Posted by: Bystander PJ1 JUL 2009
In London’s Southwark Cathedral there is a glitzy monument commemorating a 17th century self-styled “physitian” who made a fortune from the sale of quack medicine.
The monument bears doggerel verse reading:
“Here Lockyer lies interr’d enough; his name
Speakes one hath few competitors in fame.
A name soe Greate, soe Generall’t may scorne
Inscriptions wch doe vulgar tombs adorne:
A diminution ’tis to write in verse
His eulogies wch most mens mouths rehearse.
His virtues & his PILLS are soe well known,
That envy can’t confine them vnder stone,
But they’ll surviue his dust and not expire
Till all things else at th’universall fire.
This verse is lost, his PILL Embalmes him safe
To future times without an Epitaph.”
The monument relates to Lionel Lockyer who, far from being a genuine “physitian”, appears to have worked as a tailor and a butcher before moving into quackery. His first effort at pharmaceutical formulation was to colour an existing medicine with cochineal and pass it off as his own.
He went on to produce pills to which he gave a Latin name intended to mean they contained an extract of the sun’s rays.
Lockyer is said to have printed 200,000 copies of a pamphlet promoting his pills. It bore the title: “An advertisement concerning those most excellent Pills called, ‘Pillulae Radijs Solis Extractae,’ BEING an universall medicine especially in all chronical and difficult Distempers, as by the ensuing discourse will most clearly appear: Truly and only prepared by Lionel Lockier Licensed PHYSITIAN.” The text was full of fanciful medicinal claims and spurious testimonials.
The pills were sold at a grossly inflated price. Chemical analysis by rival pill-makers showed that the main ingredient was antimony, and in 1665 William Johnson, chemist to the College of Physicians, took Lockyer to task for charging 16 shillings for something that any apothecary could easily make up for threepence.
Lockyer was clearly skilled in marketing. When he died in 1672 he left some £1,900 (roughly £250,000 in today’s money) plus leases on four properties and a quarter share in a ship.
But why would 17th century consumers buy a product at such an inflated price? For the answer, just look at any 21st century high street store, where many shoppers are still fooled by skilful branding, fancy packaging and slick marketing.