The Quack Doctor has moved!

Happy new year! This blog started on 1 Jan 2009, and has developed much more than I really expected, so the time has come to move away from to a self-hosted site.

The new URL is:

If you are one of the many bloggers who has been kind enough to include me in your blogroll, I’d be really grateful if you updated your link. For subscribers, the new RSS feed is or you can sign up on the site by clicking the button at the top of the sidebar.

I started The Quack Doctor as a way of collecting historical medical advertisements for my own interest, but am very pleased that the blog has built up a few regular readers. I hope you will accompany me to the new site and continue reading. I’m planning to add lots more material and some new features during the coming year.


Make-Man Tablets

Make-Man Tablets

Do You Want A Vacation?
It’s Make-Man Tablets You Need.
Fifty Cents Worth of Make-Man Tablets Often Do More For A Man or Woman Than a Three Hundred Dollar Vacation.
Do you feel played out—nervous, tired, irritable, don’t sleep good, wake up every morning with a bad taste in your mouth and a dull, hot, tired feeling in your head? Of course a vacation seems just the thing—but it cannot reach the seat of your trouble.
It’s your nerves nine times out of ten that make your back ache. It’s your nerves that give you that dull, dumb headache. Your muscles are just as strong as ever, but the nerves are off tune.
They need feeding—rest is no good for them. There is some constituent—nerve constituent—the blood lacks, and Make-Man supply it.
Men and Women who have let their nerves go so long without feeding that they are pale, listless creatures, instead of strong, lively, full of vim and energy for the day’s work, have found quick results in the use of this splendid tonic, blood purifer and nerve strengthener.
Manus Bonner, 33 W. Market St., Pittsburg, believes he has found something better than a vacation:—“Since I began to take Make-Man Tablets I feel better and stronger. I have gained five pounds in weight and otherwise feel fine.”
Man-Made Tablets will make you well. You can try a 50 cent box, free, by writing—today—to the Make-Man Tablet Co. 145 Make-Man Building, Chicago, Ill. If you are already convinced that Make-Man Tablets are what you need, you can obtain them from your druggist at 50 cents a box, with money back if not satisfied.

Source: The Pittsburgh Press 14 Sept 1910


Any woman whose cheapskate husband refused to go on holiday in favour of taking these pills would have the last laugh – the main ingredients were arsenic and strychnine.

The Make-Man tablets were an early casualty of the US Food and Drug Act. In 1910 the government seized a consignment of 360 tins, and analysis showed the presence of the poisons together with aloes, potassium sulphate, iron carbonate and iron oxide. The product was judged to be misbranded and the company was fined, but they reformulated the tablets to contain quinine and iron, and continued to promote them until at least the mid-1930s, when they were still only 50 cents a box.

Make-Man Tablets 1929

Detail from 1929 ad

1 Jan 2010 will be The Quack Doctor’s first birthday, and to celebrate I’m going to relaunch it using with a new design and domain name. It will therefore go a bit quiet for the next few days while I finish setting up the new site. Happy new year, see you on 1 Jan, and remember…

Headline from Make-Man ad, 1920

Headline from Make-Man ad, 1920

A Poem on Christmas Day

From the Gentleman’s Magazine, December 1766:

Welcome, thrice welcome Christmas day !
Let’s eat, drink, dance, and sing away:
Old England ne’er had stronger reason
To welcome in this joyful season !
Mark high and low, and all around us
And know the blessings that surround us.
Let ’em in all their pomp appear;
Sure omens of a happy year !
First, turn your eyes upon the great ;
When did such virtues rule the state ?
The country has their whole attention,
Without a thought of place or pension.
Of parts, and pow’r, no prostitution,
Of liberty, no diminution ;
Sound as a roach our constitution
Which florid grown, by over feeding,
Is now quite cool with frequent bleeding :
Great Lawyers, with our good at heart,
Now every day new doctrines start.
For freedom and for Magna Chart,
Our clergy too, all int’rest scorning,
Are teaching, preaching, night and morning ;
T o keep their flocks secure at home,
And guard them from the wolves of Rome:
So by their zeal, which never ceases.
The growth of popery decreases.
Physicians now cure each disease,
They take great pains, and little fees.
Nothing but learning, parts, and knowledge,
Can give a passport to the college :
No poison’s sold for nerves or vapours,
No quacking nostrums fill the papers—
These are the gifts the great have sent ye,
For all is concord, peace, and plenty.
The poor, as fat as brawn, we meet ,
Eating minc’d pyes along the street
No Harlots to be seen, not one,
Not ev’n the Whore of Babylon !
These times are sung by great and small
‘Tis merry Christmas for us all;
And certain ’tis, by what is past,
That the new year will match the last.

