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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0120 GC/69
Held at: Wellcome Library
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Full title: Sequah
Date(s): 1890-1892
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 2 boxes, 6 large outsize folder,
Name of creator(s): Sequah Ltd
Sequah Medicine Company Ltd
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sequah was one of the most successful quack medicine businesses operating in Britain between 1887 and 1890. Its origins can be traced to the American medicine shows such as the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Firm. In September 1887 a William Hartley (1857-1924) started Sequah's medical career in Portsmouth selling Prairie Flower, Indian Oil, Indian dentrifice and other remedies, which supposedly cured rheumatism and disorders of the stomach and liver by an alleged combination of botanic and mineral substances.

These quack medicines were sold by travelling salesmen or quack doctors (Sequahs), and sales were surrounded with a great deal of public showmanship. Band players accompanied the drawing of teeth for example, and the whole event became a public occasion, drawing large crowds. Sequah published advertisements and testimonials in local newspapers and worked hard to obtain maximum publicity. Agreements were made with pharmacists and grocers to continue retail sales after the departure of Sequah. The Sequah Chronicle, a penny newspaper published weekly, contained advertisements, jokes and short stories.

In March 1889 the firm Sequah Ltd was created, with Hartley as Managing Director, and by 1890 there were 23 Sequahs operating in the UK. He recruited Peter Alexander Gordon (alias James Kasper) in 1890.

Gordon was the son of Dr J.F.S. Gordon, an Episcopalian Minister of St Andrew's, Glasgow Green, born on 9 November 1859. The records demonstrate the high expectations which Hartley expected from his Sequahs. After working for six months as a Sequah in England (May-November 1890) Kasper travelled abroad to the West Indies, America and Canada, and in 1892 to Spain. Other Sequahs were sent to South Africa, India, the Low Counties, Burmah and Japan.

The need to sell abroad was largely occasioned by the Customs and Inland Revenue Act of 1890, whereby sales of medicines could only take place in a "set of premises". The effect this restriction would have on travelling salesmen was evidently not initially appreciated by them, but it was soon clear that interpretation of the relevant clause would not encompass the mobile vehicles of Sequah Ltd. In spite of attempts to diversify sales, the firm ran at a loss in 1892, and at a low level of profitability 1893-1894.

In 1895 the firm was wound up, and although a new company, the Sequah Medicine Company Ltd, was formed in 1895 (dominated by John Morgan Richards, the doyen of the American proprietary medicine business in England), this too was dissolved in 1909. James Kasper evidently parted from Sequah in 1892 and probably returned to New York and to his mind-reading act. Hartley died in Soho in 1924, unnoticed and leaving only? 734, a fraction of the wealth he had owned in the heyday of Sequah.


Scope and content/abstract:

Correspondence and financial papers of P A Gordon (alias James Kasper) relating to Sequah Ltd, 1890-1892 and his work as a Sequah agent selling quack medicines, including a variety of advertising material and copies of the Sequah Chronicle.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The papers came in their original bundles, presumably as kept by P.A. Gordon. The content have been flattened and placed in acid-free files, and file references refer to the bundles.

Conditions governing access:

Open. The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months. Researchers who wish to publish material must seek copyright permission from the copyright owner.

Finding aids:

Wellcome Library online catalogue.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers belonged to Peter Alexander Gordon, a clairvoyant who performed with his wife, Bessie, under the stage name James Kasper and who worked for Sequah Ltd. between 1890 and 1892. P.A. Gordon placed his papers in a brown tin box inscribed with his name, and deposited it at his bank, the Birkbeck Bank, Southampton Buildings, London, probably in 1892. This bank was run by the Birkbeck Permanent Benefit Building Society, which went into liquidation in 1911. It was then found that its banking operations had been carried on ultra vires and in contravention of the Banking Acts. The Receiver obtained an order on 26 June 1912 for deposited effects to be separated from the Society's assets and placed in Court. Accordingly, Kasper's uncollected box was sealed and placed in the Bank of England where it remained undisturbed until 1982. It was then opened by the Court Funds Office and carefully examined by Mr F. Simmons, Chief Clerk, Royal Courts of Justice, whose appreciation of the interest of the papers led to the their being presented, on the authority of Master John Ritchie, Senior Master and Queen's Remembrancer, to the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre, through the good offices of Major Charles O'Leary, Clerk to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Additional material on Sequah Ltd is at the TNA (Board of Trade and Supreme Court of Judicature) and in the journal Chemist and Druggist. The British Library holds a complete set of the Sequah Chronicle .

Publication note:

W Schupbach, 'Sequah: an English 'American medicine' man in 1890', Medical History, 1985, 29, 272-317.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Entry compiled from Wellcome Library online catalogue by Barbara Ball.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
September 2008

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