“Doctor, My Eyes” Performed by Jackson Browne & Musicians Around the World

The music collective Playing for Change is back. This time, they have Jackson Browne performing his 1970s hit, “Doctor, My Eyes,” supported by musicians from Brazil, Jamaica, India, Puerto Rico, France and beyond. Browne is also joined by Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel, who played on the original 1972 song, and they still sound amazing. Enjoy….

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Coursera Offers $100 Off of Coursera Plus (Until September 21), Giving You Unlimited Access to Courses & Certificates

A heads up on a deal: Between now and September 21, 2023, Coursera is offering a $100 discount on its annual subscription plan called “Coursera Plus.” Normally priced at $399, Coursera Plus (now available for $299) gives you access to 6,000+ world-class courses for one all-inclusive subscription price. This includes Coursera’s Specializations and Professional Certificates, all of which are taught by top instructors from leading universities and companies (e.g. Yale, Duke, Google, Meta, and more).

The $299 annual fee–which translates to 81 cents per day–could be a good investment for anyone interested in learning new subjects and skills, or earning certificates that can be added to your resume. Just as Netflix’s streaming service gives you access to unlimited movies, Coursera Plus gives you access to unlimited courses and certificates. It’s basically an all-you-can-eat deal. Explore the offer (before September 21, 2023) here.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

The 50 Greatest Music Videos of All Time, Ranked by AV Club

It’s not an especially straightforward matter to pin down when music videos first emerged. In a sense, the Beatles were already making them back in the late sixties, but then, MTV, where the music video as we know it rapidly took shape, didn’t start broadcasting until 1981. The very first video aired on the channel, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles, had actually been made almost two years earlier, in 1979. But that didn’t stop it from doing a good deal to define the form that would, itself, define the popular culture of the eighties. Nor did it stop it from appearing, 40-odd years later, on The AV Club’s list of the 50 greatest music videos of all time. They’re viewable as a Youtube playlist here, or you can stream them all above.

Not that it ranks especially high. In fact, it comes in at number 50, leading into a selection of videos from artists popular in a range of subsequent periods: Talking Heads, George Michael, Nirvana, LL Cool J, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift. As the artistic ambitions of the music video grew, it reflected not just a song’s cultural moment, but put several such moments in play at once.

In Sonic Youth’s “Teen Age Riot,” “a clip of Elvis Presley is followed by space-jazz pioneer Sun Ra; a snatch of underground comic book auteur Harvey Pekar on Late Night with David Letterman flits by.” For the “high water mark for kitschy 1990s irony” that is Weezer’s “Buddy Holly,” “Spike Jonze sets the video in the 1950s… but it’s the ’50s as seen on Happy Days, a sitcom that painted a rosy picture of the Eisenhower years.”

Jonze also draws inspiration from seventies television for the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” a tribute to the cop shows of that era that makes up for an apparent lack of budget with sheer humor and energy (a reminder of the director’s origin in skateboarding videos). I remember my millennial peers getting excited about that video in the 90s, as, in the 200s, they’d get excited about Michel Gondry’s all-LEGO animation of the White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl.” This was roughly when Britney Spears was breaking through to superstardom, thanks not least to videos like “Baby One More Time,” which combines the slickness of teen pop with the chintz of teen life. “The idea for Britney’s iconic schoolgirl uniform and pigtails came from the singer herself: director Nigel Dick followed her lead, then had wardrobe buy every stitch of clothing in the video from Kmart.”

This was also before Youtube, whose ascent made the music video more viable than it had been in years. The AV Club’s list does include a few videos from the past decade and a half— Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” — but on the whole, it underscores that there’s never been another time like the eighties. That decade that went from “Ashes to Ashes” to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “Relax,” “Money for Nothing,” “Walk This Way,”Take on Me,” and “Rhythm Nation” — to say nothing of institutions like Duran Duran, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, all of whom make the list more than once, but none of whom take its top spot. That goes to Peter Gabriel, whose stop-motion fantasia “Sledgehammer” is MTV’s all-time most-played music video. “If anyone wants to try and copy this video, good luck to them,” Gabriel once said. He meant its painstaking production, but he could just as easily have been talking about the place it attained in pop culture.

