The Quack Doctor by Charles Green

The Victorian age was one of scientific and medical advance. Useful new drugs were developed, such as quinine, atrophine, digitalin, codeine and iodine. Many diseases were described and classified. And, in 1858, Parliament passed the Medical Act which was an attempt to regulate the unqualified and unscrupulous 'quacks' who often promoted their dubious cures on the streets, or in newspapers and magazines.

Today, many of those advertisements are available to view on a website known as The Quack Doctor. Here, the writer Caroline Rance is compiling a fascinating resource of  'historical remedies for all your ills', where posts are often accompanied by the author's wry, informed commentary.

The VV recommends a visit. But, for now she will display just a few of The Quack's discoveries. And, considering her previous post on the charlatan, Madam Rachel, it seems somehow apt to concentrate on those constructs, potions and pills pertaining to matters of feminine grace and beauty. 
Let us start with a woman's crowning glory. The Quack Doctor reports on the 'curious Tricosian Powder', a product from 1851 that promised to restore greying hair to its former lustrous hue -   

For rendering Red or Grey Hair and Whiskers a beautiful Black or Brown.
THIS POWDER, which is a very curious dis-
covery in Chemistry, will be found, upon trial, much
superior to every preparation now offered for these purposes;
it is perfectly innoxious both to the Hair and Skin; indeed it
is of service to the Hair, for it promotes its growth, and in-
vigorates its texture. It is so perfectly safe for the Skin or
Clothes on which it happens to fall, and so infallible in its
operation that the dark tint, which is produced in a few
hours, cannot be obliterated by any process whatever. Price
3s. per box.

So, with your hair now dark and gleaming with health,what about improving that pimply skin; perhaps nibbling on some of these 'harmless' arsenic wafers? 

 Dr. MACKENZIE’S IMPROVED HARMLESS ARSENIC COMPLEXION WAFERS will produce the most lovely complexion that the imagination could desire, clear, fresh, free from blotch, blemish, coarseness, redness, freckles, or pimples. Post free for 4s. 6d. ; half boxes, 2s. 9d.— S. HARVEY, 5, Denman St., London Bridge, S. E. Use Dr. MacKenzie’s ARSENICAL TOILET SOAP 1s. per Tablet; No. 2, unscented, 6d. per Tablet. Made from Purest Ingredients, and Absolutely Harmless.
BEWARE OF THE MANY IMITATIONS. Have Dr. Mackenzie’s or none.

One of Dr Mackenzie's reckless imitators

Finally, considering the figure, why not be at the forefront of fashion and wear a sturdy corset, powered by that magical ether - the force of electricity?

And, if you're inclined to learn something more of this stimulating undergarment, then the VV suggests that you visit Caroline Rance's blog, where the very subject is covered in an excellent podcast.


  1. Thank you - I really love these ads. Even though they are almost 100% nonsense, and perhaps even dangerous, they are a perfectly untouched chronicle of social history.

    When my students were looking at Victorian social history this semester, I asked them to locate ads for contemporary information on: clothes, hair, hats, jewellery, sporting activity (esp swimming and bike riding), health, fitness, male-female relatioships, marriage, child rearing, women's employment, holiday options etc.

  2. Hels - what a good idea to involve your students in such a way. Do take a look at Caroline Rance's blog - she has quite a wealth of subjects there, with more being added all the time.

  3. Thanks for featuring my blog. I'd forgotten all about the Tricosian Powder - great to see that again!

  4. Another delicious posting. These are wonderful - when you read some of them you wonder how anyone survived.

  5. The electric corset is somewhat alarming! But I understand it was just magnetic (imagines women alarmed as silverware flies towards their bosom!!).

  6. That is a very funny picture, Perdita.

  7. What a wonderful site! I'm fascinated by this as one of my less reputable ancestors was a Quack doctor. Look out for the adverts for Professor Elston. He appears to have died in the Prestwich lunatic asylum. Perhaps he took one too many of his own potions!

    1. Yes he was a scallywag and also related to me. He was the brother of my Great,Great,Great Grandfather. He wandered throughout The Midlands, Northern England and Scotland between the 1850's and 1860's and was sometimes accompanied by his mistress.