Friday, April 25, 2014

How Clean Were the Hands of Doctor Hand?

David Bishop Hand, shown here, was a medical doctor who extolled the safety of his patent medicines aimed at the ailments of children.  As shown on a catalogue below, they included a teething lotion, worm elixir, general tonic,  a colic cure,cough & croup medicine, and a diarrhea mixture.  All were advertised vigorously with the images of winsome -- but somewhat androgynous -- children.  But how safe were they really?  The record seems to indicate something different.

Dr. Hand was born was born in Pennsylvania in 1848 and raised on a farm but soon that medicine was his calling.  A precocious lad, he graduated from the University of the City of New York at the age of 20 and in the spring of 1880 located in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he set up practice, specializing in the diseases of children.  A biographer said of him:  “He has always been a lover of children and perhaps no physician has labored more earnestly or effectively on their behalf.  Early in his career as a physician he was very successful in treating children and for years he closely observed the effects of certain remedies, finally finding just the proper proportions to make them of greatest practical value.”

The good doctor then resigned from the medical societies of which he was a member and in 1885 placed his remedies on the market under the name, “Dr. Hand’s Remedies for Children.”  The following year he trademarked them all and advertised widely. The quick success of these nostrums led the pharmaceutical firm of Smith and Kline, later known as Smith, Kline & French, to offer him a contract.  In exchange for paying him royalties the company was given the right to market Hands’ products.

Under this merchandising agreement,  the children’s remedies from the Scranton doctor enjoyed increasing sales and were said to be a household standby with mothers from Maine to California.  Taking advantage of his unusual name,  Dr. Hand frequently advertised on his bottles and elsewhere with a hand whose fingers bore the names of each remedy.  The emphasis in his advertising was always on safety.   On his 73rd birthday in 1921 the doctor opined for a pharma journal that much of his success was due to the retail druggist who knew that Hand’s Remedies were safe.  “The druggist realizes he must be sure of the remedies he sell and he knows he can trust the Hand line.”

But just how clean were the hands of Dr. Hand?  The record seems to indicate that something different was going on.  For example his products specialized in colorful trade cards with winsome children on the front.  The backs frequently carried a lengthy message entitled “Whiskey and Babies.”  It noted that fully one hundred barrels of whiskey were being fed every day to babies under one year of age in the United States.  “Thousands of children do not draw a sober breath until they can walk and amuse themselves,” it warned.  A harmless remedy, on the other hand,  was Dr. Hand’s Teething Lotion:   “The baby is teething;  its gums are feverish; its pitiful moans almost break your heart.  An application of dr. Hand’s Teething Lotion to the gums gives it instant relief.”  It also was advertised as a remedy for toothache, neuralgia (nerve pain) and earache.

The clear implication here was that rather than rub whiskey on the gums of a teething child parents should employ Dr. Hands’ remedy.  In 1906 with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act that required the listing of ingredients, including alcoholic content, it was revealed for the first time that Dr. Hand’s Teething Lotion was 12% alcohol (24 proof).  While not as strong as whiskey, the concoction was stronger than most wines.  Ingest enough of it and all pains would cease, even an earache.

A yet more telling example was Dr. Hand’s Worm Elixir.  This was an era when infestation of the gastric system by roundworms was fairly common, particularly for those living in straitened circumstances.   Other worm afflictions were threadworms and tapeworms.    Presumably Dr. Hand’s product cured them all.   It contained an active ingredient called “santonin," derived from the artemisia plant; a variety is shown below.  Santonin, however, was very complicated to use and entailed serious risk to patients.  King’s American Dispensary noted of this drug that, “...In improper doses, is capable of producing serious symptoms and even death.   As small a dose as two grains is said to have killed a weakly child of 5 years, and 5 grains produced death in about 1.2 hour in a child of the same age.”  King’s Dispensary went to say: Among the toxic effects may be mentioned gastric pain, pallor and coldness of the surface, followed by heat and injection of the head, tremors, dizziness, pupillary dilatation, twitching of the eyes, stertor, copious sweating, hematuria, convulsive movements, tetanic cramps, stupor, and insensibility.

