11 Bizarre and Dangerous Items Sold by Sears in 1902

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The 1902 edition of the Sears, Roebuck catalogue offers items of particular interest and questionable health benefits—everything from the latest fashions to the “surest” cures. Here are some highlights.

1. Dr. Rose’s French Arsenic Complexion Wafers

These poisonous wafers were advertised as being “simply magical” for the complexion, their most striking effects “being brought about by their steady use.” They were guaranteed to improve “even the coarsest and most repulsive skin and complexion”—especially if you’re into the lurid pallor of death.

2. The Toilet Mask

At first glance, a toilet mask doesn’t sound so bad. But this mask doesn’t use soothing cucumber extracts to beautify the complexion—it’s an “acid cured” rubber mask coated with “healing agents” meant to eradicate “freckles, liver spots, and other facial blemishes.” Who needs microdermabrasion when you can just use trace amounts of acid?

3. Magic Flesh Builder and Cupper

This toilet accessory looks more or less like an oversized suction cup. Its purpose? To “rebuild the shrunken tissues of the bust, neck, arms, and the only method which permanently removes wrinkles,” assumedly by sucking things back into place. We’d hate to be the guinea pig who tested this thing out.

4. Spirits of Turpentine

This elixir was ingested to kill intestinal parasites—and hopefully not their human host. Turpentine still has modern medicinal uses, but usually in chest rubs (Vicks, for example) and not drinkable medicines.

5. Aconite

This herb is advertised as a homeopathic medicine, and while it has a long history of medicinal use, it’s better known by another name: wolfsbane, a known poison and neurotoxin. Though the plant can be used as an anesthetic, it works because it damages the nerves around a treated area.

6. Kerosene Emulsion

To be used as an insecticide on crops and animals, this product promises to kill “plant lice, red spiders, scales, and mealy bugs,” among other pests. It also offers strong motivation for washing your fruits and veggies very well before eating.

7. (Veterinary) Castrating Knives

While many parents might argue that castrating knives pose no lasting danger to male infants, the horse that came under this knife would probably disagree. Knives come with a choice of one, two, or three blades of varying sizes to meet all of your gelding needs.

8. Giant Power Heidelberg Electric Belt

Suffering from a nervous disease? Infertility? A “weakness peculiar to men?" Then this electric belt may be for you! In cases of sexual weakness, “a cure is certain.” This belt promises “the best, most reliable, most harmless yet powerful, cheapest cure possible.” Just shock yourself back to health!

9. Opium

Marketed as a homeopathic remedy, opium was available by mail order to your doorstep. If you happened to form an addiction, never fear—you could always order more!

10. Nitric Acid

Though nitric acid has some medicinal purposes when used with extreme caution—from addressing potassium deficiencies to its use as a cauterizing or diuretic agent—it’s also a highly poisonous substance. The National Library of Medicine suggests seeking medical attention if you so much as inhale any fumes from nitric acid. However, in 1902, it was listed as a homeopathic medicine.

11. The Set of McKinley Assassination Slides

Though this item isn’t particularly dangerous, it is particularly curious. You could order a lecture set of slides for your Stereopticon (a home slide projector) depicting “realistic views of the assassination,” including images of McKinley’s attacker “taken within ten minutes of his capture by the police.” Who needs Tarantino movies when you can view real footage of a national tragedy?

All information and pictures (with the exception of the top image) were obtained by the Bounty Edition reprint of the 1902 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue. Top image courtesy of Amazon.

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January 11, 2013 - 2:11pm
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