Welcome! This is where you can post your ailments and get diagnosed by an eighteenth-century quack doctor! Just post your message and the quack doctor will respond with what was a typical eighteenth-century advertisement for quack remedies. This exercise is meant to simulate the advertising industry in the eighteenth century, where quacks competed fiercely to capture the public with the power of the written word. If you happen to be healthy (or perhaps you're a bit too shy to post concerning that minor case of the clap you picked up last weekend) you can merely browse through the posts of others, and perhaps learn something about the quack remedies in eighteenth-century England. Enjoy!
|To fully understand this site, it might be useful to present some background on quack doctors and their advertising practices in eighteenth-century England. With the rise of both the British newspaper and consumer society in the eighteenth century, advertisement became more important. Specifically, advertisements by quack doctors making elaborate claims about the medicinal effects of relatively worthless remedies became popular. One study, in fact, estimates that quack advertisements made up 10 to 14 percent of all newspaper advertisements (1). This is an impressive accomplishment for quack doctors, who were marketing, as many educated critics such as Steele and Addison pointed out, completely worthless products.||
a typical quack doctor
These advertisements were successful because they targeted a new public in England that, while admiring scientific knowledge and other education, had little of either, and thus was gullible to the pseudoscientific tone of quack advertisements (2). Of course, many modern advertisements similarly construct their authority through somewhat shady scientific reasoning, but eighteenth-century advertisers could make more extravagant claims, since widespread advertising was such a new phenomenon that the majority of the public had not yet developed any skepticism for advertising's outlandish claims. To the disgust of many of the educated middle class, lower-class people who frequented coffeehouses would pore over newspapers and quack advertisements, often attracting quack doctors themselves into the coffeehouse (3).
Despite the irrationality of seeing a quack as opposed to a respectable
doctor, there was a significant rationale for many turning to the quacks. At
this point in medical history, the relationship between the doctor and personal
space was beginning to modernize (4).
Doctors were beginning to rely more on physical contact to diagnose the patient,
and practices such as male midwifery were becoming commonplace. Quacks, on the
other hand, provided a detached alternative. Readers would diagnose themselves
through quack advertisements, purchase appropriate products, and feel confident
in the confidentiality of quack doctors, who promised their patients anonymity
Sufferers of more embarrassing disorders such as venereal disease and onanism,
who wished to keep their disorders private, were much more willing to form detached
relationships with quacks than highly personal and invasive relationships with
real doctors. However, quacks often used their patients' wishes for anonymity
against them. Quacks often offered the "no cure, no money" guarantee,
the equivalent of our modern "money-back guarantee." Unfortunately
for the dissatisfied, getting one's money back often involved writing a glowing
testimonial for the product, which meant including personal information such
as name and address (6).
This was a win-win situation for the quacks, who were guaranteed with each customer
to receive a glowing testimonial even if they did not gain money from the specific
The most famous quack remedy of all was the Anodyne Necklace. The Anodyne Necklace, which appeared in advertisements as early as 1715, purported, among other things, to reduce the probability of infant mortality (7). It claimed to do so by helping infants "cut their teeth," as the popular conception at the time was that infant mortality was caused by stress resulting from the growth of the infant's first set of teeth (8).
Infant mortality was a large problem in London, but it was almost entirely a problem for the poor, who were forced to raise children in unhealthy conditions. For those who had enough education to read and write, infant mortality was a relatively minor occurrence (9). However, the public perception did not draw such a distinction, and as a result, new and expecting parents in the middle and lower-middle class who were concerned about their children would try anything to give them that extra chance of survival (10). Since those who could read and afford to respond to the advertisement (and the Anodyne Necklace cost five shillings, which was a week's wages) generally brought children up in healthy conditions, the necklace appeared to work.
the distinguished quack, Dr. Paul Chamberlen, "creator" of the Anodyne Necklace
The creator of the Anodyne Necklace, according to the advertisements,
was Paul Chamberlen. However, it is unclear whether he actually created the
necklace, or whether that name was attached to the necklace's advertisement
as a marketing move. Although Dr. Chamberlen was certainly a quack doctor, and
he may have written the first "Philosophical Essay" on the Adonyne
Necklace, his connection with the necklace is foggy at best. For instance, advertisements
for the necklace had been circulating for two years prior to his mention. He
was also the grandson of a famous Peter Chamberlen, a legitimate doctor who
had founded the most famous group of obstetricians in those times. It is highly
likely that Paul Chamberlen's association with the Anodyne Necklace was merely
a marketing ploy. Perhaps a clever advertiser wishing to associate the necklace
with the famous Chamberlen name chose to construct his authority around the
quack. Such behavior was certainly not below advertisers. In fact, other advertisers
published advertisements and pamphlets decades after his death, claiming that
the author was the famous Dr. Paul Chamberlen himself.
Taking all of this into consideration, it is easy to see how the world of eighteenth-century quack advertisements translates well into an internet message board. Like on a message board, sick eighteenth-century consumers who wanted a quick and anonymous remedy could maneuver with complete anonymity. Also, advertisements in the eighteenth century were highly interactive; they often referenced, defamed, or otherwise commented on each other (check out the Anodyne Necklace thread for a good example). So come see for yourself, and get diagnosed by the local quack on our message board!