A rare bottle of snake oil with a local connection sold online last week for $80 US.
Ryckman’s Kootenay Cure was manufactured in the mid-1890s by a Hamilton Member of Parliament with mining interests in the Illecillewaet district southeast of Revelstoke.
Samuel Shobal Ryckman (1849-1929) was one of several MPs drawn to the Kootenay in 1892. He said that on a visit to one of his claims near the headwaters of the Incomappleux River, an old miner gave him a recipe for a rheumatism cure, which he tried on some constituents.
Lo and behold, it worked — not just on rheumatism, but paralysis, blindness, deafness, indigestion, gout, eczema, skin disease, hives, sores, liver and kidney disorders, and just about anything else you could think of.
What was in this potion?
According to A.O. Wheeler in his book The Selkirk Range, “It is, I understand, largely composed of the root of the devil’s club.”
It sold for $1 per bottle, or six for $5. Ryckman also used his parliamentary mail privileges to distribute 350,000 copies of a tract titled A Political Review.
“Three pages are taken up with excellent campaign stuff for the Conservatives,” the Victoria Colonist wrote. “The other page is devoted to glorifying the virtues of Kootenay Cure.”
The postmaster general called it illegal.
The Kootenay Cure disappeared by about 1900. However, a few years later Ryckman resurfaced as president of the Umckaloabo Company, which held the American rights to a tuberculosis remedy called Stevens’ Consumption Cure — notorious enough to earn its own entry in Nostrums & Quackery, the American Medical Association’s almanac of fraud.
The Kootenay Cure bottle sold last week by Glass Works Auctions of East Greenville, Pa., using auctionzip.com, was embossed amber and measured 10 1/8 inches high. Its original black and red labels — bearing a pair of crutches, which the purchaser could presumably dispense with — were mostly intact on both sides.
Another example of this bottle was reportedly discovered in a Guyana river.
The auction house estimate on the bottle was $140 to $180, but it sold for the lone bid of $60, plus a buyer’s premium, bringing the total to $80.
(Had the bottle been sold on eBay, this column can reliably state it would have fetched a lot more.)
This story will appear in the West Kootenay Advertiser on May 31.