Tag Archives: hokum

Would You Smoke a Hornet’s Nest?

Would You Smoke a Hornet’s Nest?

The relationship between quack medicine and religion is more than casual. Early European settlers in North America brought with them the belief that God placed specific remedies for ailments in the areas where the ailments existed thus the interest in native plants and animals as cures.  One documented medicine cures for asthma as being 1) sleeping on a pillow with a rabbit’s tail in it and 2) smoking a hornets nest.

I am all for natural herbs etc.. but diagnosing $600 worth of natural medicine for someone who has terminal cancer and less than a week to live reeks of quackery. I told that to the naturopath that who prescribed the herbal drugs for my late husband.  No one understood me except her bank account.



At the end of the 1800s, there was a guy named Clark Stanley, who was selling a liniment that he claimed had snake oil in it,” Kang replied. “And he was saying basically it could cure everything.”

As for what was actually in it? “It had beef fat and pepper and turpentine,” said Kang. “But there was no snake oil in it. And he made a ton of money off of it.” —Mo Rocca


Dr. Lydia Kang said, “They used it for everything under the sun. So, you know, if you’re having a bad day, you would take some opium. You’re nervous? You take some opium. If you have some crying babies at home and you’re busy parents trying to go to the factory, you dose ’em up with some opium.”

Heroin, a derivative of opium, was once even sold over-the-counter by Bayer for sore throats and respiratory ailment-Dr. Lydia Kang


The cover of a 1906 issue of Collier’s Weekly, a muckraking journal that published Adams’ report on the evils of the patent medicine industry. It furthered the notion that nostrums were the cause of ultimate moral decay, death itself, and caused immense public fear and disapproval of homeopathic remedies.


Federal regulations eventually cut off this free trade of drugs, as did exposés like a 1906 issue of Collier’s that depicted the industry as “death’s laboratory” with an illustration of patent medicine being pumped out of a skull flanked by moneybags. Nevertheless, you can still find popular treatments like Sloan’s Liniment and Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound nestled in the drugstore, survivors from the golden age of quackery.


The consumption of blood is not itself an oddity, and became part of the tonic offerings in patent medicine through manufacturers like the Bovinine Company in Chicago. A truly unsettling 1890 ad for Bovinine shows a woman with her eyes closed, a small glass of red liquid beside her, and the words: “Look on me in my lassitude reclining / My nerveless body languid, pale and lean; / Now hold me up to where the light is shining / And mark the magic power of BOVININE.”

When the postcard is held up to a light, suddenly her eyes open and a ghostly steer appears outside the window with the words “My life was saved by Bovinine.” And the drug probably was quite eye opening, being a tantalizing and alcoholic mix of beef blood, glycerine, and sodium chloride (salt)


Radioactive solutions emerged in the early 20th century after radioactive decay was identified in 1896. One of the more infamous of these was Radithor, a patent medicine with distilled radium, made by self-proclaimed doctor William Bailey, who had previously sold strychnine as an aphrodisiac.

Socialite and industrialist Eben Byers took Radithor following an arm injury in 1927, and continued consuming it through the 1930s, when he slowly died a grotesque death involving snapping bones and lost teeth. Byers’s demise prompted an investigation into Radithor, and ultimately its removal from pharmacies, although poor Byers was buried in a lead coffin due to the contained radiation in his body. As a 1932 Wall Street Journal article quipped: “The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off.”


Godfrey's Inhaler | The Quack Doctor

Medicine for Weak Women — Hokum Era

Drugs of the 1950s from Mac William’s Shelves– Iodine, Liniment and Camphor Oil

The Remedy Women of Lanark County

I Will Take Some Opium to Go Please —The “Drug Dispensary” at the Chatterton House Hotel

Was Lipstick Banned and the $64,000 Question

What the Heck was Electric Soap? Chatterton House Hotel Registrar

When the Spanish Fly Kicks In !

If Quackery Poison Gets You!! Blue Poison Ointment

Constipation Guaranteed to be Cured in Almonte

It’s Electrifying! Dr Scott’s Electric Corset

We’re Off to See the Wizard — The Poisoner’s Handbook?

