Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Relating to Quacks, Quackery and Nostrums, Part 1

"Quack is a pejorative term, disparagingly, albeit sometimes defensively, applied by a member of the establishment, the orthodox, regular, professional, credentialed and accepted class to describe the unorthodox, unlicensed, disapproved member of a fringe or irregular group. It is a term of condemnation employed when one wants to belittle another. Above all, the term has become associated with the sellers of medicines and the marketers of medical systems, those with the "true" method of curing specific ills or, in an earlier day, all the ills of mankind.

While the origins of the term are obscure, the term "quack" probably came from the Dutch Quacksalber, a charlatan, mountebank, empiric or itinerant seller of medicine. It may also have been derived from the sounds made by a duck, the term applied to the hawker of nostrums whose excessive zeal in describing the merits of his or her cure may well have sounds similar to the squawking of a duck. The chatter of the quack, in most cases more like torrent s of words, would have been familiar to both town and rural populations even in the ancient periods, for quacks have long been well known in every society. Over the past four hundred years they have been representative figures in folktales, stories and especially in prints, drawings and political caricatures..." –William H. Helfand, from Quack Quack Quack

Detail from "Quid hic nobis lumine satium", c. 1670, Anonymous

Detail from advertisement for Dr. Rock's Tincture, 1738, Anonymous

"The Dance of Death: the Undertaker and the Quack." 1816, by Thomas Rowlandson (from Wellcome Library)

"Nancy Linton: A faithful representation of her actual appearance & condition after having been cured by the use of Swann's Panacea", c. 1833, by C Hullmandel (from a drawing by WH Kearney)

"Singular Effects of the Universal Vegetable Pills on a Green Crocer! A Fact!", 1841, by Charles Jameson Grant

Detail from "The Great Lozenge Maker", 1858, by John Leech - from Punch

"Dr S.B. Collins' Painless Opium Antidote" Advertisement, 1874

"Quackery - Medical Minstrel Performing for the Benefit of Their Former Patients - No other Dead-heads Admitted", 1879, by Joseph Keppler - from Puck

"Death's-Head Doctors - Many Paths to the Grave", 1881, by Joseph Keppler - from Puck

Detail of "Death's-Head Doctors - Many Paths to the Grave", 1881, by Joseph Keppler - from Puck

Detail of "Death's-Head Doctors - Many Paths to the Grave", 1881, by Joseph Keppler - from Puck

"Death in the Pestle", c. 1885, by Henry Nappenbach - from The Wasp

Detail of "Death in the Pestle", c. 1885, by Henry Nappenbach - from The Wasp

"The Travelling Quack", 1889, by Tom Merry

An itinerant medicine vendor known as Medicine Jack carrying his wares in a knapsack on his back. (from Wellcome Library)

"William Radam, Microbes and the Microbe Killer", 1890

"The Great American Fraud, an investigative article by Samuel Hopkins Adams", 1907

Quack advertisement for the cure of cancer, 1912 (from Wellcome Library)

Unless noted all of these come from Quack, Quack, Quack: The Sellers of Nostrums in Prints, Posters, Ephemera, & Books by William Helfand - @ Open Library [link]
Wellcome Library has a good collection of quackery related images [link]
The excellent blog The Quack Doctor [link]
The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices [link]
see the blog Quack Cogitations [link]
Quack cartoons at cartoonstock [link]
BBC slideshow: Quacks and Cures [link]


Unknown said...

love these! stories and pictures of the quacksalbers just have that dark & tragic attraction.
it is where hope & fear and buisness meet.that picture of nancy linton is incredible.wow...
i am german and remember my grandma saying "quacksalber" quite alot.actually the people still say it now,cause i guess that buisness idea never got out of fashion.

Caroline @ Quack Doctor said...

Really enjoyed looking at these - thanks!

joel. said...

@céline hi céline, thanks for commenting! it is amazing how, even though we laugh at these sort of things, they still find their way into today's societies in one form or another.

@caroline - i'm sorry i missed The Quack Doctor on my search. i've added your excellent blog to the above links. thanks for visiting and commenting!

Daniel E from This Old Paper said...

Joel, thanks so much for this!

Your site is a new find for me, and so is Caroline's Quack Doctor site, both of them are great.

As much as I loved the year-of-the-monkey assemblage, this collection you put together here really touches me heart.

My website has more scans of patent medicine advertising (though none so delightfully morbid or strange--yet) as well as other old paper.

Thanks again

-Daniel E

Amy@AQ-V said...

Great theme and curation, Joel! Love all your zany selections... and thanks for the links to explore, yay.

anyjazz said...

Fine page. I have seen some like these when I was a kid.

It still goes on today. Look at the fad diets and remedies. Exercise gimmicks and baldness treatments. And politicians.

It’s the same old circles, just different people going around in them.

Robynn's Ravings said...

Fascinating history and compelling pictures. I think our modern day barkers/quackers are the tv commercials hawking pharmaceuticals that seem to kill a good portion of us. Thanks for shedding light that health doesn't usually come in a bottle but through our diet. Cheers!

collectibles said...

Nice page! really enjoyed looking at these - thanks!

Anonymous said...

It says "Panacea" not "Pauacca" :-)

borsky said...

The Dutch origin for the word actually is 'kwakzalver', which in turn is probably a pun on the use of 'kwikzilver '(quicksilver) by some self-proclaimed doctors who got it from the alchemical lore, which combined with the verb 'zalver' (healer) gave a new word.

*please cite or link when reposting*