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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Flather's Trade Recipes

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas AUGUST. 11, 2021

So here it is, Flather's Trade Recipes, a handy little book I think you will agree, as it has recipes for just about everything.

It starts with "Warner's Safe Cure", which I'm really glad about because I am not a big fan of dangerous cures. If you want dangerous cures, you will have to read further, and the really dangerous ones, well I'll leave you to decide. There are acids, compounds and toxic chemicals in abundance, some hard to find, and some just plain illegal. And don't expect science every time, sometimes it is just magic, as in "Magic Cough Pills".

The "Safe Cure" seems to mainly involve saltpetre and essence of wintergreen. Saltpetre after a Google search turns out to be potassium nitrate "the main uses of which are for fertilizers, tree stump removal, rocket propellants and fireworks." Don't forget this is the "Safe Cure". A search for Wintergreen returns dire warnings such as "Wintergreen leaf and oil can be poisonous for children".

We are not off the first page yet and let me repeat, this is the "Safe Cure", recipe number one, page one. We are just warming up. You only need one tablespoon of this toxic brew, four times a day.

The book ends with positively helpful recipes on how to make zinc look like bronze. At first, I mistakenly thought "Graham's Quick Bronzing Liquids" were for that perfect tan, but when this book was published in 1896 the fashionable look was as pale as an opium addict, which explains some of the recipes we'll come to later.

“There were opium dens where one could buy oblivion, dens of horror where the memory of old sins could be destroyed by the madness of sins that were new.” Oscar Wilde in his novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (1891).

No, in this case "Bronzing Liquids" are just for producing fake bronze. We'll get on to the fake gold ( "This compound, used by a German chemist for unlawful purposes, was so perfect that he was never discovered."), and adulterated milk will make an appearance later too.

Before I raise your incredulity threshold, please bear in mind that this book was actually proudly owned by a trained expert, J A Foster, M.P.S., Dispensing Chemist, only just over a hundred years ago at a time when most people were downtrodden, ignorant and socially immobile, but almost no-one thought that they were. We read it at a time when almost no-one is downtrodden, ignorant and socially immobile, but an increasing number of people do think that they are.

Also in 1896, we see in the timeline of vaccine history, The Atlas and Principles of Bacteriology, Karl Lehmann and Rudolf Neuman referred to what would eventually be named Haemophilus influenzae as “Bacterium influenzae,” crediting Richard Pfeiffer for its discovery.

The British pathologist Almroth Wright generally is credited with the initiation of typhoid vaccination in 1896. It was not until the 1950s when typhoid vaccine efficacy was prospectively evaluated in both well-controlled field trials and human volunteer studies.

It took over fifty years for that to happen.

It took today's scientists five months to prepare the Astra Zeneca vaccine for clinical trials. There can be no doubt the vaccine has already saved tens of thousands of lives, and will probably go on to save hundreds of thousands more as it dominates the world vaccination rollout . The official UK death figure for the day 19th January 2021 alone, was 1359 victims, today that figure is 26 and falling. Numbers peaked on the 19th January, the vaccine was rolled out on the 4th January, the Pfizer vaccine was rolled out on the 8th December 2020.

None of this was magic, it was all science.

The opening page is illuminating in several ways. I like the visual layout and the style of the time, in using as many different font designs and sizes as it was possible to get on one small page. It is reminiscent of posters you used to see, nailed up on wooden walls in dusty towns in Hollywood Westerns either advertising a visiting quack or a bounty for an escaped convict, dead or alive.

The quack connection is not that far from the contents of this book.

Quackery- often synonymous with health fraud, is the promotion of fraudulent or ignorant medical practices. A quack is a "fraudulent or ignorant pretender to medical skill" or "a person who pretends, professionally or publicly, to have skill, knowledge, qualification or credentials they do not possess; a charlatan or snake oil salesman". The term quack is a clipped form of the archaic term quacksalver, from Dutch: kwakzalver a "hawker of salve". In the Middle Ages the term quack meant "shouting". The quacksalvers sold their wares on the market shouting in a loud voice.

Funnily enough there are salves a plenty in this book like the one on page five. "Mrs. Hungerford's Anti-Rheumatic Salve". There are only three ingredients.

