William H. Helfand collection of medical quackery ephemera
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Dr. William H. Helfand has degrees in Chemical Engineering (University of Pennsylvania, 1948) and Pharmacy (Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, 1952), as well as honorary degrees of Doctor of Sciences (Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, 1976), and Doctor of Humane Letters (Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University, 1981). For more than three decades he worked as an executive manager for the multinational pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., until he retired in 1987. A historian of pharmacy and medicine, he is the author of many publications on these subjects, including the books Medicine & Pharmacy in American Political Prints (1978), Pharmacy: An Illustrated History (1990, with David L. Cowen), and several articles and catalogues of exhibitions on pharmacy and medicine prints, posters and ephemera. Helfand is himself a collector of medicine and pharmacy-related material, and exhibitions of his posters, illustrations, and prints have been hosted at the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, the New York State Museum, and the National Library of Medicine, among other venues. Helfand has donated his collections to research institutions such as the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscripts at Duke University (William H. Helfand Collection of Medical Prints and Posters, 1695-1991; Helfand Collection of Medical and Pharmaceutical Advertising, 1978-2000), and the Grolier Club (William H. Helfand Bookplate Collection, 1776-1993).
Many scholars point to the Flexner Report, a 1910 review of the medical education system, as a pivotal moment in the process of regulating and standardizing medical practice; before the early twentieth century, there were limited systems in place to certify or supervise physicians and healers. In this environment of scant medical regulation, 'quackery' was a substantial concern and many viewed even the medical establishment with some skepticism. However, as Helfand notes in Quack, Quack, Quack: The Sellers of Nostrums in Prints, Posters, Ephemera & Books (2002), remedies propounded by quacks "were often less expensive and frequently less drastic in their design" than conventional medicine. The William H. Helfand collection of medical quackery ephemera illuminates this period in the history of medicine (with a temporal emphasis on the nineteenth century) through printed materials, mostly from France.
Through the political tumult of the July Monarchy and Second Republic, many cartoonists publishing their work in satirical newspapers used medical themes symbolically or metaphorically to expresses popular sentiments about current events. Many of these comical prints also feature the character Mayeux, a fictional hunchback who served as a vehicle for social and political commentary starting in the 1830s, and remained a fixture in French print media throughout the century. Medical themes are also prevalent, though with less of a political charge, in this collection's notable compilation of imagerie populaire, or "popular prints." These colorful, wood block prints can be considered precursors to today's comics; typically, each page features twelve or sixteen captioned frames that tell a short, entertaining story. While this genre has its roots in the fourteenth century, it reached a zenith at the workshop of Jean-Charles Pellerin in Epinal in the nineteenth century (so much so that imagerie populaire of any geographic origin are sometimes described as "Epinal prints"). Imagerie populaire were massed produced and, in the words of Helfand in "Pharmacy in L'Imagerie Populaire," were "considered ephemeral and of little value."
Helfand, William H. "Pharmacy in L'Imagerie Populaire." Pharmacy in History, vol. 29, no. 3 (1987):116-124.
Helfand, William H. Quack, Quack, Quack: The Sellers of Nostrums in Prints, Posters, Ephemera & Books. New York: The Grolier Club, 2002. (catalog record)
Menon, Elizabeth K. "The Utopian Mayeux: Henri de Saint-Simon meets the bossu a la mode." Canadian Journal of History, XXXIII (1998): 249-277.
Violato, Claudio. "A Brief History of the Regulation of Medical Practice: Hammurabi to the National Board of Medical Examiners." Wake Forest Journal of Science and Medicine. Accessed June 8, 2017, http://www.wakehealth.edu/uploadedFiles/User_Content/SchoolOfMedicine/_MD_Program/WFJSM/Documents/Issues_2016/wfjsm2016v2i1p122%20Violato.pdf
The William H. Helfand collection of medical quackery ephemera (1736-2006, with undated materials) contains prints that address the public perception of physicians and the practice of medicine across three centuries. In addition to portraits, advertisements, devotional images and small artworks, the collection includes prints intended for broad audiences, which satirize or criticize the state of medical practice, politics, or society. Cartoons and caricatures from French periodicals, dating to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries express frustration with politics, often employing metaphors from the sphere of medicine to convey this dissatisfaction. Imagerie populaire, inexpensive block prints mass-produced in the nineteenth century, reveal medicine as a popular theme of their short, comical narratives.
This collection is arranged in seven series: I. Portraits; II. Caricatures, political cartoons and prints from French periodicals; III. British caricatures and comical prints; IV. Advertisements; V. Imagerie populaire; VI. Religious and devotional images (patron saints); and VII. Miscellaneous.
