Book Review: Pills & Potions

Quackery Prevention
Pills & Potions at the Cotter Medical History Trust
By Claire Le Couteur
Otago University Press, 2014

This recent addition to the Central Auckland Research Centre's collection shares some of the bizarre and miraculous-sounding medicines sold in New Zealand before the 1942 Medical Advertisements Act restricted excessive advertising and false testimonials.
Medicine time in the Kindergarten, 1938
 Sir George Grey Special Collections, AWNS-19381116-53-3. 

Rather than gain a patent, manufacturers of the time trademarked their products in order to conceal their ingredients and method of production from competitors. When the 1904 government tried to curb their extravagant claims they were defeated by both the manufacturers and newspaper owners – who would have lost advertising revenue as a result.

Advertisement for Dr Ensor's Tamer Juice
New Zealand Herald, 6 July 1911

Auckland Star, 1 April 1938

Wanganui Chronicle, 16 January 1907

Although the 1908 Quackery Prevention Act tried to restrict advertising, it too failed. It wasn’t until the 1942 Act that excessive claims had to be proved before being advertised, and fictitious endorsements ceased. Consequently, many remedies were taken off the market.

Fortunately, The Cotter Trust in Christchurch has a collection of these remedies whose history has been beautifully documented in this book.


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