A breath of maggoty air

Maggot sheds at Jerusalem Farm, pictured in the Leeds Mercury, 31 July 1911. (British Newspaper Archive)

No one likes to be the hapless person who wanders into the garage and finds a forgotten turkey carcase humming with maggots and surrounded in a fug of pungent effluvia. I suppose it would be a great story if this had been a defining moment of my teenage years, inspiring …

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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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‘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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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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Strange case: ‘At all events the blade fell’


Injuries acquired in unusual circumstances, spurious news stories of medical happenings, bizarre or gruesome reports from doctors’ casebooks… Strange cases is an occasional feature on the Quack Doctor that reproduces these tales. Today we meet a morbid Parisian who ended up spiting his face. Model of Guillotine Severs Owner’s Nose A citizen of Paris, a …

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Stay Vigorous at Seventy

ADvent Calendar Day 23 Ah, good old John Harvey Kellogg – everyone knows the cornflake-inventing, masturbation-disapproving, enema-giving sanitarium owner of Battle Creek, Michigan. It’s not much of a surprise that he would be promoting something called Sanitone Wafers… But, hang on a minute, this ad says F. J. Kellogg. Who’s he when …

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Failure of ‘606’

ADvent Calendar Day 20 This 1915 advertisement is perhaps not as wacky as some of the products I’ve featured this month, but I find it interesting because it names neither the medicine nor the disease it aims to cure! The mentions of ‘blood poison’, ‘Mercury and Potash treatment’ and ‘606’, …

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The Acme Worm Bouncer

ADvent Calendar Day 19 This wonderful product name conjures up an image of Wile E Coyote speeding along a dirt road on a go-kart-mounted trebuchet, firing little worms at Road Runner until the cart hits a stone and tumbles into a lake, attracting thousands of ravenous fish to the bait. …

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I was a tub of fat!

ADvent Calendar Day 18 Korein claimed to contain Fucus vesiculosis (bladderwrack), which enjoyed a vogue as a weight loss supplement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Association analysed Korein in 1915, however, they reported that it was 40% sassafras oil and 60% petrolatum, …

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The sparkle of perfect health

ADvent Calendar Day 12 The Favorite Prescription was just one part of a range marketed by Dr Ray Vaughn Pierce in newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets and on the side of barns across the late 19th-century US. After his death in 1914, his profitable business continued in the hands of his son, …

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