Some of the ingredients in this book verge on the truly bizarre, and some are just so strange that I have been forced to research what they are, animal, vegetable or mineral.

Here is an assortment picked at random from just three pages. Restharrow root, rad, ipecacuanha, tritici, saitalwood, nux vomica, cubebs, cannabis indica, syrup of morphia, buchu, powdered colocynth (true), socotrine aloes and antimonial wine.

I have not included all the spices and herbs that you may have heard of, or all the cornucopia of the world's exotic products that appear in a wonder of different measurements which themselves are a research product.

I never realised that a scruple was a measurement of anything, "finest camphor, just half a scruple."

Scruple - a unit of weight equal to 20 grains, used by apothecaries. Late Middle English: from French scrupule or Latin scrupulus, from scrupus, literally ‘rough pebble’.

Maybe pharmacists who sold quack remedies had just run out of scruples.

I suppose if you take a hammer to a scruple it would make ideally twenty grains of rough pebble. But in this case the Grain measurement is actually a grain of cereal.

Grain - One of the earliest units of common measure and the smallest, it is a uniform unit in the avoirdupois, apothecaries', and troy systems. The ancient grain, varying from one culture to the next, was defined as the weight of a designated number of dry wheat (or other edible grain) kernels taken from the middle of the ear.

We also get drachms, drams and bushels, as well as quarts, and gills.

We now see the reason that eventually governments demanded legal definitions for these multifarious measures. These legal definitions introduced confidence in the products marketed to the public and also a measure of safety. After all when subscribing dangerous toxic substances as cures even in small amounts it becomes far more important that those small amounts are accurate in their smallness.

What is really convenient about this book is it's comprehensive nature. Containing as it does both recipes for Veterinary Remedies and Perfumes, Confectionary and Leather Polish.

Here is the recipe below for the "Magic Cough pills" and if you read it you will discover the now illegal magic ingredient.

The Medicinal Squill was valued as a medicine in early classic times and has ever since been employed by physicians, being official in all pharmacopoeias. Oxymel of Squill, used for coughs, was invented by Pythagoras, who lived in the sixth century before Christ.

So this little magic trick involves a highly addictive drug, currently controlled, a dried and powdered bluebell bulb, and a toxic compound of antimony designed to make you vomit. After all that, the cough is probably the least of your worries as you lie awake wondering if you are going to make it through the night.

You can also note that the recipe above it contains cocain and opium together, because that would certainly cure toothache. The writer of Alice in Wonderland was said to have used opium which is no surprise and it explains why none of those characters had toothache.

Where Mr. Brandreth got his ingredients for the next recipe from, I have no idea. Even Google which contains the sum of all of human knowledge has not heard of phytolacer. If you type in Podophyllin it comes up with the added word toxin, why am I not surprised. Gamboge by the way is a yellow dye which unlike Tartar Emetic, when ingested, empties you from the other end. So pop in a pill of each at your own peril. We'll stand well back and wait for the magic to happen.

Some of the recipes are worth noting for their idiosyncratic instructions alone. "Brassicon" below, as far as I can tell looks fairly innocuous. This would have been a better name for the bronzing liquids, because if you were trying to make brass look like bronze, it would be a brassy con.

It is at least pretty safe to assume that "Brassicon" wouldn't kill you. There is alcohol in it which is always a plus, but unfortunately you don't drink it you just "apply it to the brow and temples with a camel hair brush", which seems overly specific to me not to mention being a complete waste of alcohol. Is Mr. Flather suggesting that a Hog's hair brush or an expensive sable would disable the effects of the mixture? Or did his pharmacy just sport a very nice line in camel hair applicators.

I have to remind you, or perhaps inform you that "ladies" back then were very delicate and not very into putting the shot or wrestling like they all do today. The slightest exertion would cause them to swoon and fall to the floor. Waving ivory fans about and sketching daisies were considered quite energetic hobbies. Breathing was considered tiresome, so much so that "ladies" had their lungs bound quite tightly to discourage the pastime. Should a "lady" have a sudden requirement to breathe a tiny wispy breath, perhaps when stepping out of her Sedan Chair, that was usually the moment when swooning and falling took place. The Victorians in fact filled their homes with fabrics, cushions and draperies of every hue and design expressly for the purpose of breaking the fall of "ladies" wherever they landed.

