William H. Helfand

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This book, designed to accompany an exhibition "on the frequently Excessive & flamboyant Seller of Nostrums as shown in prints, posters, caricatures, books, pamphlets, advertisements & other Graphic arts over the last five centuries," displays and comments on 183 illustrations associated with the art of quackery. As the title suggests, Helfand surveys the graphic material of quackery of England, France, and America during the modern period, although most of the material dates from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In his introduction, Helfand discusses the uncertain boundaries between "regular" (now termed allopathic) physicians and their "irregular" or "empiric" counterparts--quacks.

Through the mid-nineteenth century, many practitioners of both sorts relied on pharmaceutical agents like mercury, antimony, and opium; developed trade symbols and packaging; and flaunted the honorific "Dr." and their affiliation with science. Many patients visited both regulars and irregulars, who might consult with each other. Some physicians even prescribed quacks' proprietary preparations. Helfand also notes differences, such as irregulars' lack of medical training, exaggerated advertising, refusal to disclose the contents of their products, and use of entertainment and sometimes even religion in their "medicine shows."

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