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At the turn of the 20th century the international mails had become efficient, reliable and inexpensive. A few American entrepreneurs recognized that the mails could be now used to defraud the public on an international scale. One of the most successful of these charlatans was Elvard L. Moses of Buffalo, New York (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Elvard L. Moses, creator of the Oxypathor medical device.
This is a familiar road as it is my third chapter on philately and international fraud. The first chapter introduced E. Virgil Neal, aka Xenophon la Motte Sage, and the New York Institute of Science. The second presents Professor A. Victor Segno.
Moses marketed the Oxypathor, a medical treatment device, which he sold for $35 per unit, about $700 in today’s purchasing power. The device cost $1.25 to produce. It consisted of a cylinder filled with chemicals (sulfur, sand, carbon and lead acetate based on one analysis), and wires coming from the ends of the cylinder that ended in electrodes, which were supposed to be attache to the ankles and wrists of the subject being treated.
The Oxypathor was supposed to polarize the skin and permit the ready entry of oxygen into the blood. Moses claimed that high levels of oxygen in the blood could cure virtually every known human disease.
Moses was not the creator of the Oxypathor concept, but he was its most successful marketer. Through national and international mailings and local advertising he was able to establish about 450 Oxypathor franchises on all five major continents.
Moses began sales of the Oxypathor from his Buffalo headquarters in 1908 and was ultimately convicted in late 1914 of mail order fraud by the combined efforts of the United States Post Office Department and the American Medical Association. He was sentenced to 18 months in the Atlanta Federal Prison. The trial revealed that he sold more than 45,451 Oxypathors during this period. However, after his conviction and sentencing, no refunds were ever made to the defrauded Oxypathor customers.
The purpose of this article is to document and detail Moses’ Oxypathor fraud as revealed through surviving ephemera and postal history. Included are sections on: the Oxypathor as a medical device; establishment of the Oxypathor franchises; advertising the Oxypathor; Oxypathor postal history; recent Oxypathor clinical studies; and the trial and incarceration of Moses.
The Oxypathor as a medical device
As noted, Moses was not the creator of the Oxypathor concept – a medical device that would oxygenate the blood and cure a myriad of diseases. This honor is attributed to one Hercules Sanche who initiated the concept in the late 1890s in the U.S. (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Hercules Sanche, initiator of the concept of oxygenators and, specifically, his Oxydonor.
Sanche actually was able to patent an oxygenator device, and by 1900 had elaborated it into the Oxydonor, which he marketed from offices in Detroit, Chicago, New York and Montreal. A picture of a typical Sanche Oxydonor is shown (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Hercules Sanche’s Oxydonor Victory, as marketed in the United States and Canada.
The device consisted of a nickel-plated gas pipe, which was filled with essentially inert chemicals and sealed at both ends. A wire extended from one end that ended in a metal electrode, which was supposed to be strapped to the patient’s wrist or ankle. Supposedly, the device polarized the skin and permitted the ready entry of oxygen into the blood. The presence of high levels of oxygen in the blood was claimed to cure a variety of diseases.
During actual use, the Oxydonor was supposed to be immersed in a bath of water, as the temperature of the water altered the efficacy of the device. The colder the temperature of the Oxydonor, the more potent was the treatment. This is contrary to what is normally seen in chemistry – in which the warmer a chemical reaction, the faster it proceeds.
A typical ad for the Oxydonor is illustrated (Figure 4). During the latter part of 1915 the Fraud Order Department of the Post Office Department investigated Sanche and his Oxydonor, and issued an order denying him and his company the use of the mail for the selling of this fraudulent device that did nothing.
Figure 4. A typical Sanche Oxydonor advertisement.
Sadly for philatelists, very little mail survives from the Sanche era. I have noted but one Sanche cover (Figure 5) in more than a decade of searching all likely avenues. The cover carries a simple 2-cent rate sent in 1896 from Sanche’s New York office to a potential client in the village of Hardin, Illinois. It shows a delightful ad for Sanche’s Oxydonor Victory, the name of his device at that time.
Figure 5. An 1896 Hercules Sanche cover to Illinois.
The sale of the Oxydonor was so profitable for Sanche that many imitators arose in the United States. The most successful of these was Elvard L. Moses of Buffalo.