Medicine for Weak Women — Hokum Era

Medicine for Weak Women — Hokum Era

In the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, alleged cures for “female weakness” were among the nostrums marketed by quacks. Apparently these were sold with the realization that women represented a lucrative special market. Among the most successful of such marketers was a Buffalo physician who became known as “The Prince of Quacks



Photo by Glenda Mahoney


The popular female nostrums included “Wine of Cardui”—a preparation sold as the “Woman’s Tonic”—that contained 20 percent alcohol. Other, similarly constituted nostrums were “Gerstle’s Female Panacea” (20 percent alcohol) and “Andrews’ Wine of Life Root or Female Regulator” (14 percent).

As well, the La Franco Medical Company of Philadelphia sold “Female Pills No. 2”; Margaret M. Livingston, MD, of Chicago offered a variety of products, including “Dr. Livingston’s Medicinal Tampons”; and the Phen-ix Chemical Company sold “Stargrass Compound—Nature’s tonic for women,” among other products. The American Medical Association regarded all of these as quackery (Cramp 1921, II: 160–182).

One of the most famous merchants of quack medicine for women was Lydia E. Pinkham (1819–1893) who marketed “Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound.” Among its outrageous claims was that it was “A Sure Cure” for “Falling of the Womb” (Prolapsus uteri) and, indeed, “All Female Weaknesses,” including irregular menstruation and even labor pains. In fact the product contained only a minor amount of vegetable extracts in water but was 18 percent alcohol (Cramp 1921, II: 160–163)




The man who became one of the greatest sellers of nostrums in America was Buffalo’s Ray Vaughn Pierce (1840–1914).

Pierce parlayed an off-beat medical degree into a quackery empire that included an Invalids’ Hotel. His World’s Dispensary Medical Association endlessly dispensed Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery and a host of other elixirs, copies of his medical tome (The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser [1888]), and a profusion of advertising giveaways. (See the Nickell Collection of Dr. R.V. Pierce Medical Artifacts, part of the New York state digital repository initiative, posted by CFI Libraries Director Tim Binga.1)

Of course, Pierce had something special for women—or rather “Weak Women.” Now, he was not saying women were weak per se, indeed enlisting Anna “Annie” Edson Taylor, the first daredevil to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, for some ads.2 Rather, when strong women became weak through illnesses suffered by women, the good doctor had just the remedy—one second only to his tonic, Golden Medical Discovery, as a cure-all.



Dr. Pierce offered women a product that—like his other concoctions—was in keeping with the “eclectic” school of medicine from which he graduated. This advocated replacing “noxious medicines” with “more effective agents, derived exclusively from the vegetable kingdom” (Pierce 1888, 294–295)—in a word, botanicals (drugs from herbs, bark, etc.). He called his medicine for females “Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription.”

In his book, Pierce (1888, 342, 346, 355) described his preparation as “a tonic nervine” that both “quiets nervous irritation” and “strengthens the enfeebled nervous system, restoring it to healthful vigor.” Moreover, “In all diseases involving the female reproductive organs, with which there is usually associated an irritable condition of the nervous system, it is unsurpassed as a remedy.” In addition, it was “a uterine and general tonic of great excellence,” as well as “an efficient remedy in cases requiring a medicine to regulate the menstrual function.” Finally, Pierce claimed expansively, “In all cases of debility, the Favorite Prescription tranquilizes the nerves, tones up the organs and increases their vigor, and strengthens the system.”


The label of a bottle in my collection reads in full: “Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription For the Relief of The Many Weaknesses and Complaints Peculiar to Females, Manufactured at the Chemical Laboratory of World’s Dispensary Medical Association, Buffalo, N.Y. Contains 81/2 Ozs. Trade-Mark Registered in U.S. Pat. Office, Dec. 11th, 1908. Mdse. 59.” No ingredients are listed. (See Figure 1.)


Image result for Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription

However, a notebook in possession of Dr. Pierce’s grandson names the ingredients of some Pierce products, including Favorite Prescription for which it lists berberis, valerian, blue cohosh, black cohosh, and viburnum (Hirsch 2004, 15). These are still found in herbal guides, recommended for some of the same conditions that Dr. Pierce named. For example, viburnum (black haw root) is reportedly an antispasmodic, used for “threatened miscarriage,” while valerian root is found in some over-the-counter sleep aids, and black cohosh is a relaxant said to relieve menstrual cramps (Balch 2002, 138–139; Naturopathic 1995, 91, 92, 124). Whatever value the ingredients might have if properly prescribed, does not argue for the wisdom of dumping them together and urging them on persons whom the physician has not seen, who may in fact be harmed by the product.

