The “Points on Blogs” feature takes a bit of a break this week, offering a quick look at The Quack Doctor, a blog published by Caroline Rance. Caroline is a writer of historical fiction, whose first novel (Kill-Grief) has recently been published, and who describes The Quack Doctor as follows:
I started The Quack Doctor as a useful way of categorising some notes I’d made about patent remedies in history – but it turned out that lots of other people liked to read about them too! The featured items are mainly from 19th-century British and US newspapers, but there are a few 18th- and 20th-century ones too. There are also occasional adverts for cosmetics, and some for products that were considered orthodox medicine in their time. Inclusion on the site doesn’t mean I’m necessarily condemning a product as ‘quackery’ – any medical advertising counts, and sometimes I post about more general history of medicine topics too.
Visitors to the site will find a legion of entertaining entries, like this post on “Habitina: An Infallible Remedy for Addiction” (produced in the United States between 1906 and 1912, and consisting primarily of morphine!). There’s even an interesting post on Tucker’s Asthma Specific, a cocaine-based asthma cure I ran across in the course of research cocaine’s early history. Caroline tells me a few things I did not know about Tucker’s Asthma Specific, including that it was sold in the UK as well as in the United States, and that the company continued operations until 1959 (despite the making of their product having been declared a violation of the Harrison Act by 1915). Very odd! Makes me want to investigate further.
Of course, not many of the posts deal directly with questions of addiction (though the blog is helpfully organized so that you can find them pretty readily). Most simply bring the reader back into the world of patent medicines and medical promotion in the U.S. and England. Select the “Electrical Cures” category and you’ll not only find an interesting post on “Harness’ Electric Corset” but an audio podcast as well, featuring additional commentary by Caroline Rance.
For their entertainment, quack doctors and patent medicines were a serious business, and they remain “serious business” for historians. The Quack Doctor offers up thoughtfully composed considerations, advertisement by advertisement, which together form a reasonable platform from which historians might continue to ask the larger questions about consumer behavior, medical authority, business interests, and the role of each in shaping everything from health cultures to health care policy.
Joe Spillane is Professor of History at the University of Florida. He has authored Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States (Johns Hopkins Press, 2000) and co-edited Federal Drug Control: The Evolution of Policy and Practice (Haworth Press, 2004). More recently, he authored Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform (Johns Hopkins Press, 2014). His current drug-related research agenda includes: the history and development of drug abuse liability assessment; reflections on the nature of drug epidemics; and examinations of drug war “harms” in historical context.