Samuel Solomon- King of quacks in the early phase of his fraudulent activities c 1796
The Regency Newspapers were crammed with quack medicines; Spilsbury’s Antiscorbic drops; Dr Freeman’s Gutta Salutas; Mrs Vincent Garland’s Lotion. What they all had in common was the wide ranges of diseases that they claimed to cure, and their reliance on alcohol and opiates to make their victims feel better while they either recovered naturally or died.
The King of quack medicines was the Cordial Balm of Gilead, manufactured and sold by “Dr” Samuel Solomon of Liverpool. Born in Dublin and then living in Newcastle, he had previously failed as a boot seller and by about 1796 had moved to Liverpool and started to produce his cure-all mixture of brandy, turpentine and herbs. He had bought his qualifications from a medical college in Aberdeen.
The first trace of him is an advertisement in the Newcastle Courant on 25 March 1797. He had published the 4th edition of his “Guide to Health” . This was a common medical genre in the late eighteenth century- a book of advice mostly for young adults and their parents and guardians, covering areas such as prevention and cure of hypochondria, Venereal Disease, gleets (discharges from infected organs or wounds ), seminal weakness ( wet dreams) and the consequences of masturbation. He does not mention his Cordial Balm of Gilead by name, but the odds are that he would have already been producing it, as it would be the cure for all the afflictions mentioned in the advertisement.
By May of the same year, Solomon’s advertisements explode into every newspaper in Britain. He is living in Marylebone, Liverpool and provided his Balm of Gilead to all, out of sincere wish to be a friend of humanity. In late 1797-the marketing was very fast- the B of G was getting the most coverage in the newspapers. A Mr Thomas Glaister of Carlisle had sailed all the way the Liverpool to thank the good doctor for curing his “internal weakness, loss of memory and pains in the Head”
His marketing was magnificent. He used sealed, embossed bottles and offered rewards for any forgeries. He constantly used testimonials to prove that illnesses such as consumption, paleness and nervous disorder had been cured.
Solomon turns to onanism ( in a manner of speaking) in the 1800’s and moved to Brownlow Hill ( near to were my relative Robert Dilworth was selling books; booksellers sold his pamphlets but can find no evidence of my relative doing so; I hope they hated each other). His advertisements claimed that the consequences of the “solitary vice” could be cured by the B of G. He was now charging a guinea per personal consultation and half a guinea by post- and you had to pay both sets of postage. His address was -“Money Letter, Dr Solomon, and Brownlow Street”. He had branched out it Abstergent Lotion, for spots and Anti-Impetigines for scurvy, scrofula and leprosy-not the type of things we go to the chemists for today.
The Balm of Gilead was also curing influenza and stomach complaints by 1803; the first effects were “ serenity and cheerfulness” ; this was not a surprise, as many quack medicines seem to contain opiates, but Dr Solomon seems to have been relying on brandy and lemon peel. By 1815 the Balm of Gilead came with instructions in many Western European languages and was being sold all around the Empire. It was a huge success.
Quack medicine had its critics. The anonymous 1805 pamphlet “ An Essay on Quackery” singled out Solomon for particular abuse- not by name. It was the so-called “wise man of Liverpool”, who thought he had “the wisdom of Solomon, who went round the country like the wandering Israelite” ( Solomon was Jew) selling his quack medicines. Anonymous reports that Solomon boasted that he started in a Liverpool attic garret and from there became rich on The Balm of Gilead, which was a rediscovered recipe from 1730BC and was made with dissolved gold. The only gold it actually dissolved belonged to his poor victims, who were convinced that it was the cure for everything.
Anonymous listed the claims of the Balm. He was, to say the least, unconvinced that it could help;
Barren Women, Bubo ,Chlorosis(anaemia) or Green Sickness Child bearing Conception Deficiency of Natural Strength, Female Complaint, Girls Gouty, Spasms in the Stomach, Great Schools( euphemism for masturbation) Hypochondria complaints’ Internal Sinking, Maids of a weakly Constitution, Menses, Loss or Defect of Memory, Baneful Effects of obscene Conversation, Rheumatism, Scurvy Scrofula, Turn of Life, Venereal Diseases, Weakness, Women Youth
Anonymous also accuses Solomon of making up the testimonials and copying the Guide to Health from a Dutch doctor called Falck. The only thing that the author could say in favour of the Balm was that it did not kill anybody- unlike Ching’s Worm Lozenges, which killed stomach infections with a poisonous amount of mercury. More about Ching’s lozenges here.
Solomon died on May 21st 1819 at his lodgings at North Parade Bath, presumably recuperating from something not on the miracle cure list of the Balm of Gilead. He extolled the value of Bath water in his Guide to Health, so at least he cannot be accused of not taking his own advice.
The Stamford Mercury was not impressed but also not accurate.
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