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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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How Frozen Peas Made Orson Welles Lose It
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

Orson Welles would have turned 103 years old today. While the talented actor/director/writer leaves behind a staggering body of work—including Citizen Kane, long regarded as the best film of all time—the YouTube generation may know him best for what happened when a couple of voiceover directors decided to challenge him while recording an ad for Findus frozen foods in 1970.

The tempestuous Welles is having none of it. You’d do yourself a favor to listen to the whole thing, but here are some choice excerpts.

After he was asked for one more take from the audio engineer:

"Look, I’m not used to having more than one person in there. One more word out of you and you go! Is that clear? I take directions from one person, under protest … Who the hell are you, anyway?"

After it was explained to him that the second take was requested because of a “slight gonk”:

"What is a 'gonk'? Do you mind telling me what that is?"

After the director asks him to emphasize the “in” while saying “In July”:

"Why? That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. … That's just stupid. 'In July?' I'd love to know how you emphasize 'in' in 'in July.' Impossible! Meaningless!"

When the session moved from frozen peas to ads for fish fingers and beef burgers, the now-sheepish directors attempt to stammer out some instructions. Welles's reply:

"You are such pests! ... In your depths of your ignorance, what is it you want?"

Why would the legendary director agree to shill for a frozen food company in the first place? According to author Josh Karp, whose book Orson Welles’s Last Movie chronicles the director’s odyssey to make a “comeback” film in the 1970s, Welles acknowledged the ad spots were mercenary in nature: He could demand upwards of $15,000 a day for sessions, which he could use, in part, to fund his feature projects.

“Why he dressed down the man, I can't say for sure,” Karp says. “But I know that he was a perfectionist and didn't suffer fools, in some cases to the extreme. He used to take a great interest in the ads he made, even when they weren't of his creation.”

The Findus session was leaked decades ago, popping up on radio and in private collections before hitting YouTube. Voiceover actor Maurice LaMarche, who voiced the erudite Brain in Pinky and the Brain, based the character on Welles and would recite his rant whenever he got the chance.

Welles died in 1985 at the age of 70 from a heart attack, his last film unfinished. While some saw the pea endorsement as beneath his formidable talents, he was actually ahead of the curve: By the 1980s, many A-list stars were supplementing their income with advertising or voiceover work.

“He was a brilliant, funny guy,” Karp says. “There's a good chance he'd think the pea commercial was hilarious.” If not, he’d obviously have no problem saying as much.

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How Google Chrome’s New Built-In Ad Blocker Will Change Your Browsing Experience
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If you can’t stand web ads that auto-play sound and pop up in front of what you’re trying to read, you have two options: Install an ad blocker on your browser or avoid the internet all together. Starting Thursday, February 15, Google Chrome is offering another tool to help you avoid the most annoying ads on the web, Tech Crunch reports. Here’s what Google Chrome users should expect from the new feature.

Chrome’s ad filtering has been in development for about a year, but the details of how it will work were only recently made public. “While most advertising on the web is respectful of user experience, over the years we've increasingly heard from our users that some advertising can be particularly intrusive,” Google wrote in a blog post. “As we announced last June, Chrome will tackle this issue by removing ads from sites that do not follow the Better Ads Standards.

That means the new feature won’t block all ads from publishers or even block most of them. Instead, it will specifically target ads that violate the Better Ad Standards that the Coalition for Better Ads recommends based on consumer data. On desktop, this includes auto-play videos with sound, sticky banners that follow you as you scroll, pop-ups, and prestitial ads that make you wait for a countdown to access the site. Mobile Chrome users will be spared these same types of ads as well as flashing animations, ads that take up more than 30 percent of the screen, and ads the fill the whole screen as you scroll past them.

These criteria still leave room for plenty of ads to show up online—the total amount of media blocked by the feature won’t even amount to 1 percent of all ads. So if web browsers are looking for an even more ad-free experience, they should use Chrome’s ad filter as a supplement to one of the many third-party ad blockers out there.

And if accessing content without navigating a digital obstacle course first doesn’t sound appealing to you, don’t worry: On sites where ads are blocked, Google Chrome will show a notification that lets you disable the feature.

[h/t Tech Crunch]

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