Arthur Pointing (1868 – 1910) and Antidipso
Regular readers of this blog will know I like a drink or three but, despite the dire warnings proffered by our nanny state, I do not consider I have a drink problem. But it is undeniable that the demon drink has ruined many a life, not only of the toper but of their family and loved ones. What would people give for a miracle cure that would transform even the most degenerate drunkard into a tea-totalling paragon of virtue?
At the start of the twentieth century our latest quack, Arthur Pointing, claimed to have just such a miracle cure, Antidipso, made from some previously unexploited herb from South America. His advertising, and the remedy was heavily promoted, was heavily focused on the fairer sex, the implicit assumption being that the drunkard was always likely to be a man. “Drunkenness cured”, the adverts screamed, “it is now within the reach of every woman to save the drunkard”.
If you were worried about how to administer it, Arthur had figured that out. Poisoning seemed to be the most popular way for a woman to murder her victim in the 19th century. Slipping a phial of poison into a drink or dinner was the work of seconds and didn’t require any brawn. This was clearly the way that a woman could trick her hubby into taking the miracle cure. As the adverts stated, “Can be given in tea, coffee or food, thus absolutely and secretly curing the patient in a short time without his knowledge”. Better than keeling over in the throes of arsenic poisoning, I suppose.
To get your hands on this wonder cure, all you had to do was to apply to Ward Chemical Co of Regent Street who on return would send a free package of the remedy, securely sealed in a plain wrapper together with full directions on how to use it and testimonials galore. Packets retailed for 10 shillings, worth it, perhaps, to get your hands on something which, according to the advertising copy, “has shed a radiance into thousands of hitherto desolate firesides” and which “does its work silently and surely that while the devoted wife, sister or daughter looks on, the drunkard is reclaimed even against his will and without his knowledge or co-operation”.
So what was in it and did it work? By January 1904 the Lancet, the medical journal, had Antidipso in its sights and published its analysis of its ingredients. They found that 78.22% was constituted of milk sugar and the balance, potassium bromide. There wasn’t a hint of an exotic South American herb to be seen. And although bromide could make you feel sick and, possibly, put you off the hooch, if only temporarily, the journal concluded that the quantities in a daily dose of Antidipso were so small as to be barely noticeable. What’s more, the cost of the ingredients amounted to around one and half pennies. The retail price of 10 shillings, even allowing for advertising expenses, showed a phenomenal mark up. No wonder within ten years of its launch Pointing was worth almost £38,000.
Pointing tried to fight back, visiting the journal’s offices and showed sheaths of glowing testimonials as to the efficacy of his cure. But to no avail. The Lancet savaged Pointing for perpetrating a “cruel and wicked fraud” on those who were trapped in a difficult situation by, in effect, selling them false hopes. But that, my friends, is what quackery is.
In 1906 Pointing had a mental breakdown and was a resident of Peckham House Asylum until his death four years later. He left part of his ill-gotten fortune to his employees and charities. Perhaps he had found his conscience.