How to grow tall

ADvent Calendar Day 11 Rochester, NY, might ring a bell for attentive followers of this calendar, as it made an appearance on Day 8 as the location of the New York Institute of Science. That it was home to another dodgy organisation is no coincidence. Thomas Adkin, the Institute’s President, …

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The intangible power that controls human destiny

ADvent Calendar Day 8 The marvellous book on offer from the New York Institute of Science in the first decade of the twentieth century was called The Philosophy of Influence, and promised ‘The secret of power, the science of health. Life’s mysteries unveiled.’ One would have to wait a little …

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The Dolly Dimpler

ADvent Calendar Day 6 Designed to create adorable dimples where there were none before, devices like this appeared in the 1920s. Evangeline Isabella Gilbert of Rochester, NY, filed a patent in 1921 (not granted until 1926) for a dimple-producer that involved two pointed knobs fitted to a spring bow that …

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Claxton’s Patent Ear Cap

ADvent Calendar Day 4 ‘It has often been observed by experienced elders, that since it became the fashion for babies to discard caps, protruding ears are but too common. They are very ugly, and the ear-cap just invented is a safe preventive, without the heat that made the cap objectionable.’ …

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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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For the blood is the life

The Quack Doctor is currently providing Victorian remedies for Sky Living’s online newspaper, The Inquisitor, which accompanies the channel’s new ten-part drama, Dracula. If you are visiting the site for the first time via sky.com, welcome!   ‘For the blood is the life’: the evocative quotation appears in the very …

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The Quack Doctor Book

I’ve written a book! It is out now and I must embark on the excruciating task of self-promotion, about which I ought to have learnt something from the quacks by this time. Unfortunately I can’t promise that this book is made from rare ingredients known to ancient tribespeople, that it …

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A barbarous, insanitary custom

CRUSADE AGAINST KISSING New York Lady Doctor says it is Barbarous. Great amusement has been caused in New York by a crusade against kissing started by the local branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Dr. Anna Hatfield, lady physician, the leader of the new movement, in the course of …

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Lazy salesmen and popular bachelors

The life of a travelling salesman in the early 20th century US might have involved stuffy railway carriages, soulless hotels and rejection by jaded druggists, but that doesn’t mean there were no lighter moments. The reports of the Illinois Pharmaceutical Travelers’ Association, established in 1903, give a delightful glimpse into the fun …

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Don’t be gulled by misleading advertisements

This 20-page booklet from about 1927 appears at first glance to be an official publication intended to raise public awareness of the ‘preposterous claims concerning so-called “patent” medicines, which are a disgrace to any civilised nation and a bar to human progress.’ The cover’s references to the Home Office and …

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