The Etherial Oil of Mustard for the Gout

Source: London Evening Post, December 27, 1755

The Dr Linden of the advert is Diederick Wessel Linden, a physician from Westphalia who came to Britain in 1747 and settled in Flintshire. Better known for his writings about spa waters, and for featuring in an amusingly earthy scene in Smollett’s Humphry Clinker, he deserves a post of his own at some point, so today I’m just going to do a round-up of a few unusual remedies for gout.

The Gout, James Gillray, 1799

The Gout, James Gillray, 1799

Should you be planning to ‘indulge in rich meats and sauces, racy wines, strong beer and cyder, and use but little exercise’ this Christmas, it might be worth keeping some of the following treatments handy:

In 1680, Sir William Temple, Bart, had published his experiments with the ancient Eastern practice of moxibustion (applying a small quantity of mugwort to the skin and setting it alight). This was still in print at the time of the above ad, though more as an historical curiosity than a source of advice:

Upon the first burning, I found the skin shrink all round the place ; and whether the greater pain of the fire had taken away the sense of a smaller or no, I could not tell ; but I thought it less than it was: I burnt it the second time, and upon it observed the skin about it to shrink, and the swelling to flat yet more than at first.

On the third burning, he was able to set his foot down without pain, but tended the burns by applying a clove of garlic and a Diapalma plaster. Temple also recounted some interesting remedies he had heard about on his travels, such as that recommended by Prince Maurice of Nassau:

…to boil a good quantity of horse-dung from a stone horse of the Hermelinne colour, as he called it in French, which is a native white, with a sort of a raw nose, and the same commonly about the eyes : that, when this was well boiled in water, he set his leg in a pail-full of it, as hot as he could well endure it, renewing it as it grew cool for above an hour together ; that, after it, he drew his leg immediately into a warm bed, to continue the perspiration as long as he could, and never failed of being cured.

A surgeon in Lorrain, meanwhile,

had undertaken to cure it by a more extraordinary way than any of these, which was by whipping the naked part with a great rod of nettles till it grew all over blistered;

(An alternative to nettles was holly – is that what’s happening to the Jolly Huntsman in the gallery?)

Origin of the Gout, Henry William Bunbury

Origin of the Gout, Henry William Bunbury, 1815 print, courtesy of the National Library of Medicine Image Gallery

In the mid 18th century, one of the free books given away by Mr Burchell of Anodyne Necklace and Sugar Plums for Worms fame intriguingly offered:

‘The Easy Way of Curing the GOUT, by Transplantation: that is, By giving it to some Good-for-Nothing DOG, or CAT, and thereby Freeing the Person from it.’

(Transplantation didn’t mean anything surgical, you just had to get the dog or cat to lie on your feet.)

A poetical correspondent to The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser on Christmas Day 1786, however, put forward a different view. Though beginning with an agonised ‘Hence, loathed Gout! most dreaded fiend to Ease,’ he weighed up the pros and cons of the lifestyle that had led to his condition, and concluded:

But what is life, without or love or wine,
Without the orgies of the mystic bowl?
Let moralists their mental joys define,
But sweeter far the midnight flow of soul.
Gout! Then attack – I’ll brave thy greatest ill,
And fall, like valiant BEVILL, on the topmost hill.


Wishing you all a very happy and gout-free Christmas!

Dr Carter Moffat’s Ammoniaphone

Dr Carter Moffat's Ammoniaphone

Source: The Graphic, Sat 25 October 1896

The format of this one makes it a bit tricky to type out, but if you click on the advert, you should then be able to zoom in and read it. The Ammoniaphone was an instrument designed to help singers and public speakers improve the quality of their voice. It also claimed to cure consumption and other lung problems.

It consisted of a slender metal tube 25 inches in length, with decorated handles and a push-button valve on each end. As well as the picture below left, you can see a photo courtesy of the Science Museum, here. The instructions for use were as follows:

Unscrew the centre cap or nozzle two turns. Take hold of the Ammoniaphone, press the end valves, bend forward, place the lips tightly over the centre cap, and inhale very slowly but deeply.

Within the tube was a wick-like material soaked with hydrogen peroxide, ammonia and peppermint oil. The ingredients don’t sound very appealing, but the inventor, Dr R. Carter Moffat, described the vapour much more romantically as ‘Italianised Air.’

Italy was a destination for consumptives seeking a warm climate, but not only that – it also produced excellent tenors. While visiting the country, Carter Moffat (who was an eminent Scottish chemist, certainly no amateur enthusiast) had analysed the air and found the presence of free ammonia and peroxide of hydrogen – a combination he believed was unique to Italy and therefore likely to be responsible for the inhabitants’ operatic ability.

