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Categories > Ceramic Hand Cream Pots > ’Universal Ointment’ Hand Cream Pot > Thomas Holloway’s Universal Ointment

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This ointment will mend the legs of men and tables equally well and will be found an excellent relish for frying fish in...

This is a quotation from the satirical magazine Punch dated 1843, and refers to one of the most extraordinary remedies of the nineteenth century, namely ‘Professor Holloway’s Universal Ointment’. This product claimed to cure just about any disease imaginable, and is the inspiration for our pot lid design.

Thomas Holloway was born in Devonport, Devon, England on the 22nd of September 1800. He was the elder son of Thomas and Mary Holloway (née Chellew), who at the time of their son's birth had a bakery business in Devonport. They later moved to Penzance, Cornwall, where they ran the Turk's Head Inn. In the late 1820s, Holloway went to live in Roubaix, France, for a few years. He returned to England in 1831 and worked in London as a secretary and interpreter for a firm of importers and exporters. In 1836, he set himself up as a foreign and commercial agent in London.

Thomas Holloway had business connections with an Italian, Felix Albinolo, who manufactured and sold a general purpose ointment. This gave Holloway the idea to set up a similar business himself in 1837. He began by using his mother's pots and pans to manufacture his ointment in the family kitchen. Seeing the potential in patent medicines, Holloway soon added pills to his range of products. Holloway's business was extremely successful. A key factor in his enormous success in business was advertising, in which Holloway had great faith.

Holloway's first newspaper announcements appeared in 1837, and by 1842 his yearly expenses for publicity had reached over £5,000 (GBP). By the time of his death, he was spending over £50,000 a year on advertising his products. The sales of his products made Holloway a multi-millionaire, and one of the richest men in Britain at the time. Holloway's products were said to be able to cure a whole host of ailments, though scientific evaluation of them after his death showed that none of them contained any ingredients which would be considered to be of significant medicinal value.

After a period of bankruptcy and incarceration in debtors prison, apparently Holloway assumed the title "Professor" and began selling his pills and potions in England in 1837. The pills remained on sale not only throughout the British Empire but Africa, South America, Southern Europe and Turkey as late as 1905. The pills were even infiltrated into Russia where patent medicines were prohibited.

Various authorities disagreed on the precise contents of his pills, clearly based on simple ingredients, but their popularity was not affected. They were, at best, placebos whose effectiveness depended on the beliefs of the user, influenced by mass advertising.

Readers of his advertising were able to read the Earl of Aldborough's testimonial for Holloway, who had 'cured' him of a disorder of liver and stomach. The potential cures did not mention cancer as such but tumours, venereal afflictions, consumption, erysipelas, jaundice, stone and gravel were all included. His ointments and pills were reputed to cure "bad legs, bad breasts, burns, bunions, bite of mosquito and sand flies, chiego-foot, chilblains, cancers, elephantitis, fistulas, gout, glandular swellings, lumbago, piles, rheumatism, sore throats, sore heads, scurvy, tumours, ulcers, yaws, sore nipples, inveterate ulcers, chapped hands, boils, cuts and wounds"

Another 'advertorial' claimed that 'thousands of persons who had been patients in large hospitals, under the care of the greatest surgeons of the day without deriving the least benefit, as a last resort use Holloway's ointment and pills, which always cures them, and frequently in as little time as a cut finger would require when treated in the usual way.

Holloway was quite the entrepreneur of his time. His ointments and digestive pills were world famous as a result of his amazing advertising. It was thanks to his good marketing and publicity that he became a millionaire.

Thomas Holloway is best remembered for the institutions which he built in England. Firstly the Holloway Sanatorium in Virginia Water, Surrey. And secondly Royal Holloway College, a college of the University of London located a short distance away from the Sanatorium in Egham, Surrey. Both were designed by the architect William Henry Crossland, and were inspired by the Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium, and the Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley, France. They were founded by Holloway as "Gifts to the Nation". Holloway claimed that it was his wife, Jane, who died in 1875, who inspired him to found the college, which was a women-only college until 1965. Holloway also paid over £80,000 to acquire 77 Victorian era paintings which he donated to the College at the time of its founding. Most of these pieces of art still belong to the college, and remain on display today in the college's Picture Gallery.

A philanthropic and somewhat eccentric donor (he had an unconcealed prejudice against doctors, lawyers and parsons), Holloway died of congestion of the lungs at Sunninghill on the 26th of December 1883.

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