Related content:

Watch the First Two Hours of MTV’s Inaugural Broadcast (August 1, 1981)

Michel Gondry’s Finest Music Videos for Björk, Radiohead & More: The Last of the Music Video Gods

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David Bowie Releases 36 Music Videos of His Classic Songs from the 1970s and 1980s

Hans Zimmer Was in the First-Ever Video Aired on MTV, The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”

David Lynch’s Music Videos: Nine Inch Nails, Moby, Chris Isaak & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Earliest Surviving Photos of Iran: Photos from 1850s-60s Capture Everything from Grand Palaces to the Ruins of Persepolis

The technology and art of photography emerged in nineteenth-century Europe. And so, when a part of the world outside Europe was well-photographed in those days, it tended to be a traveling European behind the camera. Take John Thomson, previously featured here on Open Culture, for his photos of China in the eighteen-seventies. Even before that, an Italian colonel and photographer named Luigi Pesce was hard at work documenting a land geographically closer to Europe, but hardly less exotic in the European worldview of the time: Persia, or what we would today call Iran.

“According to scholars and historians, the first photographer in Iran was Jules Richard, a Frenchman who, as stated in his diaries, arrived in Tehran in 1844,” says the web site of the National Museum of Asian Art.

“He served as the French language tutor of the Gulsaz family and took daguerreotypes of Mohammad Shah (reigned 1834–48) and his son, the crown prince, Nasir al-Din Mirza.” Alas, these photographs seem to be lost, much like most others taken before Pesce’s arrival in the country in 1848, “during the reign of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, to train Iranian infantry units.”

Pesce’s photographic subjects included Naser al-Din himself, pictures of whom appear in the online collection of Pesce’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was the Met that received a copy of the photo collection Pesce produced of Iran’s ancient monuments — probably the very same copy that the photographer had originally sent to Prince William I, King of Prussia.

In those days, even such exalted figures had a great deal of curiosity about far-flung realms, and before photography, they had no easier way of seeing what those realms really looked like than making the arduous journey themselves.

The sites captured in this collection include Toghrol Tower, the Tomb of Seeh-i Mumin, and the Mosque of Nasser-eddin Shah — as well as Pasargadae, Naqsh-e Rustam, and Persepolis, the famed ceremonial capital complex of the ancient Achaemenid Empire, which Pesce was the first to photograph. Or at least he was the first to succeed in doing so, Naser al-Din having previously sent Richard off to make some daguerreotypes of Persepolis that never came out.

But even Pesce’s photographs, fully executed using just about the height of the technology at the time, no longer have the immediacy they would have when Prince William gazed upon them; more than a century and a half later, they have a patina of historical distance that shades into unreality, making them feel not unlike ruins themselves. You can also view more photos on Google Arts and Culture.

Related content:

New Archive of Middle Eastern Photography Features 9,000 Digitized Images

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The Oldest Known Photographs of Rome (1841-1871)

700 Years of Persian Manuscripts Now Digitized & Free Online

Behold the Photographs of John Thomson, the First Western Photographer to Travel Widely Through China (1870s)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Coffee Connoisseur James Hoffmann Reviews a $20,000 Espresso Maker

It costs roughly $20,000, weighs nearly 100 pounds, and looks like a high-end microscope. Handmade in Switzerland, the MANUMENT Leva Machine makes espresso. How well does it make espresso? How do the shots taste?: According to coffee expert James Hoffmann–he’s the author of The World Atlas of Coffeethe shots have a texture that is “very enjoyable.” The texture is “silky, buttery and soft.” That verdict is sandwiched in the middle of a 20-minute review of the machine, which you can watch above.

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How to Make Medieval Mead: A 13th Century Recipe


Read a story set in the Middle Ages, Beowulf or anything more recently written, and you’re likely to run across a reference to mead, which seems often to have been imbibed heartily in halls dedicated to that very activity. The same goes for medieval-themed plays, movies, and even video games. Take Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, described by Max Miller, host of Youtube channel Tasting History, as “a history-based game of, like, my favorite time period — Saxons and Vikings, you know, fightin’ it out — so I’m assuming that there’s going to be mead in there somewhere.” He uploaded the video, below, in the fall of 2020, just before that game’s release, but according to the Assassin’s Creed Wiki, he was right: there is, indeed, mead in there.