Shortly after its introduction, the rights to the Ammoniaphone were bought for £2000 in shares by the Medical Battery Company, run by Cornelius Bennett Harness. Dr Carter Moffat stayed closely involved, giving promotional lectures about his invention. The product was well-received by the press.

Not everyone, however, was convinced. In the Ladies’ Column of the Bristol Mercury (written ‘by one of themselves’), the correspondent described a musical evening where the Ammoniaphone was the object of much interest:

Several guests present took long whiffs from the ammoniaphone, but I discovered no obvious change in their tone or compass of voice. I suppose the experiment has to be frequently tried to produce any effect. I remarked that if the inhalation of free ammonia and peroxide of hydrogen is so good for the voice, it seemed scarcely necessary to enclose these ingredients in an expensive flute-like case to test their powers, and the fact of doing so and calling the vapour they give off “artificial Italian air” savours to me of quackery.

The manufacturers would have agreed that results only came from regular use. The instruction manual advised taking two inhalations a day and then doing vocal exercises – the voice would be ‘permanently improved in every way after one year’s use of the Ammoniaphone.’

The company’s promotional activities included commissioning an Ammoniaphone song – very apt, considering the target market. It told of the plight of a young man who wanted to propose to his sweetheart but lost his voice.

Ah! well for him and for the fair,
He’d heard that pure Italian air
Might be inhal’d, imparting tone,
Through Moffat’s famed “Ammoniaphone”

In the early 1890s a pocket version of the inhaler was introduced, but this was short-lived. The Medical Battery Company, whose main products were electro-magnetic belts, went bust in 1893 after getting into trouble with the courts for fraudulent claims. That, however, is a story for another post.

The Cordial Balm of Rakasiri – part 2

For part 1 of this article, click here. There’s also a transcript of an 1818 Rakasiri advert here.

In 1828, a ‘nervous young man’ who had wasted more than 10l. on the Cordial Balm of Rakasiri went to a magistrate and succeeded in getting his money back. During the proceedings, the Balm’s proprietors, Charles and John Jordan, threatened to make it public that he had venereal disease, but he stuck to his guns and they backed down, claiming that they were returning the money out of respect for the man’s character and not because they were guilty.

Shortly afterwards, a well-to-do young woman, Miss May, consulted them for asthma and ended up 15l. worse off, some of which amount she had to borrow from her sister. Finding her breathing worse and the fiery medicine affecting her stomach, (as mentioned in the previous post, it was highly concentrated alcohol) she heard about the young man’s success and also asked for her money back. The Times reported in early 1829 that

To this, the “doctors” answered, that if Miss May attempted to take any such step as that young man had taken, that they would disclose the real nature of the complaint she was labouring under to her friends, which would ruin her character.

Far from being horrified into silence, Miss May said her friends knew very well she had a cough arising from asthma, and they would now also know “the threat that you have dared to utter.” She got her lawyer, Thomas Cox, on the case and went to the same magistrate who had ordered the young man’s refund. He told her to apply to the Middlesex Sessions for a bill of indictment for fraud. This was refused and the Jordans’ lawyer, Mr Adolphus, published a notice in the Morning Chronicle titled “Base and Malicious Charge of Fraud Refuted,” which referred to Miss May and Mr Cox as ‘infamous calumniators’ and said:

Who ever heard of a person making a purchase, using the article so purchased and then, forsooth, demanding their money back, much less make a charge of fraud against the tradesman so refusing? The attempted fraud was on their own side, and a gross attempt it was.

The doctors challenged Miss May and her lawyer to repeat their accusations, at which Cox wrote to them – a letter that was printed in the Chronicle – inviting them to meet him and his client before the magistrate for that very purpose. The Jordans said they would only respond if summoned by the magistrate himself, and didn’t turn up. “Was it not monstrous,” Mr Cox said,

that such imposters as these men, who were literally a pest in society, and the direct enemies of the human race, should be rolling in their carriages and wallowing in wealth, while men of high education, who had laboriously, and at great expense, studied their profession and made themselves masters of medical knowledge, were living, in many instances, in obscurity, and scarcely able to supply the means of living respectably.

The more cynical among us might be tempted to say welcome to real life, Mr Cox, but as the doctors realised that Miss May was really going to start court proceedings for libel, they got nervous. (‘Notwithstanding the anti-nervous powers of their medicine,’ commented the Monthly Gazette of Health.) They settled out of court, refunding Miss May’s money, paying her legal expenses and giving her £100 compensation. They also agreed to publish a notice in the papers saying that their previous statements were without foundation.