The first series, containing the collection's etched and engraved portraits (1744-1839, undated), depicts influential figures in the arts, sciences and politics. In several instances (such as the first file in the series, a portrait of Baudelaire) these prints are based upon paintings. A few of the prints appear to have been first included in bound volumes or books.
Series II. Caricatures, political cartoons and prints from French periodicals is arranged in four subseries: A. Plates, B. With text, or in complete issues, C. Multi-frame, and D. Sketches. While all of the French caricatures and political cartoons in this series (1814-1937, undated) appeared in periodicals, some were imbedded in issues and printed alongside text, while others were released as single sheets, usually on heavier paper. Throughout the series, researchers will find some of the same artists (a few of the most commonly occurring being Grandville, Travies, Daumier, Cham, G. Frison, J. Baric, Vernier, Faustin, Gavarni , H. Robillard, Galanis and De Frondat) and the same journals (such as La Caricature, Le Charivari, L'Illustration, Aubert, La Galerie Comique, and Journal Amusant, among others). Untitled prints have been identified by the first line of their caption or accompanying text. In some cases, several different prints, usually but not always by the same artist, were issued under one title (see, for instance, the sequence of prints "Les Malades et Les Medecins" by Jaque in Le Charivari). When relevant, the title of this set in which an individual print was published is included in parentheses in the name of the file. The second subseries, of prints featured alongside text, includes some full issues of periodicals; periodicals without any illustration (or any primary illustration) have been listed by title and date. The third subseries in this collection consists of multi-frame prints with a narrative quality, similar to imagerie populaire (1832-1895, undated). The artist whose work is most represented here is Charles Amedee de Noe, who operated under the pseudonym "Cham." The final subseries of caricatures and cartoons contains original sketches by Jules Fontanez, Ferdinand Lunel, Auguste Roedel and D. O. Widhopff that were published in the Courrier Francais, between around 1880 and 1905.
Series III. British caricatures and comical prints overlap chronologically and topically with the prints from French periodicals. Created by artists including John Leech, William Hogarth and George Cruikshank, these images poke fun at current events and recent medical crises or discoveries.
Series IV. Advertisements is arranged in four subseries: A. Posters for products and services; B. Posters for exhibitions, expositions, performances and events; C. Posters with public messages or informational notices; and D. In periodicals. The majority of the advertisements in this collection are posters, generally dating to the mid or late twentieth century (1884-2006, undated). Those advertising products or services mostly relate to (purportedly) health-promoting foods or medicines, or employ themes from European history. The posters advertising events primarily promote exhibits in art and history museums, including shows for which William Helfand lent pieces from his collections. The informational posters are mainly from public health campaigns, and include public service announcements with health tips and advice. Thirteen illustrated posters commissioned by the German pharmaceutical association, Bundesverband der Pharmazeutischen Industrie, are also included. The final subseries contains advertisements, mostly for perfume and soap, that appeared in French and English periodicals.
The imagerie populaire (or "popular prints") in Series V. are almost entirely unsigned and undated. A mass produced, inexpensive and rather thematically lighthearted style of print, imagerie populaire were viewed as ephemera. While the earliest imagerie populaire date to the fourteenth century, the prints in the collection are mostly from the nineteenth and early twentieth. With their colorful rows of frames, these individual sheets present funny stories or sets of amusing caricatures. While not all of the imagerie populaire relate directly to medicine, most feature medical or pharmacological iconography. As with some of the caricatures in French periodicals, a few different prints in this series may share the same title (such as "Les Pilules du Diable").
The bulk of the religious documents in Series VI. are sheets with a hymn for the veneration of saints Cosmas and Damian (two physician-martyrs) probably distributed on feast days at the San Isidro church in Madrid in the mid twentieth century. This series also contains some earlier devotional images and a 1943 set of colored wood block prints by Jean Chieze showing twelve patron saints.
Series VII. Miscellaneous is arranged in three subseries: A. Art prints; B. Maps, certificates, and informational prints; and C. Pamphlets, brochures, and sheet music. Many of the art prints in this series are small, black and white etchings or engravings from the nineteenth century that present some aspect of, or commentary upon medicine. A number of these works illustrate characters or moments from Molière's comédie-ballets. The subseries of art prints also includes some later (twentieth century) posters, poster reprints and print versions of paintings, a few commissioned by pharmaceutical companies. Most of the maps, certificates and informational prints probably date from the nineteenth century. The final subseries of miscellaneous prints holds some sheet music and programs for performances.
Gift of William H. Helfand, 2008.
- Mayeux (Fictitious character)
- French periodicals
- Pharmacy in art
- Medicine in art
- Quacks and quackery
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Rive Cadwallader
- Finding Aid Date
- 2017 June 8
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.