Perhaps throwing back a digital horn of mead in a video game has its satisfactions, but surely it would only make us curious to taste the real thing. Hence Miller’s episode project of “making medieval mead like a viking,” which requires only three basic ingredients: water, honey, and ale dregs or dry ale yeast. (The set of required tools is a bit more complex, involving several different vessels and, ideally, a “bubbler” to let out the carbonation.)

In it he consults a thirteenth- or fourteenth-century manuscript (above) called the Tractatus de Magnetate et Operationibus eius, which includes not just a letter on the workings of magnets — and “a university handbook on the theory of numbers, proportions, and harmony” and “the seven signs of bad breeding; the seven signs of elegance” — but also “one of the oldest known surviving English mead recipes.”

“When you think of Saxons and Vikings, yes, you think of mead,” Miller says, “but mead actually got its start way before that,” evidenced in the alcohol-and-honey residue found on Chinese pottery dating to 7000 BC and a written mention in the Indian Rigveda. “I have tasted the sweet drink of life, knowing that it inspires good thoughts and joyous expansiveness to the extreme, that all the gods and all mortals seek it together,” says that sacred text. Even if Miller’s mead doesn’t make you feel like a god, it does have the virtue of requiring only a few days’ fermentation, as opposed to the traditional period of months. Toward the video’s end, he mentions having set one bottle aside to ripen further, and possibly to feature in a later episode. That was nearly three years ago; today, Tasting History fans can only speculate as to what alcoholic Valhalla that brew has so far ascended.

You can find the text of the medieval recipe below:

//ffor to make mede. Tak .i. galoun of fyne hony and to
þat .4. galouns of water and hete þat water til it be as
lengh þanne dissolue þe hony in þe water. thanne set hem
ouer þe fier & let hem boyle and ever scomme it as longe as
any filthe rysith þer on. and þanne tak it doun of þe fier
and let it kole in oþer vesselle til it be as kold as melk
whan it komith from þe koow. than tak drestis
of þe fynest ale or elles berme and kast in to þe water
& þe hony. and stere al wel to gedre but ferst loke er
þu put þy berme in. that þe water with þe hony be put
in a fayr stonde & þanne put in þy berme or elles þi
drestis for þat is best & stere wel to gedre/ and ley straw
or elles clothis a bowte þe vessel & a boue gif þe wedir
be kolde and so let it stande .3. dayes & .3. nygthis gif
þe wedir be kold And gif it be hoot wedir .i. day and
.1. nyght is a nogh at þe fulle But ever after .i. hour or
.2. at þe moste a say þer of and gif þu wilt have it swete
tak it þe sonere from þe drestis & gif þu wilt have it scharpe
let it stand þe lenger þer with. Thanne draw it from
þe drestis as cler as þu may in to an oþer vessel clene & let
it stonde .1. nyght or .2. & þanne draw it in to an
oþer clene vessel & serve it forth // And gif þu wilt
make mede eglyn. tak sauge .ysope. rosmaryne. Egre-
moyne./ saxefrage. betayne./ centorye. lunarie/ hert-
is tonge./ Tyme./ marubium album. herbe jon./ of eche of
an handful gif þu make .12. galouns and gif þu mak lesse
tak þe less of herbis. and to .4. galouns of þi mater .i. galoun of

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Playlist of 45 Shakespeare Film Trailers, from 1935 – 2021

The Internet Movie Database credits Shakespeare as the writer on 1787 films, 42 of which have yet to be released.

The Shakespeare Network has compiled a chronological playlist of trailers for 45 of them.

First up is 1935’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring Olivia de Havilland, Jimmy Cagney, Dick Powell, and, in the role of Puck, a 15-year-old Mickey Rooney, hailed by the New York Times as “one of the major delights” of the film, and Variety as “so intent on being cute that he becomes almost annoying.”