Pierce was accused of worse. Collier’scalled him a “quack,” and Ladies Home Journal went even farther—too far as it turned out. The Journal article, penned by its celebrated editor Edward Bok, alleged that Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription contained not only alcohol but also opium and digitalis. In fact it contained none of these, as laboratory tests soon showed. The Journal issued a retraction and apologized. However, Dr. Pierce felt entitled to more and, in agreement, a court awarded him $16,000 in a libel judgment. Pierce also sued Collier’s, but—after examining the varied definitions of the word quack—the court rejected Pierce’s claim (Hirsch 2004, 14).

Pierce’s Legacy

In his heyday, Dr. R.V. Pierce was, notes one historical writer, “Buffalo’s most famous doctor,” one “whose name and bearded countenance were familiar to people all over the world” (Hirsch 2004, 10). Today, however, the same writer observes of Pierce: “He’s disappeared into the mist. Nobody’s really ever heard of him” (Hirsch 2009).

commercial sign: Dr. Pierce's Favorite Prescription - For Weak Women


Of course, historians, skeptics, and collectors, among others, learn about Dr. Pierce, and his legacy remains sizeable. In collecting Dr. Pierce items, I am fortunate to live in the area where he flourished, where such artifacts may be especially findable. Looking just at Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription, I have been able to purchase several specific collectibles as I’ve made my way to antique shops and centers, mostly within a one-hundred-mile radius (again, see Figure 1). Also, dealers who know of my interest sometimes inform me of a newly discovered rare item. For example, Peter Jablonski, president of the Greater Buffalo Bottle Collectors Association (GBBCA—of which I am a member), obtained for me the Pierce sign—addressed to “Weak Women”—shown in Figure 2.

While returning from an investigation in LeRoy, New York (Nickell 2012), along Route 5, I passed an old barn with faint advertising lettering. I made a U-turn and parked at the site, where I took photographs (see Figure 3) of what clearly reads, “FAVORITE PRESCRIPTION.” Given the location and the fact that the words were a trademark of Dr. Pierce, it is clear that this was one of several Pierce barn signs across the United States (“Looking” 2012), and now—so far as we can yet determine—the only remaining one known in New York state.

I had wondered why the “DR. PIERCE’S” portion was no longer legible. On a return visit, when my wife Diana used her GPS to obtain location coordinates,3 I met the property owner. He told me that a shed had once been built onto the end of the barn, where the legible lettering now is, which obviously protected it from the many years of weathering that the other portion was subjected to.

Such discoveries give hope that other “time capsules” will yield their treasures, giving us insights into medical science’s past that can help us plot a more informed future course


Dr. Pierce: Medicine for ‘Weak Women’


Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place and The Tales of Almonte

  1. relatedreading

eBay Bans Love Potions, Magic Spells and Curses – Haunted Dolls Okay!

eBay Bans Love Potions, Magic Spells and Curses – Haunted Dolls Okay!


On eBay, a Fantastical, Earnest World of Haunted Dolls | The New Yorker

eBay got out out of the magical Dear Abby business and effective August 30th 2012. The following items will not be allowed to be sold on eBay.

eBay’s new prohibited items list includes: advice, spells, curses, hexing, conjuring, magic; prayers, blessing services, magic potions, and healing sessions.

Now isn’t that a fine calderon of wolfbane!
All of this sounds like a class action suit to me and they may have shot themselves in the foot. In the late 1980’s the Supreme Court declared Wicca an official religion, right along with all the other mainstream religions. Someone may well sue them for religious discrimination, or put a hex on them if they are not careful. What about perpetual motion machines and magic carpets? God only knows the black market price for polyjuice potion is gonna skyrocket now. However in a change of heart; Ebay will still permit the sale of miracles.

eBay was once in the soul business, and in late July a free-lance writer Lori N tried to sell her soul on the internet auction site. How much is a soul worth? The starting bid was $2000 but eBay quickly kabashed the auction, as according to their selling rules they also do not allow the following:

We don’t allow humans, the human body, or any human body parts or products to be listed on eBay, with two exceptions. Sellers can list items containing human scalp hair, and skulls and skeletons intended for medical use.
Lori had been in a car accident in 2007, and after a three-week coma she woke up suffering from a stroke, broken hip, broken pelvis, leg, collarbone, sternum, ribs, and a collapsed lung. One has to ask if a soul is a human body part and what’s the fresh pack date on it anyways? Not to make light of a bad situation Lori N might have done better had she rented one of her “soles” to the foot fetish crowd.