Moses appropriated and expanded on Sanche’s ideas, and his version of the device was ultimately named the Oxypathor. Moses modified his version of the device such that it was longer than the Oxydonor. It had wires coming out of both ends leading to electrodes that were supposed to be attached to a wrist and ankle of the patient.
A well-used example of Moses’ device, complete with carrying case, is shown (Figure 6). The two standard electrodes are shown at the center and right of the figure. The instruction book for the Oxypathor was more than 130 pages (Figure 7)!
Figure 6. The Oxypathor as developed by Elvard Moses.
Figure 7. The Oxypathor instruction book in mint, never-read condition.
To expand sales for his company, Moses created a variety of accessories for the Oxypathor, which were sold as part of the after-market, as we say today. A sample of these from the instruction book is shown (Figure 8).
Figure 8. Oxypathor accessories offered in the instruction book.
Most probably, Moses sold an accessory for every human orifice and surface, male or female. Note the curved third electrode shown at the left in the picture of his Oxypathor model in Figure 6. This was supposed to be placed over the forehead or any other painful area of the subject, which presumably oxygenated the area directly.
Moses also created and sold a group of creams, powders and soaps to enhance Oxypathor treatments (Figure 9). To me, the accessories were a clear indication of what a master marketer he was.
Figure 9. Oxypathor powder and shaving soap were among the items offered to the public.
Postal history – the United States
Unfortunately, postal history related to the Oxypathor is very rare.
Since Moses dealt primarily with franchisees, there simply was not the level of correspondence that one might expect had he been dealing with individual clients. Many of the Oxypathors were bought at the local branches, and no correspondence was necessitated by these sales. There is no evidence that any of the Oxypathor branches had sufficient correspondence to warrant regular selling of their covers to the philatelic trade. This includes the home office in Buffalo.
Still, a few covers suggesting the history and scope of Moses’ scam can be found with diligent searching. At this writing, only 25 Oxypathor covers comprise the entirety of my collection.
Beginning with U.S. postal history, the first cover shown in this section (Figure 22) was posted from the Home Office in Buffalo on January 12, 1912, and franked at the standard 2-cent rate with a 1912 Washington coil. It reached into the second weight level (3 cents postage) and arrived in Syracuse, where it was charged 2 cents due.
Figure 22. An underpaid Oxypathor cover with a 2-cent Washington coil.
The cover was preprinted with the Oxypathor cachet, a Liberty-like figure holding a torch in her left hand and pointing to the heavens with her right, and the return address of the Buffalo home office. The choice of a silver ink for this cachet is unusual as it does not show strongly, as in this case, and is a poor choice for advertising. However, as we shall see, Moses apparently favored this cachet and it was used by many Oxypathor franchise offices as printed in the Buffalo home office.
Apparently someone named N.A. Merrell had two Oxypathor franchises, one in California and a second in Colorado. The California postcard shown (Figure 23) was posted in 1910 from Santa Anna to Merrell in Santa Barbara in 1910. At this time, the Oxypathor was known by its initial name, the “Oxygenator,” as the ad on the address side shows. Note that the device at the top of the card is clearly that by Moses.
Figure 23. A 1908 postcard from the N.A. Merrell franchise in California.
A remarkable Oxypathor envelope (Figure 24) shows a quiet rural scene and was printed to look like a letter card. This is addressed to Merrell in 1913 at the Northern Colorado Oxypathor Company in Boulder.
Figure 24. A picturesque envelope from the Buffalo home office to N.A. Merrell in Boulder, Colorado.
For the past seven years, I have been giving philatelic talks on Moses and the other fraudsters in my collection, and have looked for some learned statement with which to end each talk.
At first I thought that Puck’s comment on humans might be appropriate: “Lord what fools these mortals be.” Shakespeare offers a comment for just about every life situation. But possibly I am being too harsh on what is my grandparents’ generation.
When we compare the states of science and medicine in 1910 with those of today, there are fantastic differences. Despite these, we, as a species, remain easily fooled. The flat-earthers still exist, though their numbers are small, and belief in astrology is down to 5 percent. So possibly hope for us mortals yet remains.
- The Retro-Reveal image processing website is no longer available. An alternative is Postmark Reveal and it is available at: https://www.postmark-reveal.com/.
