Dr Wheeler and the Bacillus of Death

In May 1895, a low-key but intriguing advertisement appeared in British local newspapers. What could this ‘death microbe’ be? Did it refer to the lethal pathogens such as anthrax and tuberculosis that had been identified within the past two decades? Announcements of newly isolated bacilli regularly reached the general population …

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The bogus lady doctor

The Alleged Bogus Lady Doctor

In a recent post for the British Newspaper Archive, I mentioned Maria Owen, who posed as a doctor in late Victorian Birmingham. Here’s some more information about her, adapted from my book, The Quack Doctor: ‘I can cure you,’ the representative of the Ladies’ Medical Association told 37-year-old Julia Ann …

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The mysterious ‘Zep’ love potion

A 1930s Valentine card courtesy of the Vintage Valentine Museum

A rag, worn close to the heart, and steeped in a mystic substance imbued with the wisdom of the East. A flame, charring the edges until smoke curls and billows and at last takes shape. What is it that forms in this cloud of shimmering grey? Behold! A man, handsome …

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Review: Medikidz Explain Epilepsy

Knowledge is power, but if you’re a child recently diagnosed with a medical condition – or are watching a loved one go through bewildering tests and treatments – information can be hard to get at. Well-meaning adults might assume you won’t understand big words, or they might be having trouble …

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‘Eat! Eat! Eat!’ Those notorious tapeworm diet pills

Sanitized Tape Worms - a spurious 'vintage' ad

Peoria, Illinois, 1912: the horror begins. A society lady, encouraged by a friend’s success with an easy new weight-loss treatment, pays $25 for ‘two rather large and suspicious-looking pills.’ Her husband sends the pills to be analysed by the Washington public health service, and before long a ‘government secret official’ …

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Luminous spectres and electrical kisses

Decapitation - from 'How to Entertain a Social Party' 1875

The Quack Doctor wishes you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year! Thank you to all who have read the blog, bought the books, liked and shared my posts on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, or been in touch to share fascinating family history stories and pictures of medical ephemera during …

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On thorny ground: the human x-ray scientists

Grant household in the 1911 census.

Imagine being able to see through a steel door, or to force the germination of poppy seeds and at once destroy them with the power of your mind. Such were the abilities claimed by Albert Isaac Grant of Maidstone, Kent, in the years leading up to the First World War. …

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Detective Caminada and the quack doctors

Advertisement for the Rev E J Silverton, 1884

Angela Buckley’s book, The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada, published in March 2014, tells the story of a real-life Victorian supersleuth. In this guest post, Angela relates Caminada’s encounter with an ecclesiastical con merchant touting a dodgy elixir. . Urban life in Victorian England was precarious enough, …

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Avoiding the trickcyclist and nutpicker: First World War home remedies and miracle cures

I’m delighted to welcome author Suzie Grogan to The Quack Doctor. Suzie’s latest book, Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health was published in October 2014. In this guest post, she explores some of the commercial remedies that claimed to tackle the psychological effects of war.   …

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A Patent-Medicine Song, 1892

Some of the most famous patent medicine brands of the late Victorian era found their way into this humorous song by John Johnston, MD, in 1892. Originally from Dumfriesshire, Johnston settled in Bolton in the 1870s and worked as a general practitioner, also devoting time to literary pursuits. During the …

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