Women of course as opposed to "ladies" were capable of much the same dangerous and heavy work as men and shovelled coal like the best of them. There was a lot of coal to be shovelled back then. Women were also not averse to pulling canal barges with their teeth while carrying twins.

"Ladies" on the other hand were a different species. The Olympics of 1896 featured two sports for "ladies", threading the embroidery needle, and sharpening the sketching pencil. Sharpening the pencil was considered the most arduous of the two sports. The sharpening of the pencil relay involving a team of five "ladies", and the pencil stub sharpening, solo event, were the most prized medal events of the "ladies" games.

Don't look at the next recipe under Brassicon. It is horrific. Even the name is horrific. It is horrific in part because it is not clear what you do with it. If you are intended to swallow it, that is horrific enough, but if you are meant to disinfect surfaces with it and presumed wrongly that you were meant to swallow it.........

The fact that H. Ludwig of Vienna came up with this gem in 1896 is no recommendation to me.

The list of highly toxic remedies continues with Dr. Ainley's offering. Only a teaspoonful three times a day. Mary Poppins only needed you to take one teaspoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, but I'm sure after some of these you wouldn't be getting back up any time soon.

Interestingly Dr. Ainley is suggesting digitalis for relief of palpitations while says "Treatment with either of these (most commonly prescribed digitalis) drugs must involve careful monitoring to avoid adverse effects (e.g., heart palpitations, anorexia, vomiting, and diarrhoea) .

So forget the two pills previously mentioned above, this mixture adds palpitations into the mix. A sort of three in one, spasms at both ends, and quivering in the middle.

As for aconite- Aconite has long been associated with magic and witchcraft. Harry Potter used it in potions. And in the past it was said to send witches soaring on their broomsticks. Aconite also has a long history as a poison.

This book should be retitled the Poisoner's Handbook. You will notice below Dr. Ainley we have more magic.

Nux Vomica - Nux vomica is a tree. The seed is used to make medicine. Nux vomica contains strychnine and brucine, two toxic chemicals.

So single ingredients with a toxic chemical were not enough, he's now using single ingredients with two toxic chemicals.

Gelseminum - The active components of gelsemium are the alkaloids, which are present in a concentration of about 0.5%. These consist primarily of gelsemine (a highly toxic compound related to strychnine).

I am now starting to realise that every time I see a strange word in this book it is a poison, Everything is poisonous.

Now things are getting fanciful, zinc, blood root and flour. I don't need to look up blood root obviously it has to be a toxin, everything else is. In fact I am not looking up any more, we'll just assume they are all poisonous. At least when we get to the chapter on leather polish it won't actually matter.

I do have to point out the very Harry Potter, "Trask's Magnetic Ointment" though.


And no, I haven't cut any of it, that's it. I have more questions than there is recipe. Why is it magnetic? Who is Trask? Why would anyone decide to simmer hard raisins and tobacco in the first place? Will soft raisins do in an emergency? When you have strained and pressed out all from the dregs, what do you, keep the liquid, or the dregs? And then what do you do with it? And I repeat, why? Why? Why?

"Merchant's Gargling Oil"

Is this a remedy for merchants or a remedy invented by Mr. Merchant?

How much gargling do I want to do? Two and a half gallons of linseed oil? I'll be gargling for ten years. But there is also another two and a half gallons of turpentine, which I have only ever cleaned brushes with, and two and a half gallons of petrol, so definitely no gargling near an open flame.

Maybe this was how fire eating was discovered, somebody with an uncured cough, who has woken up after a cocaine and morphine induced coma, is having their morning gargle by candle light, when the urge to cough overcomes them, and out comes all the turps and petrol all over the lit candle. Woooooomsshhh! No longer any need for "Dr. Locock's Hair Lotion" on page 87, some sort of poultice would be required I think. There is a nice "Lotion for Mange" on page 27. Still that would certainly cure the cough.

And what sort of name is Locock? That would need it's own remedy, surely.

Sap Green- Sap green is a lake pigment and was originally made from the juice of unripe berries from the buckthorn plant. In medieval times the extracted colour was reduced to a heavy syrup and sold in pig bladders rather than a dry pigment.

