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The Skinner Machine at Boericke & Tafel
by Julian Winston
Scroll right for photo of machine > > >
Sometime about the turn of the century, Boericke and Tafel had a Skinner Machine built and installed at their facility in New York City. Their catalogue (circa 1925) gives this summary:

Fluxion Potencies
"The time and labor necessary in making these potencies higher than the one thousandth makes hand-made potencies impractical, therefore, for potencies higher than the thousandth machines are used and water is used as a menstrum or medium. There have been introduced into the homeopathic school in the last sixty years a number of these "fluxion" potencies under the names of the inventors of the machines. All of these potencies we have made or sold in past years, but the best and most accurate machine is the Skinner machine. During the last seventy-five years a great number of ardent homeopaths devised machines to make these high potencies. Thus Swan, Deshere, Fincke, Boericke, Lehrmann and Skinner all invented machines and made potencies. Some of these we made and sold. We made the Swan's, the Deschere's, the Boericke's and the Skinner's potencies. Of all these, the outstandingly best was the Skinner machine and the Skinner potencies which were made on this machine. All others were finally discarded and the Skinner potencies became the standard high potencies of the homeopathic field.

"Dr. James Tyler Kent was, while living, the foremost advocate of the use of high potencies and he endorsed the Skinner potencies as will be seen from the following letter."

Chicago, Ill., July 30, 1903.

Dear Doctor Hayes:

'This is the first time I have had this matter brought to my mind. I am astonished at such a report. I am perfectly familiar with the entire process of making Skinner potencies. I am the one who urged the firm of Boericke & Tafel to put in a Skinner Potentizer and make the potencies. If the small glass is weighed dry and then weighed again after it has been emptied the precise centesimal potency remains. Go to the Grand St. house in New York and see for yourself. The fact remains. It is the only cent. potentizer in the world that makes accurate potencies. Fincke's potencies are absolutely unknown in their making. They are made in secret. Swan's potencies were a fraud of the worst sort. I saw Swan make some of them and I discarded all I had. I have a full set of Skinner's potencies they work well I know how they are made. I know all about them and expect to continue using them. This story must be gotten up in the interest of some one! Go to New York and see the thing work and you will see for yourself.'

Yours truly,

J. T. Kent.

"The succussing in the fluxion potency machines is obtained by the force of a stream or streams of water being forcibly squirted into a container containing the lower potency of the remedy to be potentized. The Skinner potencies are now the most widely used fluxion high potencies in the world. They have stood the test of time and now have no equal."

A Comment about the above:
Boericke and Tafel never made the Swan potencies. The Swan potencies were given to Boericke and Tafel by Swan's widow when Swan died, and they sold them.
Although Kent says Fincke's process is "unknown" his process was a matter of public record, since it was patented in 1869.
The explanation of "succussing in the fluxion potency machines" is something which has come up, time and again, when B & T discussed this machine in a public forum. This will be expanded upon below.

The Philadelphia Skinner Machine
It is not known what happened to the Skinner machine in New York. There was, however, a second Skinner machine built by the Penn Machine Company in Philadelphia, and installed at the B & T premises at 1011 Arch Street. Although the records of purchase are no longer extant, the quality and type of machining on the device is consistent with a manufacturing date of sometime in the 1920s or early 1930s.
The machine sat in a cabinet, with a glass door that could be slid shut. It had six potentizing stations. Each was completely separate from the other. The potentizing vials (seen at the right above full size) were attached to an axle with a spring. They were spherical on the bottom, and had two protrusions on the side. These "nubs" anchored the vial into the holder on the axle and prevented the vial from slipping. Each vial operated in its own chamber, accessible by a hinged door which had a window in it. The water used was gravity fed from a large five-gallon jar. The operation was, essentially, similar to the original Skinner machine. The water was pulled into a vertical syringe and the syringe was emptied, directly into the receiving vial. The vial was then quickly upset, causing all the liquid to be shaken from it. The vial then returned to the upright position and the process repeated.

High Potencies in the USA
By 1920 there were only two pharmacies in the United States manufacturing high potencies: B & T (on the Skinner Machine), and E & K (on the Kent machine). By the 1950s only the Skinner potencies from B & T remained in manufacture.
Our homeopathic cultural teaching has consistently reiterated the dilution and succussion process, and when anyone figured out how long it actually took to produce a 10M and wondered "how do they do it?" the answer was "with a machine." That was usually the end of the questioning.

