Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Time-Travelling Chemist-Druggist, or, Steampunk Quackery

Greetings, all, and Happy Haunting time of year.

As you settle in with your cup of tea, allow me to, once again, apologize profusely for the infrequency of my sessions here in my Salon.  The ever-difficult battle between making a living for myself so I can keep myself in the fashion to which I've become accustomed, organizing events for the local steampunks, and generally having my fingers in too many pies, leaves me little time for costuming and far less time to share it.

However, I am now able to update you one of my latest endeavors.  At the start of this year, I decided it would be a fun idea to create a steampunk quack doctor or chemist/druggist.  This would be a heavily prop-oriented ensemble, versus costume-oriented.  A quack remedy chemist would be all about the medicines, cures, and promotion. 

I quickly lost myself in research into quack medicines, which is a fascinating subject, and covers easily almost three full centuries.  Bizarre nostrums, paregorics and cures really peaked in the 1700's, and were still quite rampant and weird right through the Victorian era.  It wasn't until the early 1900's that controls started coming into better effect.  Caroline Rance's amazing website, The Quack Doctor was a huge inspiration, and place where I lost many, many hours of fascinated reading.  

Creating a quack persona was one thing, but to steampunk it up, I decided she should be a time-travelling chemist & druggist.  Of course, she must have a set of phenomenal credentials, so I created the credentials of PC, DC, TTE and OMG (because why not!).  In order, that becomes Pharmaceutical Chemist, Dispensing Chemist, Time Travel Expert, and OmniMateria Goods (allowing me to use, animal, mineral, vegetal, and manmade components in my medicaments). Using my own initials and the surname of a favourite SCA persona I'd created years before, voila, T.L. Swyfte, Travelling Chemist. came into being:
This is the design I created for my advertising.  This small sign ended up as a small card in my hat, the inside panel of my medicaments box, and the front page of the advertising booklet of my products, which I created.

I had a convenient medium-sized wooden box I'd picked up at a thrift store with a mind to use it for something, and voila, this became my portable product display, with the addition of a front closure, side catches and two side rings to hold the leather straps to enable to carry the box around.
The truly fun part of this persona was creating the list & descriptions of my products.  Hours and hours of research inspired me to create a selection of my own nostrums, all carrying my trademark name, Swyfte's, and several of which were almost wholly taken from actual medicines from the past.  

Once I'd come up with a list of products, I selected my favourites and wrote up an advertisement for each one, and with the assistance of the many wonderful copyright-free vintage borders and graphics you can find on http://thegraphicsfairy.com/, created the small ads for my product booklet.  I printed the booklet in black and white, with only the cover in colour, deliberately restricting myself to two colours, to keep things more Victorian in feel.  
A stack of my product booklets
My frontispiece of "company" advertising, and the advert for my Solar Re-Animating Solar Tincture, which is based on an actual quack medicine (and the advert not much different from the original - I just added vampiric conditions to zip it up.  Would have added zombification, except I was running out of room.
Of course, every quack druggist ought to have a paregoric to cure everything.  With dodgy claims of "safe" opium.  I'm quite proud of my Combobulating Serum - entirely my own concept.  Who among us doesn't have days when we wish for some serum of this ilk, to clear our befogged and discombobulated minds! 
Other chemists will produce plasters, but only Swyfte will give you Daily Reassuring Plasters, to both ease your discomfort and to soothe, reassure, and comfort.  And our Defibulating Lozenges are quite popular - reveal untruths by plying suspected fibbers with our cleverly disguised lozenges daily! 
Of course I had to include our own Coca Wine - given it was such a common product that even in the 1890's this could be purchased from your Sears Roebuck catalogue!  And what steampunk gentleman hasn't longed for impressively manly moustaches and muttonchops?  Achieve them with ease with our powerful tonic.
Ah, Time Travel's attendant unpleasant side effect for so many folks - pesky hiccoughs!  Annoying, and downright dangerous if one happens to find oneself trying to discretely hide from predatory beasts (or men) in a past or future aggressive setting.  Our lozenges will help!  And we had to have Ambition Pills (another actual "medicine" from quack history.  And the advert wording very much taken from the original.
The back cover
The next step was, of course the "products" for display.  I purchased small bottles online and whenever I saw appropriately-sized bottles. Playing about with the advertisements I'd created and more fun graphics, I created labels for a selection of my products.
Putting together products, advertising, handouts, and the box, resulted in my travelling case below, which I then carried strapped around my neck and waist.
The joy of this persona is that the clothes are far less relevant.  I took an old military hat, added a pin (Girl Genius trilobite!) and tucked in an advertising card.  The rest was just shirt, corset, long skirt.  Here is the final product of my time-traveling quack chemist, BEST SCIENTIFIC Medicaments in hand - ready to hit the hallways and hawk my wares!
And finally, before I go, I would like to once again thank my main inspiration and sourcing for this concept, Caroline Rance, creator of the fabulous website: http://thequackdoctor.com/, and author of Kill-Grief, and most recently, The Quack Doctor (available on Amazon.ca and elsewhere).