Tragedies dominate, with no fewer than six Hamlets, Shakespeare’s most filmed work, and “one of the most fascinating and most thankless tasks in show business” according to novelist and frequent film critic James Agee:

There can never be a definitive production of a play about which no two people in the world can agree. There can never be a thoroughly satisfying production of a play about which so many people feel so personally and so passionately. Very likely there will never be a production good enough to provoke less argument than praise.

Lawrence Olivier, Nicol Williamson, Mel Gibson, Kenneth Branagh, Ethan Hawke, David Tennant – take your pick:

MacBeth, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest – a comedy – are other crowd-pleasing workhorses, chewy assignments for actors and directors alike.

Those with a taste for deeper cuts will appreciate the inclusion of Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011), Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) and Titus, Julie Taymor’s 1999 adaptation of Shakespeare’s most shocking bloodbath.

Moviegoing connoisseurs of the Bard may feel moved to stump for films that didn’t make the playlist. If you can find a trailer for it, go for it!  Lobby the Shakespeare Network on its behalf, or make your case in the comments.

We’ll throw our weight behind Michael Almereyda’s Cymbeline, featuring Ed Harris roaring down the porch steps of a dilapidated Brooklyn Victorian on a motorcycle, the bizarre Romeo.Juliet pairing A-list British vocal talent with an all-feline line-up of Capulets and Montagues, and Shakespeare Behind Bars, a 2005 documentary following twenty incarcerated men who spent nine months delving into The Tempest prior to a production for guards, fellow inmates, and invited guests.

Enjoy the complete playlist of Shakespeare film trailers below. They move from 1935 to 2021.

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Take a Virtual Tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

When Salvador Dalí Gave a Lecture at the Sorbonne & Arrived in a Rolls Royce Full of Cauliflower (1955)

Salvador Dalí led a long and eventful life, so much so that certain of its chapters outlandish enough to define anyone else’s existence have by now been almost forgotten. “You’ve done some very mysterious things,” Dick Cavett says to Dalí on the 1971 broadcast of his show above. “I don’t know if you like to be asked what they mean, but there was an incident once where you appeared for a lecture in Paris, at the Sorbonne, and you arrived in a Rolls-Royce filled with cauliflowers.” At that, the artist wastes no time launching into an elaborate, semi-intelligible explanation involving rhinoceros horns and the golden ratio.

The incident in question had occurred sixteen years earlier, in 1955. “With bedlam in his mind and a quaint profusion of fresh cauliflower in his Rolls-Royce limousine, Spanish-born Surrealist Painter Salvador Dalí arrived at Paris’ Sorbonne University to unburden himself of some gibberish,” says the contemporary notice in Time. “His subject: ‘Phenomenological Aspects of the Critical Paranoiac Method.’ Some 2,000 ecstatic listeners were soon sharing Salvador’s Dalirium.”

To them he announced his discovery that “‘everything departs from the rhinoceros horn! Everything departs from [Dutch Master] Jan Vermeer’s The Lacemaker! Everything ends up in the cauliflower!’ The rub, apologized Dali, is that cauliflowers are too small to prove this theory conclusively.”

Nearly seven decades later, Honi Soit‘s Nicholas Osiowy takes these ideas rather more seriously than did the sneering correspondent from Time. “Beneath the simple shock value and easy surrealism, it becomes clear Dalí was onto something; the humble cauliflower is considered one of the best examples of the legendary golden ratio,” Osiowy writes. “Cauliflowers, rhinoceroses and anteaters’ tongues were to Dali essential manifestations of a glorious shape; deserving of an explicit depiction in his The Sacrament of the Last Supper,” painted in the year of his Sorbonne lecture. “Shape, the idea of geometry itself, is the unsung magic of not just art but our entire cultural consciousness.” Not that Dalí himself would have copped to communicating that: “I am against any kind of message,” he insists in response to a question from fellow Dick Cavett Show guest, who happened to be silent-film icon Lillian Gish. The seventies didn’t need the surreal; they were the surreal.

