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Aims of the Project

This project is a detailed examination of the production, retailing and consumption of proprietary medicines in England from the period of the English Civil War to the mid-eighteenth century. The only previous full-length study of this major subject is Roy Porter's Health for Sale: Quackery in England, 1650-1850 (1989); when this was republished in 2000 Porter observed that 'during the last decade ... there has been surprisingly little work published on British quack medicine in the long eighteenth century'. He also acknowledged in his conclusion that his study had not 'delved into the prosopography of the quacks, or their business history, or the pharmacological and therapeutic aspects of their activities. These are fascinating fields, which largely remain to be researched.' [Porter (2000), 10, 207.]

Taking a less pejorative view of 'quack' culture, this project aims to fulfil this imbalance and offer a major re-evaluation of proprietary medicines in this period, exploring in detail their place in English commercial culture and popular society in the period c. 1660-1740. The project will be further informed by recent developments in British economic history, which over the past two decades has seen an acceleration of research into the study both of central issues such as growth, distribution and consumption, and the interconnections between these issues, and narrower social, demographic and cultural themes. This development will be of pivotal importance to this project, as my initial research with Dr Patrick Wallis into Anthony Daffy's later 17th-century London business in 'Elixir Salutis' has already revealed [see below]. This has clearly shown that the development of proprietary medicines must be seen to have been as much about business as it was about health.

It is clear that the period c. 1640-1740 was significant in the broadening and deepening of commercial medicine and pharmacy as part of the wider expansion of English consumer society. These decades saw a vast increase in the population of London and the emergence of England as a major rather than peripheral European power. Indeed, the term 'consumer revolution' has frequently been used by economic historians to describe this period, with its 'intellectual origins' to be found in the 1690s. [See McKendrick, Brewer and Plumb (1982), 1, 13.] With this growth in economic and political importance, based on the emergence and successful exploitation of major trade markets in the Americas and the Far East and the development of capitalist institutions in London, there emerged in England an increasingly affluent, commercial and sophisticated domestic market for a wide range of luxury goods.

It appears that proprietary medicines may be included amongst these 'luxury' items, and that fashion played a role in their sale and consumption. As John Styles has recently observed, proprietary medicines were probably the earliest extensively marketed branded products; furthermore, through the widespread use of handbills and newspaper adverts they were 'undoubtedly those that became most familiar to late-seventeenth- and eighteenth-century consumers' [Styles (2000), 148-9]. Advertising thus became an important tool in the success or failure of individual proprietary medicines: as William Newman shows, notwithstanding his skills as a chymist and manufacturer of medicines, it was the fact of George Starkey's limitations as a promoter of his wares that caused him to lose out in his dispute with his London rival, the empiric Lionel Lockyer. [Newman (1994), 197-202.]

The first aim of this project, therefore, will be to establish a clear understanding of the businesses of a number of selected proprietary medicine manufacturers, and establish the nature of - and reasons for - their relative success or failure. This prosopographical study will be founded on my initial examination of the business of a single proprietary medicine producer, Anthony Daffy, which led up to this research proposal [see below]. This three month period of Wellcome-funded research linked Daffy to various business practices in Britain, Europe and the colonies, investigated his speculations and investments, and established (so far as was possible) his network of business contacts based on friends, family and religious connections, both at home and abroad.

The prosopographical investigation to be carried out in this advanced project will be supplemented by a regional survey, investigating so far as is possible the sale, market penetration and use of these proprietary medicines in both the capital and various provincial markets. Building on our research into Daffy's business networks, this new project will thus examine the social identity of proprietary medicine manufacturers, including their personal backgrounds, how they entered the trade, and how their businesses were developed and passed between generations; it will analyse the commercial and spatial networks through which their medicines were manufactured and distributed, by a breakdown of producer's products, their advertising material and, where possible, their known markets and users, both at home and abroad; it will explore the links between London and provincial marketplaces, and the importance of London as a centre of proprietary medicine manufacture, and for trade networks which extended outwards to continental Europe and the emergent colonies; it will investigate the position of proprietary medicines in broader commercial culture, and question their significance as possible 'luxury' goods.

