Advertisement for Smedley's chillie paste, 'the king' of cure


This lively advertisement for Smedley’s Chillie Paste makes bold claims for its use as a topical treatment for everything from bronchitis to muscular rheumatism. Oils from chilli peppers had been used for centuries in Central America to treat inflammation, but the chilli was still very much a novelty in Victorian Britain, making this advertisement doubly beguiling.

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. Often sold on the street by roving doctors with dubious credentials, quack cures were much less expensive than traditional medical treatment, and for that reason were particularly popular among the working classes.

Full title:
Smedley's chillie paste is ‘the king’ of cures [etc.]
estimated 1901, Leeds, Yorkshire
Advertisement / Ephemera / Illustration / Image
© Wellcome Images
Usage terms
Creative Commons Attribution licence
Held by
Wellcome Library, London

Related articles

Health and hygiene in the 19th century

Article by:
Liza Picard

In a time when diseases like smallpox, cholera and TB were insatiable and continued to relapse in epidemical waves, Liza Picard explores how medical pioneers and health innovations shaped the landscape of medicine in the 19th century.

Representations of drugs in 19th-century literature

Article by:
Sharon Ruston
Romanticism, Fin de siècle, Technology and science

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.

Related collection items