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culture

Vintage Toronto Ads: Dr. Blosser’s Discovery

Smoke herbs to alleviate ailments of the nose and throat!

Source: the Sunday Toronto World, February 23, 1913.

Can you name all of the body parts represented by letters in the illustrations above? Do you think this ad makes crystal clear Dr. Blosser’s claims that his tobacco- and narcotic-free herbal smoke relieves catarrh? Are you confused by the length to which the illustrator attempted to prove Dr. Blosser’s superiority over other remedial aids?

Unlike some peddlers of cure-alls, Joseph Blosser was a trained physician who alternated between careers in medicine and ministry. Yet Blosser seems to have been less than virtuous in keeping the letters he received from customers in strict confidence. Samuel Hopkins Adams, in his landmark investigative reporting on the patent medicine industry for Collier’s magazine in 1905, cited Blosser among those who passed their testimonial letters and mailing lists on to other remedy makers. “The ink was hardly dry on that issue of Collier’s,” Adams later noted, “before Blosser was on the spot with a lawyer letter and a personal letter which breathed injured innocence.”

Backed by personal endorsements from prominent Atlanta citizens, Blosser claimed that Adams would be “utterly unable to sustain by proof” that any letters were sold. Adams contacted a New York–based letter broker, who had more than 113,000 letters sent to Blosser’s company ready for purchase. No legal action appears to have followed.

Blosser’s remedy, usually sold as herbal cigarettes, remained on the market for decades. Later ads dispensed with the detailed diagrams, forcing the illustrator to seek work in the scientific textbook field.

Additional material from the fourth edition of The Great American Fraud by Samuel Hopkins Adams (Chicago: American Medical Association, 1907).

Comments

  • -d.

    artifactsTO tweeted a pic of a full pack today!

    https://twitter.com/#!/artifactsTO/status/179656785555238914/photo/1

  • LaryOly

    This “cure” is very similar to the legendary “Carbolic Smoke Ball”, which was advertised and sold in Britain and in Canada. In fact, there’s a photo of King St. E., circa 1880, which includes a huge ad for the Ball, painted on the side of a building.

    The makers of the Smoke Ball claimed that their blend of vapours (primarily carbolic acid, a.k.a. phenol, which we now know is carcinogenic) would also reach deep into the lungs to cure catarrh (and several other conditions, including Influenza, which was deadly at that time). They also published testimonials and graphics-laden ads, and offered a guarantee that if you used the Ball daily, you wouldn’t catch Influenza. A woman used the Ball, caught the Flu, and filed a claim, which the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company denied, on the grounds that the “guarantee” was just advertising fluff.

    Unfortunately for the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, the woman was married to a lawyer. They filed suit, and the resulting judgment established a major precedent. Namely, that a “guarantee” given in an advertisement was not just “fluff”, but an actual legally binding contract. The woman had fulfilled her end of the contract by buying & using the product as directed, so if the product failed to work as promised, then the company had broken the contract and had to pay the price for doing so.

    Today, the case is studied by every student lawyer in the UK. And a bunch of clever lawyers started their own gift company, named “The Carbolic Smoke Ball Company”. Among their products is a pen-stand, in the form of a replica Smoke Ball.