Thursday, September 15, 2011

A "Sure Cure" For Epilepsy - Part II - The "Sucker List"

In the first (here) of this three-part "series" on the quack "Converse Treatment" for epilepsy, I presented a 1929 letter from my collection in which the proprietor of Converse extolled the virtues of the treatment to a potential victim, er....customer. I also included a report from a 1911 newspaper article showing how that letter fit into the company's longtime marketing scheme.

In tomorrow's final post, I'll include photos of a Converse bottle in my collection as well as information on what was actually in the medicine, drawn from the pages of the classic book, Nostrums and Quackery.

This second post of the series includes the images and text of another letter from the company, this one written by the namesake of the firm herself: Mrs. C. E. Converse.

The letter, written in 1902, is from the collection of Dan Cowman, M.D., who - knowing my interest in this subject - kindly provided me a copy of the letter to post in this series.

Dan, who I first met at the Houston Bottle Show in late July 2011, is one of the premiere antique American medicine collectors around...more important he has quickly proven to be a good friend and generous with advice and information. We have collaborated on this blog previously - sharing images and objects from our collections - and you can look forward to more of the same!

The letter is interesting in itself, but here are a few additional notes:

1) Note that the earlier name of the firm is the "Converae Treatment Institute" and that it is in Mt. vernon, OH, rather than Columbus, OH. The "Institute" implies that they also have a bricks-and-mortar "hospital" where they saw patients, which is illustrated on the letterhead.

2) Note the list of names on the last page and the assurance that the pateient could write and leading businessman, clergy, or politician in the you will see below, this was yet another part of the Converse marketing scheme!

Now, for the letter:

September 24, 1902

Mt. Vernon, OH

Ottamar R. Eckert,

My dear friend,

Yours received and I am very much interested in what it contains and will write you a personal letter. I am glad to send you any information in regards to the Converse Treatment that you may desire. For the Home Treatment six bottles of the medicine are sent for $5.00. The Tonicene tablets, which are the best things ever discovered for the nervousness that always attends Epilepsy, are 50 (cents) a box. This is about ten weeks treatment and includes, free, full directions, consultation, and advice. Enclosed find a list of questions, the answers to be carefully filled out and returned by those wishing to take the Treatment. It has been the experience of nearly all that the ordinary physician knows little or nothing about curing this disease and that the many advertised remedies are merely preventatives which only give relief for a short time to be followed by a worse consition than ever. The remedy is not and never has been advertised in newspapers, its reputation coming entirely from the many cures it has effected.

I have carefully noted all you say of the symptoms and condition and from the extended knowledge and experience we have had with this disease and the great success of our Treatment I can give you the utmost assurance that a cure can be effected. There should beno delay, however, as every attack strenghthens the disease andmakes recovery more difficult and while I feel confident of being able to effect a cure now, should you delay, there may come a time when no human skill can help.

Sincerely Yours,

Converse Treatment Inst.

Mrs. C. E. Converse

P. S.

If there is the least doubt in your mind what is being accomplished by this great discovery write a letter and ask about it to: [list of names]

And, from the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association (December 2, 1922) comes a report on how the Converse Treatment Company got its list of "suckers" as they call it:


How the Converse Treatment Company Gets in Touch with Its Victims

The fact that some physicians, in addition to practicing medicine, also hold some civic office, is probably responsible for bringing to the attention of The Journal one of the crude tricks of a "patent medicine" concern. The Converse Treatment Company, Columbus, Ohio, sell, on the mailorder plan, an alleged cure for epilepsy. The "company," according to the letterhead, has the following men connected with it:

Herbert E. Sanderson, Frank J. Dawson, Nathan Dawson, Edgar J. Martin, M.D.

Sanderson is, apparently, the head of the outfit and, it is said, has been in the "patent medicine" business for forty years. Nathan Dawson appears to be a lawyer, while FrankJ. Dawson, it is said, is, or was, in the fire insurance business. Edgar J. Martin, M.D., is described on the Converse letterhead as "Medical Referee." According to our records, Martin was born in 1868; was graduated by the Medical College of Ohio, Cincinnati, in 1889 and specializes in gynecology. Martin is a member of the Columbus Academy of Medicine,1 and, by virtue of that membership, has qualified as a Fellow of the American Medical Association.

The Converse Treatment has already been dealt with in The Journal. The product was analyzed in 1915 by the A. M. A. Chemical Laboratory. The matter has been reprinted in easily available form in the pamphlet, "Epilepsy Cures and Treatments" (I5 cents), issued by the Propaganda Department. It is not necessary at this time to go into this phase of the subject in greater detail than to quote the conclusions of the A. M. A. Chemical Laboratory in its report on the product.

(Note: there will be more on this in tomorrow's blog post)

These conclusions were:

"Essentially each 100 c.c. of the ["Converse Treatment"] solution contains about 7.3 gm. ammonium bromid, 5 gm. calcium bromid and 8.7 gm. potassium bromid. Calculating from the bromid determination, each dose, 1 teaspoonful
(1 fluidram), contains the equivalent of 14.5 grains of potassium bromid, or each daily dose (4 teaspoonfuls) corresponds to 58.0 gr. potassium bromid."

[After this matter was in type, it was brought to the attention of the Ohio State Medical Association, which, in turn, took up the matter with the Columbus Academy of Medicine. A communication from the executive secretary of the Ohio State Medical Association, just received, states that, at a meeting of the Council of the Columbus Academy of Medicine on November 23, the resignation from membership of Dr. Edgar J. Martin was submitted and accepted. On November 25 a letter was received from Dr. Martin addressed to the American Medical Association and stating that he could not "consent to any interference" with his "private practice" and tendering his resignation.]

The phase of the business to be dealt with in this article is the method employed by the Converse Treatment Company for getting its list of prospective victims. A two-page leaflet (reproduced in miniature with this article; note: see end of the post) is mailed to individuals holding civic office in small towns. The "President of the City Council," the "Justice of the Peace" and the "Mayor" are some of the persons addressed. The matter is mailed in an envelope bearing the return address "30 Smith Place Ave., Columbus, Ohio." The advertising leaflet is signed, as will be noticed, "H. E. Sanderson." Enclosed with the leaflet is a postal card addressed "Mr. H. E. Sanderson, 30 Smith Place Ave., Columbus, Ohio." On the reverse side of the card is a serial number and statement "The number on the postal indicates your name. You need not sign." Then there is space for the names and addresses of the victims of epilepsy or their guardians.

Sanderson offers certain premiums for the names of prospective victims: For four names he will send a dictionary; for three names, a fountain pen; for two names, a cook book, and for one name, a song book!

From the same Journal article comes this image and caption:

"Photographic reproduction (greatly reduced) of a two-page leaflet sent out by Sanderson of the Converse Treatment Co., in an effort to obtain a "sucker list" of epileptics. The "mayor," "president of the city council" or "justice nf the peace" to whom these leaflets are sent is offered trivial bribes for the names of sufferers from epilepsy."

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