Through the 1960s, all the high potencies sold in the USA by all pharmacies came from either B & T or E & K. Some said that they got their high potencies from Ainsworths in England, but when the pedigree of those remedies were traced it was found that Ainsworths purchased most of their high-potencies from B & T. By 1960, no pharmacy in the USA was manufacturing potencies above a 30th or a 200th, except B & T. If one bought a 10M, 50M or CM from any other pharmacy in the USA, one probably got a B & T Skinner potency.

It is interesting to note that the in the B & T literature of the time, it was mentioned, with insistence, that this machine does not produce fluxion potencies but, rather, succussed them at each step. This myth continued through the 1980s.

In the May 1932 issue of Jottings (the trade publication of B & T), an article says:

"...We have always believed that even in making high potencies, the method of Hahnemann should be used; that is, the succussion method. The Skinner Machine uses the succussion method of Hahnemann. Every potency made on this machine is succussed."

Although the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS) specifies, in section 11, that succussion is necessary for all remedies made, the reality was that NO remedies above the 200th were being physically succussed. The first machine in the USA to actually make remedies with dilution and physical succussion, as specified in the HPUS, was made by Michael Quinn in the late 1980s.

Through the 1960s and 1970s the market was small, everyone who manufactured the remedies knew each other, and everyone was using the B & T remedies without complaint and, apparently, with good results.

When I first visited B & T in 1981, I was shown through the facility by Gus Tafel. He showed me the machine. I asked, "where is the succussion?" He gave me the standard line that the liquid is squirted, at great pressure, into the potentizing vial and the force of the stream, combined with the spherical bottom of the receptacle, created a vortex that duplicated the energy gained from succussion. It didn't make sense to me, and I let it slide.

When B & T was purchased by The Schwabe's Group Dutch branch, VSM, in 1987, one of their first projects was to re-build and re-calibrate the famed Skinner Machine.

Section 11 in the HPUS specifies (for single vial [Korsakov] manufacture) that 5ml is placed in a 15ml flask, succussed, and shaken out. Then another 5 ml is placed in the flask. This makes the assumption that 1/100 of 5ml remains in the flask.

When re-building the Skinner machine, it was found that the dilutions that were being made were, in reality, close to a 1:17 ratio rather than the 1:99 which is specified in centesimal manufacture. The vials in the Philadelphia machine were the same size as the vials in the original Skinner machine at the Faculty of Homeopathy in London. It is, therefore, obvious in retrospect that "soft science" of the 1880s certainly did prevail, and, with all the arguments of the time taken with a grain of salt, the original Skinner machine could not have been producing true centesimal potencies either.

It has always been pointed out by those manufacturing the Fluxion potencies that they were never the same as Centesimal Hahnemannian potencies; that a 10M from a Skinner Machine is not the same as a 10,000 CH. As long as these potencies were identified as a "Skinner" potency, there should have been no problems in knowing what you were getting.

In 1990, B & T began to run a series of ads in homeopathic journals, discussing their re-building of the Skinner Machine and letting everyone know about how it worked. By doing so, the myth was destroyed.
Everyone had been supporting the myth. B & T swore the remedies were succussed at each step. Practitioners thought that when they ordered a 10M they were getting a hand-succussed Hahnemannian centesimal, when what they were really getting was a Skinner preparation made as 1:17 (but thought of as 1:99!), and run through the machine for 9,000+ cycles.
That they were not succussed was not received well by some in the homeopathic community. That they had always "worked" seemed to be an issue lost in the debate.

A parable:
There was once a baker who, everyone agreed, made the best cakes ever.
"Certainly," they said, "he makes them with cream as the King's cook book suggests."
They asked him, "do you make it with cream?" And he smiled.
One day, the baker announced that he will divulge his secret recipe.
"I do not use cream," he said.
"But your cakes are the best! You must use cream!"
"Well, I don't," said the baker. "But do you like my cakes?"
"They are the best," was the answer, "But what about the King's cook book?"

The Skinner potencies had been in continual production since, at least, 1900. Their clinical record was well recorded. Every person who had bought a potency over a 1M in the last 30 years from B & T, from Borneman, from Standard, from Ainsworths, or from a number of Indian pharmacies has been using, in all probability, a Skinner potency. The results speak for themselves.

But the "cat was out of the bag." The Skinner machine had difficulty on two counts. First, it had been generally agreed that potentizing involved dilution and succussion. This, and the proportions needed to produce the remedy are clearly stated in the HPUS.

