An industrious and strictly honest man in each
County in the State to take orders by samples for
Velpeau’s Magnetic Agents.
Salary first year $800, and small commission,
payable monthly. For full particulars address
Dr. M. Velpeau, 422½ Broadway, N. Y., sending stamp.
Source: The Sauk County Standard, (Baraboo, Wisconsin) 18 July 1855
This advert might not leap out from the thousands of similar mid-19th-century US ads seeking salesmen for books, farming equipment, store goods etc., but the product behind it is quite unusual.
If the industrious and strictly honest man wrote for particulars, the reply wouldn’t tell him much about the job. Instead, it would ask him to send $2 for a sample of the product. Only on the arrival of the sample would he discover that he was expected to sell Dr Velpeau’s Magnetic Love Powders. At this point, most industrious and strictly honest men probably put the episode down to experience and went to look for a more reputable and less embarrassing business opportunity.
The particulars sent with the sample claimed:
These powders, properly administered, are warranted irrespective of age, circumstances or personal appearance, to win them the love or unchanging affections of any one they may desire of the opposite sex.
The enamoured person had to work out a way of getting the object of their affections to eat the powder, and then wait in anxious lovelorn anticipation until absolutely nothing happened. As one newspaper joked:
Only think of it! For two dollars, any enterprising young man – no matter if he is as poor as an editor, and as ugly as a baboon, can through the instrumentality of these powders, make himself “lord” of the most charming lass of “sweet sixteen” to be found within the limits of our friend’s agency, which comprises four counties!
Velpeau’s real name was J C Merrill – perhaps the pseudonym was an attempt to associate the powders with famous French surgeon Alfred Velpeau – and according to the New York Times, his scheme attracted up to 40 letters per day.
In late 1855, angry (and still single) customers began writing to the Mayor of New York to complain about ‘Velpeau’. Merrill was arrested for fraud but released when he promised to discontinue business and return the complainants’ money. Six weeks later, however, he was still selling the powders and pocketing the cash, so he was arrested again, charged with defrauding a variety of people, and locked up.
As for the spurned lovers, they presumably had to find another way of attaining their goal – the obvious solution being to become richer and better looking.