Of course it was, of course it was, why did I look it up? It would be something sold in pig bladders, of course it would.

Here's a question. How many of you, when gargling have accidentally swallowed some? Yes. Think about that. Would you still gargle with Listerine if it arrived in an attractively packaged pig's bladder?

After all that, we are told, "said to be good for man or beast", can you believe it? I've never seen a horse gargling, have you?

Below we have some great secrets which are secrets no more. We also have one of the greatest tongue twisters I have ever seen. "Musk-rat musk and skunk musk mixed". Try saying it three times, fast. Another good one is "Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry" which looks easy until you try it.

Something else that looks easy is first catching your rat. You need an old barrel and a very big hole, and a stream, all of which need to be somewhere that musk rats live. You also need trails of apples from the little rat holes, and water in the barrel, whereupon musk-rats fling themselves into the water chasing the apples and drown themselves, supplying endless quantities of oil of rat.

Below, we have "Fly Powder". To me a dredging box is something I use to sprinkle icing sugar over dainty Viennese pastries, which of course I make all the time. But in the dark world of Mr. Flather a dredging box becomes something satanic, used to dust sheep with black sulphur. Sorry I lost control, and looked up hellebore, "Many hellebore species are poisonous." But we all knew that by now. Roast shoulder of lamb anyone?

Baron Liebig's little recipe is potentially so dangerous in these times that I felt I should go to the extreme of blurring out the ingredients. I know nobody on Photobomb wishes any of us any harm, but after recent warnings I thought I should play safe.

Note all the bushels involved in this recipe.

Bushel- a measure of capacity equal to 8 gallons (equivalent to 36.4 litres), used for corn, fruit, liquids, etc. The old bushel is equal to 2 kennings, 4 pecks, or 8 dry gallons. The exact measure varied from place to place and according to commodity, and though in 19c. in Britain it acquired a precise legal definition, it varied in U.S. from state to state. Used since late 14c. loosely to mean "a large quantity or number."

Justus Freiherr von Liebig (12 May 1803 – 18 April 1873) was a German scientist who made major contributions to agricultural and biological chemistry, and is considered one of the principal founders of organic chemistry. As a professor at the University of Giessen, he devised the modern laboratory-oriented teaching method, and for such innovations, he is regarded as one of the greatest chemistry teachers of all time. He has been described as the "father of the fertilizer industry" for his emphasis on nitrogen and trace minerals as essential plant nutrients.

Now to my favourite recipe, below, which is called "Boiler Covering".

Mr. Flather has here excelled himself and provides us with the memorable ingredients list as follows:

Road scrapings, free from stones

Cow manure gathered from the pasture

Fire clay,

Chopped hay

and teased hair

I am just going to leave this recipe there, apart from the teased hair, because although I feel I have so much to say about this one, there is the accusation of low hanging fruit to think about.

The term "low-hanging fruit" is a commonly-used metaphor for doing the simplest or easiest work first, requiring little or no effort, or for a quick fix that produces ripe, delectable results.

For ripe delectable results I just offer you instead, the disagreeable, fruit free, "Cider Without Apples" on page 63. It consists of "common sugar" tartaric acid, and yeast, to concoct what we might call today, sweet and sour bubbly water. Imagine the finest cider you have ever drunk, possibly Addlestones, or Devon Mist? Remove all traces of flavour. You're done.

Back to teased hair. You thought I'd forgotten. Teased hair as an ingredient, is an insight into the cruelty of the times, it is so casually thrown into the recipe without any consideration for the misery and heartache of those who were teased about their hair, particularly those of a ginger persuasion. In our more enlightened times in Britain the police now have whole departments trawling the internet looking for "Non crime hate incidents" where for example someone's hair is teased. Major crimes are readily expunged from the records in favour of chasing hair teasing incidents, so enlightened have we now become.

Next we move on to the world of perfumes. This chapter runs to seven whole pages, although I miscounted and the first recipe I saw was "Cheap Vinegar" which was actually at the end of the previous chapter titled "Sauces, Relishes, etc." so be careful if you are splashing something all over before a night out. Your date will not be turned on by cheap vinegar, although if they were, then that probably is reason enough not to go on a second date.