Furthermore, B & T was identifying the potencies made on the machine with an "SK." While the designation of "X" and "C" were listed in the HPUS along with "CH" ("centesimal Hahnemannian") and "CK" ("centesimal Korsakovian") the designation of "SK" was not official. And because of this, B & T ran the risk of the FDA seizing any remedy bearing the designation "SK" as being "non-compendial."

In 1991 the question of the Skinner machine came before the Council on Pharmacy of the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia Convention (HPCUS). B&T had asked for the machine to be approved, rather than asking for approval of the process. The HPCUS had no precedent for approving an instrument. It had limited itself to the approval of methods and procedures. It was generally agreed that all previous potentization methods had included succussion and that a method without this step was neither appropriate or necessary. The fluxion issue was, therefore, dropped, and the use of the Skinner machine by Boericke & Tafel ceased.

2000 Julian Winston

Thomas Skinner
Thomas Skinner, MD
August 11, 1825- October 11, 1906
Scroll right for photo of Thomas Skinner and his machine> > >
Educated in medicine at Edinburgh University, Skinner was an outspoken critic of homeopathy. After becoming ill and having to give up his practice to preserve his health, he was treated by Dr. Edward Berridge who had trained in the USA at Hahnemann Medical College. Skinner was given an MM dose of Sulphur, and had a complete recovery.
He dove into homeopathy whole-heartedly. He studied homeopathy under Berridge, and read Hahnemann's three major works The Organon, The Materia Medica Pura, and The Chronic Diseases. When he felt secure in his homeopathic practice he announced his changed practice and resigned from the Liverpool Medical Institute which prohibited the membership of homeopaths through a law put into place years earlier by Skinner himself.
Skinner attended the International Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, and upon his return to England he founded (with Edward Berridge in the UK and Adolph Lippe and Samuel Swan in the USA) The Organon "An Anglo-American Journal of Homoeopathic Medicine and Progressive Collateral Science." Although it ceased publication after the first issue of Volume 4 in 1881, it became the pace setter for journals devoted to pure Hahnemannian homeopathy that followed the Homoeopathic Physician and The Medical Advance.
Skinner practiced in Liverpool, England. He was, in the words of H. C. Allen, "probably the best prescriber in Britain."
He died two weeks after injuring himself in a fall when he slipped on a banana peel.

Skinner's Machine
The "Skinner Centesimal Fluxion Potentiser" was first described in an article by Thomas Skinner, MD in The Organon (Vol. I, p. 45).
Very early on, Skinner was unsure if it was the dilution or the succussion which was the deciding factor in preparing remedies. He conducted an experiment in which he took a two dram vial, and placed in it one drop of Sulphur tincture. He then filled the vial slowly. He then emptied it and repeated the process a thousand times. When the next patient arrived that needed Sulphur, he gave a dose of the potency he had prepared. The patient had such a strong reaction that it had to be antidoted.
This was the starting point of developing a machine that would prepare remedies by a similar process.
The machine was designed to be used over a wash-basin in a doctor's office. The water supply from the faucet was attached to the machine and provided the motive power through the "water wheel." The machine held two potentizing vials. The vials had a spherical bottom and each held just 100 minims of liquid. The water supply was adjusted (with the stop-cocks) so that the vial was filled with 100 minims of water before overturning quickly and forcibly ejecting the contents into the sink and down the drain.
In theory, one drop was left adhering to the wall of the vial. The vial was then returned to the upright position, and the process repeated.
Dr. Skinner wrote that because of all the ways of adjusting the water flow of the machine, that there was "no difficulty obtaining mathematical certainty" in the potencies.
The machine could make 50 potencies a minute, 8,000 an hour, 72,000 per day, and a 100,000 (CM) in about 33 hours. An MM (a 1,000,000) could be made in 330 hours or 14 days.
He said that his "fluxion centesimal" (F.C.) potencies are made "by a process such as Hahnemann himself, if he could witness them, would highly approve, because all the essential points are most scrupulously observed and greatly improved upon, whilst time is enormously economized, and error is next to an impossibility, so perfect are the methods used."
Skinner's original machine is on display at the Faculty of Homeopathy Library in London.
In about 1900, Boericke & Tafel installed a Skinner Machine in their pharmacy.

2000 Julian Winston


Skinner Machine at Boericke & Tafel
Photo Skinner Machine B&T




















































































Photo Thomas Skinner
Thomas Skinner

Photo Original Skinner Machine
Original Skinner Machine


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