By developing a number of focused biographical case studies, the exact nature of the relationships and distinctions between proprietary and patent medicine manufacturers, chemists, apothecaries and other medical practitioners (as well as regulators such as the Royal College of Physicians) will be examined. Despite their shady associations with quackery and mountebanks, proprietary medicines were widely used throughout all levels of society during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (the relatively high price of some indicates a wealthy clientele), and their producers established good reputations and, in some cases (e.g. Lockyer), considerable fortunes.

Furthermore, with the increasingly positive reception of Paracelsian and Helmontian ideas of medicine during the Commonwealth era the intellectual culture was ripe for changing attitudes to pharmacy. Influential writers such as Robert Boyle and others in the Hartlib circle encouraged the role of chemistry and botany (which brought new 'simples' to light from the New World) in the production of new medicines, and strongly advocated a role for non-practitioners in the manufacture and use of new remedies. This was coupled by the rising demand by medical reformers such as Noah Biggs and William Walwyn that medical practice (particularly in London) should be open to all [Wear (1998), IX.30.]. The cost of different types of medicines and their availability to rich and poor customers was a recurrent concern for Boyle, and issues of pricing, competition, accessibility and control over the manufacture and distribution of medicine and health care are all issues of clear importance in our understanding of the early modern English medical marketplace. They are concerns that will be addressed throughout the course of this project.

Proprietary medicines and their makers continue to be considered within the circle of 'quack culture'. I will question the fairness of this interpretation. In Some Considerations Touching the Usefulnesse of Experimental Naturall Philosophy (1663) Robert Boyle advocated the use of 'Lady Kent's Powder', but carefully noted that he was 'not so much a Mountebank' as to claim that any medicine (proprietary or otherwise) would work in every case against a particular disease: nevertheless he did not dismiss outright the alchemists' dream of 'the Universal Medicine'. [Hunter & Davis (1999-2000), 3.531, 3.473, 3.382.] The careers of Boyle's sometime assistant Ambrose Godfrey and that of the former apothecary's apprentice Robert Talbor, whose experiments with quinine (commonly known as 'Jesuit's bark') from South America to treat malaria in Essex in the 1670s provided the basis for his successful medicine, 'Talbor's Wonderful Secret', indicate some of the ambiguities in understanding the historical importance of proprietary medicines and their makers. [See Richmond, Stevenson, Turton (2003).] As Dr Everard Maynwaring, a supporter of the failed attempt to found a Society of Chemical Physicians, declared in 1670, it was through pharmacopœia that 'Physick did first spring forth ... and by this means, and this way onely, must we expect its perfection and accomplishment' [Maynwaring (1670), 4]. Significantly given Maynwaring's promotion of pharmacopœia, Maehle (1999) has recently highlighted the role certain proprietary medicines played in the emergence of pharmacology in the eighteenth century. This project will place their importance on firmer historical footings.

Furthermore, respectable society physicians such Hans Sloane and John Radcliffe were not above trading on their reputations as physicians, and produced and promoted branded medicines. In Sloane's case this took the form of drinking chocolate; other exotic 'luxury' goods such as tea, coffee and tobacco were all promoted for their supposed health-giving effects, and as medicinal products may be considered within the same broad category of proprietary medicines. Users for many of these medicines also came from respectable classes - as the prices often appear to indicate. Rogers' Oils, the proprietary gout medicine promoted by Dr William Stukeley in the 1730s, were used by a number of men of wealth and rank, including Pitt and Walpole, as Porter and Rousseau (1998) have noted.

Perhaps ironically, it also appears that there was a causal link between growing wealth and the demand for medicines in a culture which, as historians have shown, was by the early eighteenth century increasingly suffering from hypochondriacal nervous disorders, potentially linked to the increasing consumption of 'exotic' goods such as sugar, coffee, tea, tobacco and opium, as well as to other lifestyle changes associated with economic growth. Dr Stukeley was not alone in observing in 1722 that 'Our leaving the country for cities and great towns, coffeehouses and domestic track of business, our sedate life and excesses together, have prepar'd a plentiful harvest for these disorders.' [Stukeley (1722), 73.] Proprietary medicines thus appear to have been locked into a loop of influences founded on commercialisation, luxury and health/ill-health, and the final part of this project will examine this socio-cultural link and the interrelationship between early modern society and the need for and use of proprietary medicines, thus placing them firmly within the contexts of the period.

Each of the three sections of the project are thus closely interlinked, and together will provide a fuller understanding of the developing medical marketplace in England in this period.                                                         

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