12.30 - 13.30 Board Room. Welcome and lunch
13.30 - 14.00 James Shaw, University of Sheffield, ‘Retailing Drugs in Renaissance Florence: the Giglio and its clients, 1493-94’
14.00 - 14.30 Tony Corley, University of Reading, ‘The impact of nostrums on UK healthcare: the patent medicine industry, 1624-1914’
14.30- 15.00 Coffee
15.00 - 15.30 Jane Adams, Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick, ‘Health crusaders and commerce- the case of hydropathy’
15.30 - 16.00 Virginia Smith, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, ‘Towards an economic history of grooming’
The workshop will be held at:
the University of Wolverhampton, UK
Board Room, MA Building, City Campus
The workshop is supported by a grant from the Wellcome Trust
For maps, please click here Please make your way to the Main Reception, MA Building, where you will be directed to the Board Room.
Fee: £ 14. Bursaries covering the fee and travel expenses are available for students and scholars unable to obtain funds from their institution. To apply, please fill in the relevant section of the registration form.
To register for the workshop, please complete the registration form available here
For further information, please contact Dr Laura Ugolini, HAGRI / HLSS, Room MC233, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, WV1 1SB, UK.
Print culture was fundamental to the success of hydropathy in mid-nineteenth century Britain providing opportunities to marry a health reform agenda with commercial enterprise. Focusing on the period between 1860 and 1880, this paper explores the relationship between these two activities through examples of publications that combined advice on reformed habits with active marketing of the consumer goods necessary to support these.
While thousands of patients went to specialist hydropathic establishments that developed from the 1840s to experience the intensive regimes on offer, many more used the system at home, encouraged by health reformers such as John Smedley. His Practical Hydropathy, which sold 95,000 copies between 1858 and 1877, promoted his Matlock Bank Hydro but also encouraged the use of hydropathy for domestic healing. The manual provided detailed instruction on home treatment and advertised the necessary equipment for safe and effective practice, tapping a market of active consumers keen to try the system for themselves. In addition to bathing equipment Smedley advertised clothing from his woollen mill and food.
Other influential health crusaders, Thomas Low and Mary Gove Nichols promoted hydropathy as part of a wider agenda of health and social reform that included vegetarianism and dress reform. The Herald of Health published in the 1870s, reflected these diverse interests, encouraging readers to change their habits and offering them the wherewithal to do this through extensive advertising of the foodstuffs, appliances and clothing necessary for their new lifestyles.
The economic and welfare significance of the (almost) three centuries of the patent medicine era in Britain, until the Select Committee report on the industry in 1914, has hitherto never been fully investigated. In 1624, the government had granted venturers the right to patent their ‘discoveries’ for a period, leading a succession of nostrum-mongers to take over the healing roles of ‘wise women’ in rural areas, until then cherished for treating the sick face-to-face with herbal remedies.
Nostrum-mongers, by contrast, regarded the body – in Roy Porter’s words – as a ‘secular [soulless] property and health as a purchasable commodity’. Creating no personal links with consumers, they tempted them from afar with exaggerated and often untruthful assertions, kept their formulae secret, and charged high prices – relatively to production costs – because people equated price with efficacy. Unlike manufacturing chemists, for example, they had no incentive to innovate, offering poorly mixed products, their pills being of variable size. The only known patent medicine maker to mechanise and introduce quality control was Thomas Beecham, who, when his predecessor Thomas Holloway died, became Britain’s leading commercial pill-maker.Most of the Select Committee’s recommendations were delayed by intensive lobbying on the part of the industry, and by press magnates who grew rich on its advertisements, until 1941. Although, therefore, most consumers’ expectations of improved health must have been unfulfilled, patent medicines remained immensely popular, as data of annual returns of the medicines tax reveal from 1800 onwards.
This paper is part of a project that examines the relation between theory and practice in Renaissance medicine. The main source is a book of accounts from an apothecary shop called the Giglio in central Florence, which dates from the 1490s. These are very interesting sources for the retail market for drugs, showing for example how much they cost, how frequently they sold, how they were made and how important they were for the business overall.
Although in this period there was a drive towards greater standardization of drug manufacture, represented most famously by the city’s official pharmacopeia (1499), the accounts reveal how in practice this was balanced with a personalized approach that responded to the particular condition of the individual patient. Although it might be assumed that bespoke preparations were confined to wealthy consumers, analysis shows that the price of drugs was primarily determined by the raw materials employed, rather than the complexity of processing. This enables a more nuanced understanding of the differences between elite and popular consumption. Rather than being restricted to an elite, many medicines were actually quite cheap and accessible by the middling ranks of the urban population, a demand that was further boosted by the strong provision of consumer credit in this sector.
In twenty-five years of working on the literary (textural) history of health and well-being, ‘commerce’ has always been the great unknown. As it happens, I have just done some ‘web content’ on virtually all the topics outlined for this conference (drugs, quacks, chemists, barbers, beauty, fitness industry, hygiene products, alternative remedies, old age) for a London Science Museum history of medicine web encyclopedia opening in March 2009. We know a lot more about the basic history of the body than we did twenty five years ago.
But the history of medicine has been slow to embrace economic history; and it is almost non-existent in sociologically-based cultural history. Meanwhile the history of materialism (fashion, homes, shops) is advancing fast. The (new) field of health history needs an intensive economic history research programme, including:
Further structural (ie. demographic, anthropological) research into habits and habitats (including medicine and leisure industries).
Much more micro-economic research into local body-trades and products, and domestic consumption.
Urgent macro-economic research into regional and global markets.In my own work I have been particularly interested in (3) – global and regional markets. I will discuss how grooming products became a major international luxury trade from the Bronze Age onwards; its various peaks; war; colonialism; and current global statistics. But the early grooming trades were rivalled by the later drugs trade; and increasingly, by the developing international trade in hygienic products and services… I think that (3) could be very fruitful. Almost nothing is known at this level. It would involve a lot of work on (for example) tax revenues, smuggling, ship’s cargoes, ports and international consortiums. But it would give us the bigger picture.
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Page author: Laura Ugolini
Last updated: March 2009