Saturday, February 20, 2016

Carry it with you everywhere "without exciting suspicion"

Advertisements for “Therapion: or Cure of Cures” pop up regularly in archival newspapers from 1860 through to the mid 1940s.

Also described as “The New French Remedy”, it came in packages numbered 1 to 3 and to those taken in by its effusive quackery, it must have seemed the wonder drug of all drugs. In an age when euphemisms were used for body parts or bedroom activities, the word “French” has certain implications (French letter, French pox, etc.)  During the 1860s  the advertisements were quite freely descriptive, but by the turn of the 19th Century they became less detailed.

Image found on Ebay (link  since removed)

Following is the earliest text of the advertisement as it appears in many newspapers from the 1860s before either censors or official health bodies insisted they be less specific as to description or the promised cures. How much of the flowery assurances that the stuff had been approved by Royal Letters Patent or HM Commissioners can be believed, however, and did the French doctors agree to have their names included? [My comments in square brackets.]


By Royal Letters Patent, under the special sanction of Her Majesty's Government, and the Chiefs of the Faculte de France [Needs research to prove.]


This successful and highly popular mendicament [old Scots word for medication], as employed in the continental hospitals by Rostan, Jobert, Velpeau [all real French doctors] and others, combines all the desiderata [objects of desire] to be sought in a medicine of the kind, and surpasses everything hitherto employed. Devoid of all taste, odour, and appearance of medicine, it can be left or carried anywhere, and taken from time to time without exciting suspicion. Each package contains full instructions for every case.

THERAPION, No. 1, in three days only [truly amazing!] removes gonorrhoea, gleet, and all discharges effectually superseding injections, the use of which does irreparable harm by laying the foundation of stricture and other serious diseases. In dysentery, piles, irritation of the lower bowel, cough, bronchitis, asthma, and some of the more trying complaints of this kind, it will be found astonishingly efficacious, affording prompt relief where other well-tried remedies have been powerless. 

THERAPION, No. 2 for syphilis, disease of the bones, sore throat, threatened destruction of the nose and palate; impurity of blood, scurvy, pimples, spots, blotches, and all diseases for which it has been too much a fashion to employ mercury, sarsaparilla, etc., to the destruction of the sufferer's teeth; and ruin of health. Under this medicine every vestige of disease rapidly disappears; and the skin assumes the pleasing softness of infancy. [Cure your potentially fatal syphilis and a bad complexion in the one dose!]

THERAPION, No. 3, for relaxation, spermatorrhoea [trendy mid 19thC disease known as male hysteria], and all the distressing consequences arising from early abuse, excess, residence in hot, unhealthy climates, etc. [Possible inspiration for Noel Coward's Mad Dogs and Englishmen]. It possesses surprising power in restoring strength and vigour to the debilitated. To those who are prevented entering the marriage state by the consequences of early error, it will render essential aid by subduing all dis-qualifications;  and restoring the lost tone to the system. [The number of men who may have lied to their brides about having a STD and thought this stuff had cured them is both sad and scary.]

Therapion may be procured at 11.s [shillings], and 33.s per package, through all medicine vendors, or in £5 packages for foreign shipment, direct from London only, by which £1 12s. are saved; and £10 packages for the more inveterate cases, by which a still greater saving is effected. In ordering the above, the purchaser should state which of the three numbers he requires.[£5 or £10 would be astronomical sums to pay when an annual income of +/-£100 would have been a respectable wage for a skilled individual, and most working people earned far less.]

HER MAJESTY’S HON. COMMISSIONERS have graciously permitted the government stamp bearing the word "Therapion” in white letters to be attached to each package; thus insuring the public against fraudulent imitations, and securing to the proprietor the sole right of supply throughout her dominions; and any infringement of which they will prosecute with the utmost severity. [Very slick and sure of themselves.]

AGENTS FOR ENGLAND, Thomas & Co.,7 Upper St. Martin's Lane, London; Raimes & Co., Liverpool; Apothecaries Comp., Glasgow ; Ferris & Co., Bristol; Cornish & Co., Plymouth; Rowe, Devonport; Randall & Co., Southampton; and obtainable through all medicine vendors in the known world, or in case of difficulty, by enclosing a draft or order for £5  or £10, according to the nature of the case, payable in London to Messrs. Thomas & Co., as above, a large package will be sent by return mail, carefully secured from observation or accident.

Tracking down who actually made this stuff and owned/sold the recipe would be an exercise far beyond the scope of this overview, but the name of Thomas & Co. of St Martin's Lane appears on all the early advertisements, later an R. Johnson of Holford Square and finally Dr Le Clerc Co. of Hampstead. None of these are easily traceable, which is only to be expected. Interestingly, however, there is a booklet in the Wellcome Library written by a Prof Le Clerc about Therapion but it is unavailable to read online.

Over the years, the advertisements were progressively condensed, as in this one from the Derbyshire Times 15 September 1900 and although it was well over 40 years old by then, it was still described as “new” and had added another French doctor to the list.


This successful and highly popular Remedy, as employed in the Continental Hosptials by Ricord, Rostan, Jobert, Velpeau, and others, surpasses everything hitherto employed for impurity of the blood, spots, blotches, pains and swellings of the joins, kidney diseases, piles, gravel, pains in the back, rheumatism, gout, exhaustion, sleeplessness, etc. Nos. 1, 2, and 3, according to diseases for which intended.
Full particulars send stamped addressed envelope for pamphlet to Mr R JOHNSON, 43 Holford Square, London W.C.

By 1941 the advertisements had become very small and difficult to read. The price has gone down to 3 shillings and there is definitely no indication of its earlier assertions. Although more than 80 years old, it was still “new” in 1944 and available through chemists such as Boots and Timothy White, but then it seems to have quietly disappeared.

MEDICAL. THE NEW FRENCH REMEDY.— THERAPION. Sold by leading chemists. Price in England, 3/. Dr. Le Clerc Co., Haverstock-rd., N.W.5, LondonTHERAPION No. 1 for Bladder, Catarrh, Cystitis. THERAPION No. 2 for Blood and Skin Diseases. THERAPION No. 3 for Chronic Weakness, etc.

Is there any evidence at all that The New French Remedy cured anyone of STDs or anything else for that matter? The same advertisement appears year after year in the newspapers of not only the United Kingdom, but also in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, India and Singapore. Was no-one game to admit it didn’t work because that would reveal some embarrassing health issue or they had been victims of quackery? 

The Wellcome Trust has a booklet from 1909 on research into “Secret Remedies: What they Cost and what they Contain” in which No. 3 Therapion was analysed for the British Medical Journal. It contained: Camphor, Glycerin, Powdered Liquorice, Calcium Glycerophosphate, Extract of Gentian, Extract of Damiana, an Alkaloid and Water, with a possible slight trace of either Fennel or Anise. Damiana seems to have aphrodisiac qualities, but the BMJ concluded that the product was non-poisonous and that the cost of just over an ounce was only tuppence [two pennies]. That means a lot of money was made out of Therapion during its existence. As is still the case today when it comes to health, there will always be those ready to fleece the desperate and the gullible.

From Woodstock Museum, Ontario, Canada

Visit The Quack Doctor for more interesting stories of historical quackery. 

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