Under perfumes you find at last, names that you are relieved to see, like, "Lily of the Valley", "Essence of White Rose", "Balm of a Thousand Flowers" (possibly a bit overpowering for a first date, maybe dilute it a bit with some cheap vinegar), "Essence of Tea Rose", "Essence of White Lilac", and "New Mown Hay"?

Worryingly we soon move on to "Curious Essence", "Jockey Club" and "Naval Bouquet". I think by now our night out has become a little Parisienne as Oscar Wilde might have called it, one has to be a little wary of going out smelling curious, or like a jockey or a naval rating.

"Royal Hunt Bouquet" contains "Essence of Civet" which is an excretion from a creature similar to a Mongoose. Don't worry about the Civets though, an article from 1973 states that "a three‐man team of investigators dispatched to the remote mountains of Ethiopia to investigate the allegations (of cruelty to civets) returned to announce that, on the contrary, the civet, while captured in the wild and kept in small stick cages, was treated well. According to Dr. Kenneth Bovee, one of the investigators, “The animals live as well as the people.”

This was an ironic report as only twelve years later the people of Ethiopia were doing so badly that a Boomtown Rat inflicted Live Aid on us as punishment.

Another one of my favourite unexpected recipes is the one for "United States Government Postage Stamp Gum".

Is it me or does this recipe sound familiar? Wasn't it the same recipe for "Cider Without Apples"? In any case the United States glue looks safer than the Russian one which uses nitric acid.

I always prefer my glue not to contain nitric acid where possible especially if I am going to be licking it.

Now we get to the nitty gritty, below, what we all read about in school, food adulteration. For here we have a recipe for the innocent if strange sounding "Milkman's Process", which turns out to be nothing more than assistance to fraudulent milkmen, who first water down the milk, and then add a set of ingredients to make it look more like undiluted milk. To further the wilful criminality it is described as a health food, or a "nutritive and healthy compound" which was how you would have described the milk before you diluted it in the first place.

If "Milkman's Process" is a strange sounding recipe let me indulge you briefly to prove the folly of that belief, with some really strange sounding recipes from Flather's Trade Recipes.

Parr's Life Pills (For those deaths of loved ones when you discover you weren't in the will yet)

Swift's Specific (And yet it isn't.)

Sequah's Prairie Flower. (Sounds like euphemism for a body part)

Dick's Dyspepsia Cure (I dare not.)

Atkinson's Infant Preservative (Very creepy one this, it's giving me nightmares)

Dr. Kalnoky's Hungarian Consumption Cure (Just sprinkle cheap vinegar on everything, that'll cut your consumption, apart from fries, which are improved with cheap vinegar)

Anti-Asthmatic Cigarettes (Just think about that one)

Page Woodcock's Wind Pills (Especially for trombonists)

Solomon's Sweating Drops (More a symptom than a cure surely, certainly with the steep hills we have around here)

Madam Jean's Female Pills (They even had gender specific poisons)

Arabian Condition Powders (Were they from Arabia or to prevent you becoming Arabian?)

Another Excellent Bread ( which is strange because there is no first excellent bread)

New York Lunch Cake (Lunch is compressed into a small cake to make it portable on the crowded subway, ribeye with peas in brick form)

Moss Cake (Very moist)

Superlative Sauce ( For special days when humdrum sauce won't do)

Liebig's Extract of Meat (yes, him again)


Felt Hat Reviver ( You feel your hat and are immediately refreshed)

Finally we'll end with more criminality. Here is the ultimate recipe for making gold, well, imitation gold. It is named after the inventor even though his fakery was so perfect he was never discovered. Try and work that out. If he was never discovered, how did he end up in this book?

The German police could just have bought a copy of this book and there it was in black and white. I rest my case m'lud. A "True Imitation" or as we say these days a fake.


Unknown member
Mar 07, 2022

This is all when life was simple and bizzare ingredients readily available.😉 Sooooo, everytime I post a comment on your site, the little icons in this window wink at me, asking me to try them out, because as you already know the other sites we have had never had that option. So today I played with GIF.😊 ( sorry the devil made me do it....feel free to delete)

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Mar 07, 2022
Replying to

That's really weird.😀

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