Claiming to cure a ‘torpid liver’ and beautify the complexion, Crane’s Little Bon-Bon Pills were most likely a laxative or mild diuretic herb in pill form. They would cure precisely nothing, but they would help flush out the kidneys – at the risk of causing dehydration through vomiting or diarrhoea. The greatest risk was therefore to people who did have an actual kidney disorder, whose systems were very much vulnerable to even a mild purgative such as this one. Note that the advertisement lists a private address from which the pills can be obtained if they are not available from the local chemist: a heavy hint that no chemist actually stocked them.
The 19th century was a golden age for ‘quack’ cures and remedies. Most often described as ‘patent’ or ‘proprietary medicines’, they made large claims for their own efficacy and, as further proof, were often housed in extremely elaborate and ornate bottles or jars. The British Parliamentary register for 1830 lists more than 1,300 ‘proprietary medicines’ originating in Britain, the majority of which were tinctures of opium or alcohol that would give the user a mild euphoric effect without actually treating their ailments.
- Article by:
- Sharon Ruston
- Technology and science, Fin de siècle, Romanticism
Opium was widely available in the 19th century, sold by barbers, tobacconists and stationers. Writers including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens all used the drug, for pleasure or as medicine. Professor Sharon Ruston explores how drugs provided both inspiration and subject matter for the literature of the period.