It would be nice to finish with the Gazette‘s conclusion:

To Miss May, for her heroic conduct, and Mr. Cox, her solicitor, for the firmness with which he conducted the proceedings, the thanks of the public are due. They have completely knocked up the Balsam of Rakasira (sic) trade, than which a more infamous traffic has not been carried on in the most barbarous country.

But we all know real life ain’t like that, and this was not the end of the Jordans’ Rakasiri racket. They continued advertising as before until 1840, when they suddenly dropped the M.D. qualification and became Messrs Jordan and Co, Surgeons, with premises in Bristol as well as London. Later in the 1840s, a medicine called Balm of Rakasiri was being sold by Messrs Henry & Co, Liverpool, with a very similar advertising style to the Jordans, and in the 1850s Messrs Lewis were the proprietors. The name finally changed to Dr. Lucas and the remedy was still burning the oesophagi of the credulous at the end of the 1860s.

The Cordial Balm of Rakasiri – part 1

Source: The Morning Chronicle, Saturday 12 December 1818. For transcript, click here.

On this site I include anything medical or surgical provided it was advertised, so not all the remedies were considered quackery in their time. Some were endorsed and prescribed by reputable doctors, and many were no worse than the orthodox medicines then available. Others, while inefficacious, were produced by honest people who believed in the power of their product and did not set out to rip people off.

The brothers Jordan, however, were a right pair of dodgy coves.

In 1816, C.J. Jordan of Cannon-street-road started placing ads saying he could cure ‘a certain disease’ without using mercury. At this point he referred to himself as a surgeon, but by 1818 he had adopted the qualification M.D. and was calling the remedy The Cordial Balm of Rakasiri, or Nature’s Infallible Restorative. His business was the East London Medical Establishment, but this might as well have been the East London Nose-Picking Establishment for all its professional credibility. With the medicine selling at 11s a bottle (33s for family size), the business was lucrative, and in August 1821 it became the Surrey and West London Medical Establishments with premises in Great Surrey Street, Blackfriars and in Berwick Street, Soho.

In early 1823, the adverts started referring to ‘Drs. C. & J. Jordan.’ The Monthly Gazette of Health, with its usual entertaining indignation, introduced the new partner as

Dr John Jordan, who, from the rank of distributer [sic] of handbills has lately been raised to the dignity of M.D. by leaping, we suppose, over a broomstick.

Balm (otherwise Balsam) of Rakasiri was, in theory, a resin from a tree species native to the Americas. It was said to have stimulant and tonic properties, and had briefly been known in Britain in the early 18th century before its limited popularity had fizzled out. The Jordans’ adverts recommended it for a variety of conditions, including consumption and scrofula, but like its inspiration, Solomon’s Balm of Gilead, the main targets were venereal disease and ‘nervous’ disorders supposedly caused by masturbation. The natural source of the resin not being available in the UK, the Jordans formulated their own version – spirit of wine (rectified ethyl alcohol) flavoured with rosemary oil and sugar.

Both The Monthly Gazette of Health and The Medical Adviser campaigned against the Jordans during the 1820s, and while these publications are far from dispassionate, they make for entertaining reading. According to the Adviser, the Jordans had started out as pencil-sellers before taking the Cannon-street-road premises and setting up their medicine business.

One would think to see these two fellows, standing at their door with their hands in their pockets, their hair powdered, their sleek countenance and suit of black, that they really were medical men; although to a discerning eye a peculiarly roguish cunning, and an expression of innate ignorance, are labels on their front…

Of the Doctors’ fancy carriage, the Adviser continued:

…we fancy their seat the back of an hypochondriac ; their foot-board a grave-stone: their wheels a compilation of human bones; their chariot-rim decked with diseased livers ; their reins the intestinal canal; their side lamps two bottles of Rakasiri; and their whip a long bill! with which the two black longtailed horses most awfully harmonize.

The Adviser – without much relevance, perhaps – also accused the Jordans of stealing a pig, then rather childishly printed their purported reply:

I wont to no what you meen by tacking my karacter as you doo you rite in your book that I mede awey with a milkmans pigg but I wood ave you to no sir that sich like slander shall not be suffered to pass. You also say that I was a pencel pedlar this I despise and say it is a ly. I never hokd pencels I only took orders for em, and even if I did it is no affere of yours I got my bred onnestly.

To the people who had fallen for the scam, however, the Balm of Rakasiri wasn’t  so funny. In part 2 of this post, we’ll see how a young woman stood up to the quacks.