Related content:

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When Salvador Dalí Dressed — and Angrily Demolished — a Department Store Window in New York City (1939)

Salvador Dalí Reveals the Secrets of His Trademark Moustache (1954)

Q: Salvador Dalí, Are You a Crackpot? A: No, I’m Just Almost Crazy (1969)

Salvador Dalí Strolls onto The Dick Cavett Show with an Anteater, Then Talks About Dreams & Surrealism, the Golden Ratio & More (1970)

How Dick Cavett Brought Sophistication to Late Night Talk Shows: Watch 270 Classic Interviews Online

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

“The Virtues of Coffee” Explained in 1690 Advertisement: The Cure for Lethargy, Scurvy, Dropsy, Gout & More

According to many historians, the English Enlightenment may never have happened were it not for coffeehouses, the public sphere where poets, critics, philosophers, legal minds, and other intellectual gadflies regularly met to chatter about the pressing concerns of the day. And yet, writes scholar Bonnie Calhoun, “it was not for the taste of coffee that people flocked to these establishments.”

Indeed, one irate pamphleteer defined coffee, which was at this time without cream or sugar and usually watered down, as “puddle-water, and so ugly in colour and taste [sic].”

No syrupy, high-dollar Macchiatos or smooth, creamy lattes kept them coming back. Rather than the beverage, “it was the nature of the institution that caused its popularity to skyrocket during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.”

How, then, were proprietors to achieve economic growth? Like the owner of the first English coffee-shop did in 1652, London merchant Samuel Price deployed the time-honored tactics of the mountebank, using advertising to make all sorts of claims for coffee’s many “virtues” in order to convince consumers to drink the stuff at home. In the 1690 broadside above, writes Rebecca Onion at Slate, Price made a “litany of claims for coffee’s health benefits,” some of which “we’d recognize today and others that seem far-fetched.” In the latter category are assertions that “coffee-drinking populations didn’t get common diseases” like kidney stones or “Scurvey, Gout, Dropsie.” Coffee could also, Price claimed, improve hearing and “swooning” and was “experimentally good to prevent Miscarriage.”

Among these spurious medical benefits is listed a genuine effect of coffee—its relief of “lethargy.” Price’s other beverages—“Chocolette, and Thee or Tea”—receive much less emphasis since they didn’t require a hard sell. No one needs to be convinced of the benefits of coffee these days—indeed many of us can’t function without it. But as we sit in corporate chain cafes, glued to smartphones and laptop screens and mostly ignoring each other, our coffeehouses have become somewhat pale imitations of those vibrant Enlightenment-era establishments where, writes Calhoun, “men [though rarely women] were encouraged to engage in both verbal and written discourse with regard for wit over rank.”

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Related Content:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

The Romanovs’ Last Ball Brought to Life in Color Photographs (1903)

In 1903, the Romanovs, Russia’s last and longest-reigning royal family, held a lavish costume ball. It was to be their final blowout, and perhaps also the “last great royal ball” in Europe, writes the Vintage News. The party took place at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, 14 years before Czar Nicholas II’s abdication, on the 290th anniversary of Romanov rule. The Czar invited 390 guests and the ball ranged over two days of festivities, with elaborate 17th-century boyar costumes, including “38 original royal items of the 17th century from the armory in Moscow.”

“The first day featured feasting and dancing,” notes Russia Beyond, “and a masked ball was held on the second. Everything was captured in a photo album that continues to inspire artists to this day.” The entire Romanov family gathered for a photograph on the staircase of the Hermitage theater, the last time they would all be photographed together.

It is like seeing two different dead worlds superimposed on each other—the Romanovs’ playacting their beginning while standing on the threshold of their last days.

With the irony of hindsight, we will always look upon these poised aristocrats as doomed to violent death and exile. In a morbid turn of mind, I can’t help thinking of the baroque gothic of “The Masque of the Red Death,” Edgar Allan Poe’s story about a doomed aristocracy who seal themselves inside a costume ball while a contagion ravages the world outside: “The external world could take care of itself,” Poe’s narrator says. “In the meantime it was folly to grieve or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure…. It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade.”

Maybe in our imagination, the Romanovs and their friends seem haunted by the weight of suffering outside their palace walls, in both their country and around Europe as the old order fell apart. Or perhaps they just look haunted the way everyone does in photographs from over 100 years ago. Does the colorizing of these photos by Russian artist Klimbim—who has done similar work with images of WW2 soldiers and portraits of Russian poets and writers—make them less ghostly?

