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Vintage medicine and snake oil ads

My Wednesday post was slated to be a review of King Vidor’s début talkie, Hallelujah! (1929), but since I won’t have access to a copy till later in the week, I have to push it off till Monday. In the meantime, enjoy these vintage ads for outright snake oil and what used to pass for medicine.

Did someone type that first line with a straight face?

I’m sure this provided a nice workout, but it’s not a substitute for medicine.

What could possibly go wrong from putting cocaine in your hair?!

Found this on the same page as a story about one of my ancestors, 10 February 1910. It was too good not to save.

6 October 1887, another find while searching archived newspapers for stories about my ancestors. What didn’t this quack claim he could cure!

Talk about substituting one problem for another!

No comment!

Granted, there are a lot of misunderstandings floating around regarding corset history, just as there are about Victorian postmortem photography, lifespan, and average marriage age, but you don’t have to be well-versed in the garment’s history to know this is really dangerous. I may write a future post on myths and facts about corsets.

That’s one way around the Comstock Act, presenting sex toys as medical objects.

I have so many Castoria ads, I had to create a separate folder for them. Popular wisdom of this era had people believing a kid was automatically constipated and at Death’s door if s/he didn’t defecate at least once a day. That’s right up there with the thankfully debunked belief that babies and children couldn’t feel pain.


I started reading at three (my first book was Grimm's Fairy Tales, the uncensored adult version), started writing at four, started writing book-length things at eleven, and have been a writer ever since. I predominantly write historical fiction family sagas/series. I primarily write about young people, since I was a young person myself when I became a serious writer and didn't know how to write about adults as main characters. I only write in a contemporary setting if the books naturally go into the modern era over the course of the decades-long stories being told over many books. I've always been drawn to books, films, music, fashions, et al, from bygone eras, and have never really been too much into modern things. If something or someone has appeal for all time, it'll still be there to be discovered after the initial to-do has died down. For example, my second-favorite writer enjoyed a huge burst of popularity in the Sixties and Seventies, but he wrote his books from 1904-43, and his books still resonate today, even after he's no longer such a fad. Quality lasts for all time.

4 thoughts on “Vintage medicine and snake oil ads

  1. Mild and safe – a laxative?

    In March 1992 I ended up drinking a laxative and spent half the day on the toilet.

    As for the sex toys-medical products nexus.

    All the Spanish/South American market for the cocaine.

    And Ambition Pills remind me of the time I had to write a patent advertisement for an assignment – a product that had not been in the market.

    It was an Intellectual’s Lamp. On the pattern of Aladdin and his Genie.


  2. This amusing collection of ads reminded me forcefully of a book I recently tried and failed to read — Damon Suede’s Verbalize!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (The book cover just has one exclamation point, but that really doesn’t do the writing justice!!!!) Suede has recently developed a good reputation as a writing guru. I can attribute that only to his “Snake Oil Salesman” style of presentation, which entertains almost enough to mask the fact that he is saying absolutely nothing. Even in today’s more sophisticated world (or so we’d like to think), an accomplished snake oil salesman can still thrive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ed:

      this writing guru business is a chancy one.

      And that point about almost.

      We all have our personal line.

      It hits on the annoying/irritating spot.

      Yours truly has relatives in the marketing and advertising world and they know how to sniff out the snake oil.

      And having Verbalise like that in a title – my younger self would have gone right off [like be angry or outraged; with the tenderer feelings/dignity affronted].


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