A wry view of life for the world-weary

Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Thirty Five


Claude O Rosell

As I said on Saturday, although I am getting progressively greyer, thanks IRF4, I so far have been able to escape the onset of baldness. But for many men it is a fact of life. The modern trend seems to be to accept the inevitable and shave the head bald but in earlier times men were desperate, Wayne Rooney style, to seed the fallow areas of their head. Naturally, this presented an opportunity that the serious practitioner of quackery could not resist.

One such was Claude O Rosell from New York who in 1898 invented a vacuum cap which he christened the Capillary Chalice. The inspiration for this device, if that is what it was, was the ancient Chinese medical practice of cupping which involved boiling small bamboo cups and placing them over the infected area to kick-start the healing process. The chalice, which was little more than a tightly fitting rubber cap, was placed over the user’s head. According to Rosell, the cap would stimulate the circulation of blood to the scalp and loosen it from the skull, giving the follicles more room to grow. When the scalp had been loosened it was no longer able to impede the circulation of blood around the roots of the hair and so, voila, a proliferation of cells and the formation of new blood vessels.

Of course, one of the keys to success was ensuring an air-tight fit and so it had to be coated with something like beeswax or petroleum jelly or a cold cream. Rosell also recommended that the scalp be treated with diluted formaldehyde which would act as an antiseptic. The largest cap Rosell produced measured just six inches in diameter and with an eye to the female market, he suggested that it could be used as an aid to breast enhancement.

Surprisingly, Rosell’s cap must have made some waves because a year later it had spawned a competitor, a cap developed by Frederick Watkins Evans, which featured a couple of enhancements. Firstly, it fitted over the whole head rather than being just like a skull cap and it came with a handy tube which could either be attached to a vacuum pump to ensure a tighter seal or, if one was not available, the user could put in his mouth, blow and seal the vacuum himself.

One problem with these caps was that the sucking action applied to the scalp meant that the neck came under strain. In 1904 the wonderfully named Napoleon W Dible claimed to have solved this problem by adding an internal support which pressed down on the scalp, keeping the user down.

Whether the technique was really successful is hard to say. But there must have been buyers as adverts for the caps were placed in magazines and newspapers well into the 20th century. Some offered a 60 day money back trial and claimed, as well as stimulating hair growth, use of the cap would prevent dandruff and stop what was left of your hair falling out. More alarmingly, the Evans Vacuum Cap which sold well via mail order, claimed that if you had a red mark on your scalp after ten minutes’ use it was a sure sign that it was working. Providing a money back guarantee, the Evans company claimed that only 5% of users took up the offer.  Perhaps their users thought it just wasn’t worth the hassle. Who knows?


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