much power and what influence the proprietor's message could communicate by a well-conceived and well-executed image. Let me walk you through my observations of the Scovill's trade card attached today.

The pretty young lady on the left clearly wants to be out in the world; she has on a nice dress, earrings, and has her hair carefully quaffed with a rose decoratively accenting it, but alas! the lower half of her face has broken out with acne eruptions, severely affecting her looks and her self-confidence. What is a girl to do?

Wow! What a difference a single bottle of Scovill's Sarsaparilla Syrup can make! Our heroine's acne has completely disappeared and her complexion is now the Victorian ideal of alabaster with a slight blush in the cheeks. She has been transformed from a forlorn damsel in distress into a vivacious Victorian hottie. She exudes confidence and sexuality; her anxious and sad look changes with a flash of the card into that of a sultry flirt. She has traded in her school-marm look with buttoned-to-the-neck collar and full sleeves, for the fetching, daring dress of a young socialite, with an hourglass waist and festooned in flowers. Previously embarrassed by her skin, now she wants to show as much as she can, baring shoulders, arms, and cleavage. She has also covered her arms and neck in jewelry (gold, of course) apparently just in case her body exposure doesn't attract enough attention.
Scrofula was the disease ascribed to impure blood, manifesting itself as virtually any type of surface eruptions, rashes, or discolorations. Scrofula was also the umbrella term used to include syphilitic illness. But since Scovill's Sarsaparilla Syrup cured and cleared up our heroine so thoroughly, she's ready to party again. Powerful medicine. Powerful advertisement.
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