Gillray, James "Metallic Tractors."

Gillray, James "Metallic Tractors."

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James Gillray (1756-1815).  "Metallic Tractors."

London: Hannah Humphrey, November 11, 1801. Hand colored etching. 8 5/8 x 11 1/4, trimmed just at or within plate marks. Some staining in lower margin, plus a relatively recent (1957) inked gift inscription. 

As described in M. Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, #9761:

A fat citizen (three-quarter length), seated in an armchair, endures an operation upon the carbuncles of his bloated nose. The operator (left), thin and high-shouldered, holds the patient's forehead and applies a small pointed instrument (a metallic tractor) causing flames to gush from nose and nostrils. On a small table (left) are a decanter of 'Brandy' with a jug and steaming glass, lemon, and sugar, the patient's pipe lying across a newspaper: 'The True Briton. Theatre Dead Alive. Grand Exhibition in Leicester Square, just arrived from America the Rod of Æsculapius. Perkinism in all its Glory - being a certain Cure for all Disorders, Red Noses, Gouty Toes, Windy Bowels, Broken Legs, Hump Backs. Just discover'd, the Grand Secret of the Philosopher's Stone with the True way of turning all Metals into Gold, pro bono publico.' On the wall (right) is a picture of an infant Bacchus, astride a cask, holding out a decanter and a glass.

Born in Connecticut in 1741, Elisha Perkins practiced medicine there. Responding to consumer demand for new therapies, such as therapeutic devices and inventions, in 1796 Perkins patented his "Tractors," which consisted of two 3-inch metal rods with a point at the end. Claiming the steel and brass devices were made from unusual alloys, Perkins used his rods to cure inflammation, rheumatism and pain in the head and the face. Applying the points on the affected body part, Perkins claimed they could "draw off the noxious electrical fluid that lay at the root of suffering." Condemned by physicians for "delusive quackery," Perkins nevertheless managed to convince several medical faculties in the United States and Denmark that his method worked, while he charged critics with elitism and professional arrogance. Perkins boasted of five thousand cures. Expanding the market to London, his son, bookseller Benjamin Perkins, published The Influence of Metallic Tractors on the Human Body in 1798. Benjamin, noting that one set had been purchased by none other than George Washington, boasted that the "President of the United States, convinced of the importance of the discovery from experiments in his own family, availed himself of its advantages by purchasing a set of the Tractors for their use." Eventually, the "Tractors" were proved to be fraudulent, a circumstance satirized in this Gillray caricature.

Other caricatures by James Gillray:


"A Lyoness."

"The Magisterial Bruisers."

"Posting in Ireland."

"The Revolution of 1831. As Prophecyed by that learned Astrologer General, Ikey Wether-bridge ..."

"Every Rogue is a Coward."