It puts flesh on the pale monochromatic faces, and gives the lavish costuming and furniture texture and dimension. Some of the images almost look like art nouveau illustrations (and resemble those of some of the finest illustrators of Poe’s work) and the work of contemporary painters like Gustav Klimt. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that unease lingers in the eyes of some subjects—Empress Alexandra Fedorovna among them—a certain vague and troubled apprehension.

In their book A Lifelong Passion, authors Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko quote the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovitch who remembered the event as “the last spectacular ball in the history of the empire.” The Grand Duke also recalled that “a new and hostile Russia glared through the large windows of the palace… while we danced, the workers were striking and the clouds in the Far East were hanging dangerously low.” As Russia Beyond notes, soon after this celebration, “The global economic crisis marked the beginning of the end for the Russian Empire, and the court ceased to hold balls.”

In 1904, the Russo-Japanese War began, a war Russia was to lose the following year. Then the aristocracy’s power was further weakened by the Revolution of 1905, which Lenin would later call the “Great Dress Rehearsal” for the Revolutionary takeover of 1917. While the aristocracy costumed itself in the trappings of past glory, armies amassed to force their reckoning with the 20th century.

Who knows what thoughts went through the mind of the tzar, tzarina, and their heirs during those two days, and the minds of the almost 400 noblemen and women dressed in costumes specially designed by artist Sergey Solomko, who drew from the work of several historians to make accurate 17th-century recreations, while Peter Carl Fabergé chose the jewelry, including, writes the Vintage News, the tzarina’s “pearls topped by a diamond and emerald-studded crown” and an “enormous emerald” on her brocaded dress?

If the Romanovs had any inkling their almost 300-year dynasty was coming to its end and would take all of the Russian aristocracy with it, they were, at least, determined to go out with the highest style; the family with “almost certainly… the most absolutist powers” would spare no expense to live in their past, no matter what the future held for them. See the original, black and white photos, including that last family portrait, at History Daily, and see several more colorized images at the Vintage News.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2019.

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Vin Mariani, the 19th-Century Cocaine-Infused Wine, Imbibed and Endorsed by Presidents, Popes & Writers

In the neverending quest to elevate themselves above the fray, today’s mixologists – formerly known as bartenders – are putting a modern spin on obscure cocktail recipes, and resurrecting anachronistic spirits like mahia, Chartreuse, Usquebaugh, and absinthe.

Might we see a return of Vin Mariani, a Belle Époque ‘tonic wine’ that was hit with such august personages as Queen Victoria, Ulysses S. Grant, Alexander Dumas and Emile Zola?

Probably not.

It’s got coca in it, known for its psychoactive alkaloid, cocaine.

Corsican chemist Angelo Mariani came up with the restorative beverage, formally known as Vin Tonique Mariani à la Coca de Peroum, in 1863, inspired by physician and anthropologist Paolo Mantegazza who served as his own guinea pig after observing native use of coca leaves while on a trip to South America:

I sneered at the poor mortals condemned to live in this valley of tears while I, carried on the wings of two leaves of coca, went flying through the spaces of 77,438 words, each more splendid than the one before…An hour later, I was sufficiently calm to write these words in a steady hand: God is unjust because he made man incapable of sustaining the effect of coca all life long. I would rather have a life span of ten years with coca than one of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 000 centuries without coca.

Mariani identified an untapped opportunity and added ground coca leaves to Bordeaux, at a ratio of 6 milligrams of coca to one ounce of wine.

Unsurprisingly, the resulting concoction not only took the edge off, it was accorded a number of healthful benefits in an age where general cure-alls were highly prized.

The recommended dosage for adults was two or three glasses a day, before or after meals. For kids, the amount could be divided in two.

Reigning masters of graphic design were enlisted to promote the miracle elixir.

Jules Chéret leaned into its energy boosting effects by depicting a comely young woman clad in skimpy, sheer yellow replenishing her glass mid-leap, while Alphonse Mucha went dark, claiming that “the mummies themselves stand up and walk after drinking Vin Mariani.”