What I find unusual is eBay did not ban their haunted dolls which I find simply ridiculous. Here are a few that have sold recently:


I would like to introduce you to one of the sweetest little china dolls I have. I found her in a box lot at an auction underneath a few other dolls that were porcelain. I thought she was pretty, and reminded me of the old Victorian dolls. When I picked her up I got such an overwhelming feeling of fear, sadness, alone, and longing. As I sat with her for a moment, I realized that she is so lonely and wants to belong to a family that is happy and loving. I have no idea of maker or how old she might be! She is 14″. She has no name, and the only identifying mark is a tag on her back that says “Reproduction Mary P. Mitchell Knoxville, TN”. But I don’t know if it is a reproduction made in the early 1900s? Or what time period. Her head and shoulders, wrist and hands, and ankles and feet are all china while the rest of her is soft. She is dressed in a beautiful black satin (?) dress of with a lace collar that has become unattached. She does not have a stand. Her hair is gray, which I have never seen on a china doll before, and seems to highlight her rosy cheeks and lips against her white skin. Her eyes are just the most beautiful blue! There are chips on her hair and on her toes. I have tried to show those in the pictures. Her dress shows signs of wear and tear but can be fixed. Overall, she is in GOOD condition and is such a sweet doll in need of a good home.

The doll sold for $1275 last week.

HAUNTED DOLL Metaphysical Psychic VAMPIRE Turning Ritual WARNING sex love beauty



Darla was first conjured and bound to a lifelike figure over 36 years ago by the request of A very
blood wealthy young woman; who so strongly Desired to possess the powerful attributes of the Vampire Characteristic, and was willing to pay any price to obtain it.
Once bound together, this very sultry young woman began to transform in physical appearance very fast. Though she was already very good looking, her features became beyond reality,her dark brown hair took on a more naturally alluring and healthy flow, that couldn’t seem to be flawed even if she tried.

Her teeth quickly sharpened, and strengthened as her need to eat mortal food for nourishment diminished, and her skin became like that of the porcelain doll that was always seen at her side:

Darla sold for $898.00.




Psychic & Paranormal Items for sale | eBay

Haunted Doll in Box from Maine Coast 

I grew up in a very haunted house in Maine. Clocks malfunctioned, bells rang, nightmares, my sibling was pushed down the stairs by… something- and thats just the beginning. My parents sold it because things started to become physical with the some of the female children. We moved to a semi historical home and things settled down – briefly. We later learned several people had died in this house, yet, we did not encounter the same fear or evil as we did from the first house.

As an adult I have spent much time trying to make sense of my childhood home. I have traveled to many haunted places and collected hundreds of haunted items. This has been my hobby for at least a decade. However, it has to stop. Something is in my house and it is scaring my kids to death. My daughter doesnt want to sleep here and I feel guilty. I have decided to sell my collection for the sake of my daughter .My first round of sales will be items from the first house I lived in, as well as some items I got at the Old Sisters Hospital. I will give detailed descriptions as possible on the history of the item or where it came from.

This is a particularly interesting doll. On one of my excursions, we headed to a well known haunted area of the Maine coast called Wiscasset. Naturally when I saw a lawn sale at a run down house directly next door an old run down cemetary I had to stop. The toys were being ‘sold’ by the girl in the family who was maybe 7. She had all her items displayed on a blanket and was sitting with them. I thought it was strange that she had a doll in a box it didnt go in so I decided to ask this girl about it! I asked how much she wanted for the doll, and asked her if that was her original box, knowing it wasnt.

She looked at me point blank and said: No I put her in the box to keep her still at night. I said- well did it work? She said- not until I put the tape on it. I have left this this taped up and have never opened the box. I didnt dust it.I could tell this girl was dealing with something supernatural in her life. She felt that whatever entity was in this doll had been contained to the box. There is immediately something scarey or strange about this doll in the box. The box is made of tin & plastic.

Crazy doll in a box sold for $500.

Double, double, toil and trouble; no more Love Potion Number 9’s but we can still buy these silly dolls. I wonder if the sales of “Jesus or Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich” will now have restrictions? Cheesus Christ!

Well at least each eBay sale is protected through PayPal;  but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been scammed by a Craigslist soul. Sadly these people that once bought these new prohibited items are now going to have to settle for an out-of-eBay experience.



Photos from Google