It took a long time for the government officials to catch up with Dr. Hand’s Worm Elixir.  In July 1942 the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan filed a condemnation request against 23 and a half dozen bottles of the so-called elixir that had been set from Philadelphia by Smith Kline & French from Detroit.  The official claimed that the potion had been misbranded in that it was dangerous to health when used with the dosage, frequency and duration prescribed on the bottle.  The reason:   “...The amount of santonin provided by the article was sufficient to produce serious poisoning.”   In August a judgment of condemnation was entered and the product was destroyed.   Who knows how many infants were sickened or may have died over the more than a half century that this product had been sold?

By this time, Dr. Hand was beyond the reach of those hurt by his Worm Elixir.  He had died in 1923, a very rich man from the success of his nostrums for children.  With his profits he had purchased a farm in Pennsylvania which he stocked with registered Holstein cows.   When a prime Holstein bull named King Pontiac came up for sale the physician bought it for the unheard of sum of $3,000, the equivalent of $75,000 today.   He maintained his farm as a model showplace and also was known for his large investments in Pennsylvania industries including railroads, coal mines, lumber and slate.  Kiddie medicines had been very good to Dr. Hand, while questionable for his patients.

The question remains:  Did Dr. Hand know that his remedies contained potentially dangerous ingredients?   Was it ignorance or were those hands not so clean?  There are no clear cut answers but suspicions linger....

Friday, April 11, 2014

Steven Moseley’s Religion in a Bottle

Looking at Steve Moseley’s folk creations -- dioramas in a bottle -- one might suspect him of mocking religion.   My own perception is of a man with a deep spiritual sensibility, a knowledge of Scripture, and a skeptical eye toward the way some live out their avowed Christianity.  A post about Moseley and his work seems appropriate as Holy Week and the Easter Season, 2014, are upon us.

Moseley is a folk artist born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1964.  He was graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in chemistry.  There he met his wife, a Ph.D. biochemist.  After a move to Cincinnati, Ohio, a daughter was born.  Steve became a stay-at-home Dad.  Along the line,  he decided he needed a hobby.  An airplane model builder as a youngster, he decided on making ships in a bottle.  He check out several books from the library and taught himself the craft.   Show here is one of his boat creations.  It is the yacht “Yarmouth” and dated 1918.

Demonstrating the care and dexterity with which he created his bottled ships, here is just a part of Moseley’s description of the Yarmouth bottle: The hull of the ship is red on the bottom with the top part of the hull painted black with three thin white stripes. The ship has raised bulwarks painted white on the inside. The main deck is natural wood and is full of features dominated by a large multiple deck extending from mid-ship to stern. These decks are painted white with black portholes painted on. There are eight brown hatches toward the front of the upper deck and two small black stacks with a single red stripe near the top with black rigging lines to secure the stacks. There is a large and very detailed lifeboat mounted on the end of the lower deck. There is a large single black with red stripe smoke stack in the middle of the deck with two large vent pipes on each side. In front of these decks and mid-ship is a two story pilot's steering cabin.

After the Moseleys moved to St. Louis,  a friends suggested that Steve try “whimsey bottles,”  containing scenes from his imagination.  He took strongly to this expression of folk art and has gained widespread recognition through juried competitions, museum exhibitions and a website.  After stumbling on the site recently, I was particularly fascinated by Moseley’s religious themes.  He has done bottles on the “Garden of Eden.”  One shown here features Adam and Eve in front of a modern oven.  I will let Moseley explain what is happening:

Eve has just baked an apple pie and is showing it to Adam, who has his plate and fork ready. In Adam's other hand is the proverbial Apple with a bite taken. For modesty and historical accuracy's sake both Adam and Eve are wearing Fig leafs, although Adam's is somewhat larger. The blue eyed coral snake is hanging from the Apple tree with a cook book in his mouth. There are numerous apples on the ground and two still hanging from the apple tree stopper. On top of the stove there are two pots with apples in them as well. On the side of the stove is a calendar. The year on the calendar is 4004 B.C. and the month is October. There are no days until the 23rd and the days from the 23rd to the 30th are X'ed out in red ink. All around the scene there are alternating red Tulips and yellow Daisies.