“Philately and International Mail Order Fraud, the Success of the New York Institute of Science in Hungary,” OPUS XVIII, Académie Européenne de Philatélie, pp 121-134, (2018). English version of the article is on the website of the Society for Hungarian Philately of the U.S.: https://hungarianphilately.org/articles/philately-and-mail-order-fraud/.
“Philately and International Mail Order Fraud: The Success of Professor A. Victor Segno and His American Institute of Mentalism in the European African Colonies,” OPUS XXIII, Académie Européenne de Philatélie, (2023), in press.
“The Giver of Oxygen: Hercules Sanche and the Oxydonor” (1996), Micaela Sullivan-Fowler, Journal of Medical Humanities, Vol. 17, pp 31-42.
“Philately & International Mail Order Fraud: The Oxypathor Franchise Office in Harbin, Manchuria,” by Edward Grabowski, Collectors Club Philatelist, Vol. 95, 313-316 (2016).
Nostrums and Quackery, Articles on the Nostrum Evil, Quackery and Allied Matters Affecting the Public Health: Reprinted With or Without Modifications from The Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume II (1921), Arthur J. Cramp Editor, Press of the American Medical Association, pp 705-720, Chicago. Available online via Google Books.
State Archives of North Carolina Photos Facebook page, https://aps.buzz/NCOxypathor.
Oregon Sunday Journal, Oct. 29, 1911, Portland, Oregon (https://aps.buzz/PortlandOxypathor).
Edward Grabowski, who spent his entire professional career as a chemist with the Merck Research Labs, started collecting stamps just after World War II, and fate ultimately brought him to the French colonies after first collecting the world, then the United States and then France. His “Guadeloupe Postal History” exhibit won the Grand Prix d’Honeur at the Washington 2006 show. In 2014, he received the APS Luff Award for Philatelic Research. During 2013 and 2014 it was his pleasure to serve as president of the Collectors Club of New York. Recently, his principal philatelic focus had been on the postal history of the French Colonial Allegorical Group Type and its era. It was while collecting this area that he first discovered covers related to using the mails to perpetrate mail order fraud on an international scale at the turn of the 20th century, which has now become his principal philatelic endeavor. Given that his philatelic interests are now worldwide, he always asks that fellow collectors inform him of any fraud material they encounter in their own collecting interests. Ed can be reached at: [email protected].
For Further Learning
Recommendations from the APRL research staff:
Bruns, James H. “Images of a Scandal: The 19th Century Star Route Frauds” The Heliograph, Spring 1988.
Clifton, Robert Bruce. Murder By Mail And Other Postal Investigations (Ardmore, PA: Dorrance & Company, 1979). [G3701 .P859 C639m 1979]
Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate. Use of Mass Mail to Defraud Consumers Hearing Before the Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, And Federal Services of The Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, One Hundred Fifth Congress, Second Session, September 1, 1998. (Washington, DC: U.S. G.P.O., 1999). [KF26 .G6739 1998d]
Dattolico, Michael. “Cuba: The Postal Frauds of 1900” The American Philatelist, October 1994.
Grabowski, Edward. “Philately and International Mail Order Fraud the Success of the New York Institute of Science in Hungary” (Academie Europeenne de Philatelie, 2018). [IP70792]
Holbrook, J. Ten Years Among the Mail Bags: Notes from The Diary of a Special Agent of The Post-Office Department (New York, NY: Loomis National Library Association, 1888). [G3701 .M219 H724t 1888]
Jones, M. “Star Route Mail Fraud 1870 – 1880” The American Philatelist, September 1972.
Mikulski, Zbigniew. “Postal Fraud in the Kingdom of Poland, 1858-1870” Bulletin of the Polonus Philatelic Society, May/June 1998.
Nelson, Larry. “Nigerian Mail Fraud Scheme. Too Good to Be True” The American Philatelist, May 1998.
Pisoschi, Rumitru. “Postal Fraud in Walachia” Romanian Philatelic Studies, 1981.
Simmons, C.C. Philatelic Frauds (Chariton, IA: C.C. Simmons, 1883). [HE6184 .F721 S592p CLOSED STACKS]
Speirs, Dale. “Advance Fee Mail Fraud” Postal History Journal, February 2002.
Tilles, Harvey G. “To Prevent Postal Fraud and Deceit” (Harvey Tilles, 2006). [HE6184 .F721 T575p 2006 EXHIBIT]