Between now and Christmas (and probably beyond) I’ll be taking a different tack with the Quack Doctor and posting more frequently but more briefly, showing just pics of medical adverts, snippets about strange cases, and occasional photos of health-related objects from the past. For the time being I don’t have the personal resources to give in-depth posts on the story behind each advert, so I thought this would be a good way of keeping the blog up to date. And, let’s face it, short picture posts are more fun anyway!

I’ll begin with this beautifully detailed advert for Armbrecht’s Coca Wine, a product at the classier end of the large spectrum of cocaine-based nervous tonics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The failed hot air balloons represent Armbrecht’s rivals coming to an undignified end, and note the map of Mayfair at the bottom, showing people rushing towards the Duke Street premises where Nelson’s Homeopathic Pharmacy still stands.

 Armbrecht's Coca Wine

From The Chemist and Druggist, 28 September 1895

The advert is aimed at retailers but the company’s extensive marketing targeted the regular punter too. A testimonial in an 1891 advert in the Guardian recommended the wine to downtrodden office workers, who should keep a bottle in their desk drawer and take a glass with their meagre lunch of bread and butter. This would stave off hunger and presumably make the afternoon somewhere near tolerable.

At just over 15% alcohol, the product was not suitable for teetotallers – for them, Armbrecht’s Coca Lozenges were a useful alternative.


  1. In the archives of our past local paper (The British Colonist, Victoria BC), page two of the June 16th, 1888 issue showed an “analysis” from McGill University Laboratories:

    “Dear Sirs,

    I have carefully analyzed the sample of “Armbrecht’s Coca Wine” sent to me on the 5th ultimo. I find that the wine contains 0.0214 per cent of Cocaine by weight; that is, each wineglassful of the wine contains 0.035 grammes, or a little more than half a grain of the Alkaloid. Armbrecht’s Coca Wine may be briefly described as a very agreeable preparation, containing in each wineglassful a good tonic dose of the active principle of Erythroxylon Coca. I remain, Sirs, Sincerely Yours, R.F. Ruttan, B.A., M.D. Lecturer in Chemistry,McGill University”.

    Cool to see how things worked back then

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