Moseley seems particularly taken with the figure of Jesus of Nazareth.   A bottle shown here celebrates his birth.  But as the artist himself points out below, it is not the Christ Child in the manger, as I had first thought, but Santa Claus.  Under the title “The Very First X-mas” it depicts the Magi, in traditional costumes, presenting wrapped Christmas gifts to Mary and Joseph, both in modern dress.  Another depiction of Jesus is not so easily fathomed, however, and  again I will give the artist himself the explanation: Jesus is outside his liquor store called Holy Spirits and Wine. He is busy filling seven green wine bottles with a garden hose, turning water into wine, keeping his costs down. The sign above him states that the store is closed on Sunday and that a sale occurring. There is an OPEN sign in the window and below three yellow Daisies are in the flower bed next to the hose spigot. He is giving a peace sign with his left hand while standing on a Coral snake. He is dressed in a white cloak with a brown belt rope, sandals and a golden halo. The stopper is hand and book inspired. It is made of Bass wood and has a locking mechanism. On the pages of the book is a bible verse; 1 Timothy 5:23. "Drink no longer water. but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities."

While upon a quick glance one might see this bottle making fun of the miracle at Cana where Scripture says Jesus changed water into wine for a wedding feast,  I see Moseley striking at those “prohibitionary” Christians who try to ban all alcoholic beverages as sinful.  The diorama emphasizes that that wine was very much a part of the life of Jesus. Note too that Jesus has his foot squarely on the snake that tempted Adam and Eve.  To me Moseley is saying that while an apple may have led to sin, alcohol does not. Finally, the quotation from “Timothy” has St. Paul counseling early Christians to make spirituous drink a part of their daily fare.  That too is a stick in the eye of the Temperance crowd.

At this point I should note that each of the folk pieces above are crafted within whiskey bottles.  Moseley is careful to note the provenance of each.  The Yarmouth piece is from a Captain Morgan Rum bottle.   More popular with Steve as a container, and possibly as a beverage as well, is Knob Creek Bourbon.   Empty Knob Creeks surround the other three whimseys shown above.

One of the most complicated pieces of Moseley’s creation is his rendering of The Last Supper, which in his hands becomes “The Last McSupper.”  Note the McDonald’s containers on the table.  The assembly is drinking from plastic cups and eating hamburgers and fries.   Again, I do not find this offensive.  The Last Supper image has appeared on velvet,  tee shirts,  coffee cups and dozens of other secular items.  Moseley is asking us to think about a clear juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane. 

He is also sending a message by the Crucifixion scene:  Would white Christians believe in a black Savior?   Moseley describes it this way:  This Crucifixion bottle is a so called variation on a theme. Here, Christ is black unlike the run of the mill Christ's which are white. My neighbor described him as "African American". I don't know how he determined the nation of origin by looking at him, but he is more perceptive than I am. There is a INRI sign above Christ's head which stands for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. There is a woman follower praying at the base of the cross. The stopper is made of Curly Cherry and has a Walnut cross at the top. Inlaid with Basswood is the title of the whimsey: Would You Still Believe?

The last two bottles shown here also carry out a Jesus theme.  For the first, the challenge is for Evangelical Christians to contemplate which candidate for President the Lord would be supporting in the 2012 election,  Romney or Obama.   Moseley clearly thinks Jesus was on the side of the President.   In the second he also fantasizes about what Jesus would do about pederast priests.   We see a man in a Roman collar offering a lollipop to a young boy.  Neither see that the Lord has a rifle leveled at the priest.  The closure has an abbreviation that means, What Would Jesus Do?”   Point made.

For my money,  Steve Moseley is making the best use of “dead soldier” whiskey bottles that can be found anywhere.  With his craftsmanship,  his imagination and, perhaps most of all, his sense of irony he is creating objects of considerable interest.  My hunch is that decades hence his works will be shown as an exemplar of American folk art in our time.