While we’re on the subject of corpse revivers, 21st-century mixologists will please note that a cocktail of Vin Mariani, vermouth and bitters, served with a twist, was a particularly popular preparation, especially across the Atlantic, where Vin Mariani was exported in a more potent version containing 7.2 milligrams of coca.

Angelo Mariani’s innovations were not limited to the chemistry of alcoholic compounds.

He was also a marketing genius, who curried celebrity favor by sending a complimentary case of Vin Mariani to dozens of famous names, along with a humble request for an endorsement and photo, should the contents prove pleasing.

These accolades were collected and repurposed as advertisements that assured adoring fans and followers of the product’s quality.

Sarah Bernhardt conferred superstar status on the drink, and not so subtly shored up her own, grandly pronouncing the blend the “King of Tonics, Tonic of Kings:”

I have been delighted to find Vin Mariani in all the large cities of the United States, and it has, as always, largely helped to give me that strength so necessary in the performance of the arduous duties which I have imposed upon myself. I never fail to praise its virtues to all my friends and I heartily congratulate upon the success which you so well deserve. 

Pope Leo XIII not only carried “a personal hip flask” of the stuff to “fortify himself in those moments when prayer was insufficient,” he invented and awarded a Vatican gold medal to Vin Mariani “in recognition of benefits received.”

Mariani eventually packaged the glowing endorsements he’d been squirreling away as Portraits from Album Mariani. It’s a compendium of famous artists, writers, actors, and musicians of the day, some remembered, mostly not…

Composer John Philip Sousa:

When worn out after a long rehearsal or a performance, I find nothing so helpful as a glass of Vin Mariani. To brain workers and those who expend a great deal of nervous force, it is invaluable.

Opera singer Lillian Blauvelt:

Vin Mariani is the greatest of all tonic stimulants for the voice and system. During my professional career, I have never been without it.

Illustrator Albert Robida:

At last! At last! It has been discovered – they hold it, that celebrated microbe so long sought after – the microbe of microbes that kills all other microbes. It is the great, the wonderful, the incomparable microbe of health! It is, it is Vin Mariani!

(We suspect Robida penned his entry after swallowing more than a few glasses… or he was of a mischievous nature and would’ve fit right in with the Surrealists, the Futurists, Fluxus, or any other movement that jabbed at the bourgeoisie with hyperbole and humor.

Mariani used the album to publish the Philadelphia Medical Times’ defense of celebrity endorsements:

The array of notable names is a strong one. Too strong in standing, as well as in numbers, to allow of the charge of interested motives.

Mariani also included an excerpt from the New York Medical Journal, denouncing the unscrupulous manufacturers of “rival preparations of coca” who pirated Vin Mariani’s glowing reviews, “craftily making those records appear to apply to their own preparations.”

Elsewhere in the album, medical authorities tout Vin Mariani’s success in combatting such maladies as headaches, heart strain, brain exhaustion, spasms, la grippe, laryngeal afflictions, influenza, inordinate irritability and worry.

They fail to mention that it could get you much higher than vins ordinaires, defined, for purposes of this post, as “wines lacking in coca.”

The psychoactive properties of coca definitely received a boost from the alcohol, a collision that gave rise to a third chemical compound, cocaethylene, a long-lasting intoxicant that produces intense euphoria, along with a heightened risk of cardiotoxicity and sudden death.

…some dead celebrities could likely tell us a thing or two about it.

Mariani’s fortunes began to turn early in the 20th century, owing to the Pure Food and Drug Act, the growing temperance movement, and increased public awareness of the dangers of cocaine.

We may never see a Vin Mariani cocktail on the menu at Death & Co, Licorería Limantour, or Paradiso, but the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Museum keeps a bottle on hand.

Related Content

Coca-Cola Was Originally Sold as an Intellectual Stimulant & Medicine: The Unlikely Story of the Iconic Soft Drink’s Invention

How a Young Sigmund Freud Researched & Got Addicted to Cocaine, the New “Miracle Drug,” in 1894

The Coffee Pot That Fueled Honoré de Balzac’s Coffee Addiction

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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