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SpecialKats: Verónica Rodríguez Arguijo (TechieKat), Hayleigh Bosher (Book Review Editor), and Tian Lu (Asia Correspondent).

Sunday, 17 August 2003


A cure for aches and pains, The Poor Man's Friend was formulated by Dorset apothecary Giles Roberts back in 1790. Its formula, till now a secret, has just been auctioned together with other papers and items formerly belonging to Dr Roberts for £480. The formula and other items were acquired by the museum at Bridport, Dr Roberts' home town. They will go on display in 2004 to mark the 170th anniversary of Dr Roberts' death. Roberts opened the shop as an unqualified doctor in 1788 but was licensed after studying medicine at London hospitals. Among his patent medicines was one labelled 'Anti-Venereal Specific Drops'. In 1797, Edinburgh University awarded him an honorary degree. His customers were grateful enough for his gravestone to be inscribed "His Memory is Cherished Especially by the Poor with Grateful Feelings."

The secret formula was found in a sealed envelope marked "private" by a pharmacist who bought Roberts' old shop in the 1970s. The main constituent of a vat of The Poor Man's Friend was 50lb of Waterford lard, cut into pieces and steamed with 6lb of English beeswax, then strained through cheesecloth. Other key ingredients include calamel, sugar of lead, zinc oxide and lavender. Leading London dermatologist Dr Frances Lawlor is quoted by the Education Guardian as saying: "It would do quite a lot, would be quite helpful in soothing the skin and helping with eczema. Calamel was an antiseptic used in treating syphilis. Zinc oxide would be soothing and could be anti-infectious. It could have a reasonable effect on minor skin infections. But I can't work up much enthusiasm for its properties against headaches and gout".

The IPKat observes: "this shows that trade secrets may possess, in addition to their commercial value, a residual curiosity value".

For other Poor Man's Friends click here or here
For Rich Man's Friends click here, here or here (scroll down to Rhythm in Gold)
More on quack remedies here, here and here
Lyrics for Dr Robert here

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