‘Them hinfernal vegetable pills have taken root in my nose!’ cries the subject of this cartoon in horror to his mirror. ‘It was reddish before but now it’s carroty!’. The cartoon is a satire on ‘quack’ medicine, and in particular the contemporary trend for universal cure-all pills and tonics.
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:
- Universal Pills No. 4. Here's a precious go them hinfernal vegetable pills have taken root in my nose. It was reddish before but now it's carotty!
- unknown, Strand, London
- Print / Ephemera / Illustration / Image
- © Wellcome Library, London
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- 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.
- 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.