The Oxford dictionary defines a quack as an “ignorant pretender to a skill, especially in medicine, or one who offers wonderful remedies or devices, charlatans.” This definition implies that the quack’s offerings were fraudulent, which, in the case of many philtres and nostrums, they surely were. The pills and potions peddled by quacks were simple blends of common ingredients, a few of which were poisonous, although most caused no harm other than to the purse of the buyer. Perhaps the greatest appeal of the tonics and elixirs often was due to their alcoholic content, in some, nearly 80-proof.
The bottles and boxes that originally contained such “medicines” deserve preservation, and their labels and advertisements are worthy of study as a window into that aspect of earlier society that was probably no more credulous than ours of today.
Developments in the fields of magnetism and electricity inspired the invention of a variety of devices touted as capable of curing a wide variety of ailments. Many of these were devised by people of education and attainment, who honestly believed in the efficacy of their machines. Some were actually beneficial in a few areas, but none were capable of meeting all the claims of their developers.
The Society’s artifact collection contains only two examples of these devices, at present. Click the thumbnail images at left for additional images and details (full screen display is necessary for proper viewing). Donations to augment this area of the artifact collection would be greatly appreciated.