Cordial Balm of Gilead
Our next quack is one Samuel Solomon who was born around the 1760s in Dublin and moved to the north of England some time before 1800 where eventually he set up a patent medicine business in Liverpool. He styled himself as a doctor but it is almost certain that what medical qualifications he may have possessed were bought rather than earned.
His most famous and successful remedy was this rather grandiloquently named tincture which takes as its reference the balm of Gilead in the book of Jeremiah, “is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there?” – nothing like a bit of biblical provenance to add to the authenticity of your products. From the 17th century balm of gilea became synonymous with a universal cure-all in figurative speech.
As we have seen with many of our quacks Solomon was not shy in proclaiming the significant benefits to be had by taking the balm. It was said to have been distilled from liquid gold or to have been composed of the pure essence of virgin gold. In reality, it was little more than a mix of brandy and turpentine flavoured with various herbs. Mercifully, perhaps, there is no suggestion that it contained any of the opiates that were commonly found in contemporary potions.
Solomon’s adverts focused on people’s general anxieties and sense of hypochondria, easy meat in an age when medical knowledge was sketchy and access to what medical assistance was available was expensive. To ensure that we recognised the true value of the balm, the adverts went overboard, “it offers the most invigorating powers. It warms and enlivens the heart, raises the spirits and promotes digestion, eases or cures nervous, hypochondriac, nervous and female complaints and lifts lassitude, debility and weakness arising from juvenile imprudences. So noble, safe and efficacious a remedy has never before been offered to mankind”. If you were worried about the taste, fear not, “Besides the nutritious quality of a restorative, it has a fragrant, subtle, oleos principle, which immediately affects the nerves and gives a kind of friendly motion to the fluids, yielding plenty of animal heat, the true source of firmness and vigour”.
Inevitably, access to this panacea came at a price – a small bottle retailing at 10 shillings and sixpence and a large bottle at 33 shillings, astronomic sums at the time. Solomon even charged for the benefit of his expertise, as one advert makes clear, “Dr Solomon, when consulted, expects the usual fee of £1 to whom such letters, for safety, be addressed – Money Letter, Dr Solomon, Gilead-House, near Liverpool, paid double postage”. Yes, he named his grandiose house built with the profits of his tincture after his product. He was famous for carrying an ostentatious cane with a large gold handle and for being somewhat careful with his pennies. When guests arrived arrived at the house for dinner they were provided with a bottle to taste. When it was time to leave they were each presented with a bill for the balm!
Such behaviour seldom wins friends, though. A group of men whose wives were addicted to the balm, probably the alcoholic contents thereof, lured Solomon into a trap, forced him to drink a bottle of his own balm and then set about him. So shaken was Solomon that he left Liverpool, only returning again shortly before his death.
Solomon died in 1818 and with him went most of his business. Widespread advertising of the balm pretty much stopped in the early 1820s and although it appeared in the list for Stamp Duty in 1830 the Balm of Gilead passed slowly into the obscurity it deserved.