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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.
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