Six to Thirty Drops a Day

Two manuscripts on paper, both written in several legible hands, containing recipes for the manufacture of the famous elixir “les Gouttes du Général Lamotte” in the laboratoire du Roi. Two vols., one with manuscript title on upper cover: “Operations et Distribution des Operations 1730,” the other: “Memoires des Marchands, 1730.” 19; 34 leaves (with many additional blanks). Large 8vo & 4to (310 x 165 mm. & 275 x 200 mm.), cont. vellum wallet bindings with later deerskin ties.

Paris: ca. 1730-33.

Two unpublished manuscript laboratory record books detailing one of the great hoaxes in the history of medicine. These handsome manuscripts list the secret ingredients and each step in the fabrication of the “Gouttes du Général La Motte,” which took place in the chemical laboratory of Louis XV, as well as notes on deliveries to those who trusted in its restorative powers.

The original creator of this elixir was Alexis Bestoujev-Rioumine, imperial chancellor to Elizabeth I of Russia, who first formulated it in 1728. This tincture was sold at exorbitant prices in Russia and neighboring countries. Known as the “teinture toniconervina Bestuscheffi” and appearing in two forms, either gold or white, the tincture (or teinture) was a tightly guarded secret, thereby generating even greater demand and prices. The elixir was very much a cure-all, and in 1750, the Mercure de France, reported that it could be used to cure apoplexy, paralysis, gout, pleurisy, smallpox, measles, fevers, dysentery, indigestion, jaundice, and asthma. The recommended dosage was between six and thirty drops a day.

Bestoujev-Rioumine was betrayed by one of his collaborators and the secret formula was sold to a “General La Motte” (possibly Antoine Duru), who marketed it at very high prices in France, where he found the ideal clients at the royal court in Versailles. La Motte slightly modified the original recipe to reduce its cost, replacing gold with iron chloride, in order to satisfy the ever-growing demand for the cure-all, which was prescribed in large doses. Confected in either yellow or white gouttes (drops), it became known as “les gouttes du Général La Motte,” and fooled doctors and patients alike well into the late 19th century. Eighteenth-century newspapers repeatedly told of its miraculous effects and Victor Hugo refers to it in Les Misérables. In the 19th century it was best known as “Klaproth’s tincture.”

François Gigot de Lapeyronie (1678-1747), the great surgeon and premier chirurgien to Louis XV, is frequently mentioned in the present manuscripts. He was charged by the king with the production and distribution of the tincture to the aristocracy and members of the French court, including the queen, the duke and duchess de Noailles, and the minister of war, Angervilliers. He also provided consultations to the aristocracy throughout France as well as to many of the rulers of Europe. Louis XV was so convinced of the efficacy of the “gouttes du Général La Motte” that he purchased the rights to the recipe from La Motte himself, giving the general a life-time pension.

The manuscript volume entitled “Operations” details the manufacture of “les gouttes” under the supervision of La Motte from 1730 to 1733, with specific notes on the dates of manufacture and delivery and, in most cases, to whom. In one instance, it reads, “the Queen herself came to take a bottle of gouttes blanches.” Frequently, Lapeyronie is recorded as taking the medicine directly to clients, including Angervilliers and the duke and duchess de Noailles.

The volume with the title “Memoires” has two parts. The first enumerates the materials ordered by the royal laboratory to fabricate the “gouttes du Général La Motte.” The second records the cost for each ingredient, e.g., coal, “cork from Liege,” wine, ochre, chamois, vinegar, saltpeter, lead, salt, pork bladders, etc., etc.; the chemical apparatus used; and related expenses like travel. Also assiduously noted are explanations of the processes to create the elixir and the necessary equipment, such as mortars, knives, spatulas, feather brushes, baskets, iron, lead, etc., etc. There is also a mention of the first attempt to produce this elixir at the king’s laboratory in 1731, likely soon after the formulation was purchased from La Motte.

These fascinating manuscripts reveal the internal operations of an infamous medical scam. The wallet bindings are most attractive and in excellent condition. On both covers, a contemporary hand has written: “Ce registre vient des papiers de St. Cyr dont nous avons herité de Mme de Moustier notre tante.”

❧ Bayle & Thillaye, Biographie médicale, Vol. II, 194-95 (Lapeyronie).

Price: $12,500.00

Item ID: 6575