The devil in disguise

Hall's Coca Wine - 1897 ad from Country Life

John Michael Smith is one of those fleeting figures who cross history’s pages when they get into trouble and then disappear, leaving only a hint of a life where destitution is more prominent than criminality. At the age of 11 he lived in Lodge Lane, Derby, with his mother and …

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An ulcer as big as a hen-egg

Patient testimonials were (and indeed remain) an integral part of the promotion of non-evidence-based health products. While 19th-century newspaper advertising only had room for concise endorsements, promotional books and pamphlets allowed medicine proprietors to give more detailed case studies of those who had supposedly benefited from their products. This one …

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Wonder-workers and styptics

When your Magic Chicken is suffering from cholera, there’s no need to panic. This bottle for the Magic Chicken Cholera Cure is one of around 195 medicine bottles in the collection of Michael Till, a retired GP from Gloucestershire. Michael became interested in historical remedies after looking into the story …

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Poison. To be applied night and morning.

I have some wonderful pictures to share with you today thanks to collector Rex Barber from Perth, Western Australia, who owns several hundred 18th – 20th century proprietary remedy lids. Rex has exhibited his collection as far afield as the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors’ 2012 show in Reno, NV. …

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The Diagraphoscope – a wonder-working machine

Twentieth-century businessman X. W. Witman saw a lot of potential in X-rays. Doctors might get excited about their emerging medical application, but for him X-rays offered something even better – the chance to get rich quick. If you could X-ray Witman’s head, the plate would display a fine collection of …

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The Voice of the People

Why would you visit The Quack Doctor to read about the famous Beecham’s Pills, when five seconds of Googling will give you more information than you could possibly read in a lifetime? Well, obviously you wouldn’t, so that’s why I’ve never blogged about them. I just wanted to do a …

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Antonius W. Van Bysterveld, Expert Inspector of Urine

Advertisement from The Pomeroy Herald, Iowa, 27 January 1910 Centuries after the figure of the ‘pisse-prophet’ had descended into the realms of quackery and ridicule, a modern kind of urine analyst popped up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the early 20th century, scientific urine tests were part of mainstream medical …

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The Balm of Zura, or Phoenix of Life

Source: Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 3 April 1823 Much of the evidence on this one is anecdotal, but the proprietor of the Balm of Zura, Dr A. Lamert, certainly sounds quite a character. Lamert was the son of a London-based German quack who dabbled in ophthalmology before moving on to …

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Munyon is ready…

Would you buy a homeopathic remedy from this man? Source: The Morning Times (Washington D.C.) 13 December 1896 James Monroe Munyon’s pompadour hairstyle was a familiar feature of American newspapers around the turn of the 20th century. Having tried his hand at teaching, law, social work, publishing and song-writing, he …

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Angelick Snuff

This noble composition was on sale for most of the first half of the 18th century but enjoyed a moment of fame 200 years later when an American news editor stumbled on the advert and found it entertaining enough to fill a space in his paper. Other papers lifted the …

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