Monday, August 20, 2007

Back when the Hudson's Bay Company (a private business) owned most of Canada and 'venture capital' was counted in beaver pelts, suffering for fashion was an everyday business. All those beavers found their way, eventually, into hats-- fuzzy, felted top hats. It took a special kind of hatter to process the pelts, to remove the hard, spiny hairs using mercury-- a toxic element-- day after day after day. As we now know, mercury (the element) is something that we don't want to have too close or prolonged contact with (I'm contrasting this, of course, with the establishment of the same name whose blog you are perusing, where you want to be all the time, obviously.)

The long-term effects of mercury were known back then but tolerated due to the lack of any other effective way of treating the furs. Those few who practiced this process slowly started to show the symptoms of mercury poisoning: drooling, sweating, and general dementia. They are best remembered in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, in the form of the Mad Hatter.

But humanity has had a much longer relationship with mercury due to its perceived magical properties, which were readily seen in its liquid state at room temperature. Alchemists prized this integral tool, using it liberally in their studies of transmutation, and quacks dosed their patients with this miracle cure, the solution to all cases of syphilis, cancer, mumps, flu, plague, pox, ticks, lice, demon possession, and general wifely disagreeability. This was the power of Quicksilver.

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