Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - January - 2015 Issue

Old Medical Books from Yesterday's Muse


A medical catalogue.

Yesterday's Muse Books has issued a Medical Catalog. First a word of warning – use this for collecting and historic research. Don't follow the advice of the books herein. The greatest concentration is 19th century medical texts, and their recommendations are not likely to work much better today than they did when the average lifespan was 40 years. There was little understanding then of what caused illnesses, making cures very hard to come by. Standard therapy entering the 19th century was an unholy triad - “bleeding, puking (puke weed) and purging.” More physicians were starting to conclude that this was not very effective. Still, with antibiotics, even sulfa drugs, a century away, many turned to various vegetable compounds and the like, less harmful, but equally ineffective. This attempt at an alternative resulted in the explosion of patent medicines, ineffective placebos that did little but make a lot of money for their merchants. It is in this environment that most of these medical guides were written, most well meaning, some actually providing good advice, perhaps accidentally, such as healthy diets and exercise. Here, now, is a look back at medicine as it was.


In the days before there was much in the way of systematic research, people tended to make up medical theories that sounded reasonable to them, even if they had no basis in fact. Item 15 is An Inquiry into the Cause of Natural Death, or Death from Old Age, by Homer Bostwick, published in 1851. Bostwick believed life was a series of physical degradations, concluding in death. The cause, he concluded, was “calcareous earthy matter,” more specifically, phosphate of lime (calcium phosphate). Therefore, the secret to youth and good health was to avoid foods containing this substance, such as salt, grains, certain food additives, river and spring water. However, Bostwick did stumble into some good advice as he recommended eating more fruits, vegetables, fish and fowl, foods much better than what the average American consumes today, though his reasoning was to avoid “calcareous earthy matter.” Priced at $125.


Item 81 gives us a look at the movement away from the harsh “remedies” of the early 19th century to more gentle, herbal solutions: New Guide to Health; or Botanic Family Physician, by Samuel Thomson, the third edition published in 1832. Thomson was a self-taught medical man, developer of what became a popular system known as “Thomsonian Medicine.” Like Bostwick, he liked vegetables, but prepared into herbal remedies as opposed to meals. Thomson developed his remedies after his wife nearly died from typical medical treatment of the day. Ultimately, Thomson would be roundly attacked by the medical establishment, and his cures were not medically effective, and yet he did contribute to the advancement of medicine by throwing light on the miserable practices of the day. American National Biography describes his contributions thusly: “The significance of his work is not in any contribution to medical science but in the strong influence he created against the prevailing practice of the day, in which bleeding, calomel, and opium were the ruling remedies.” $250.


The other point of view was expressed by Caleb Ticknor in 1838 in A Popular Treatise on Medical Philosophy; or, An Exposition of Quackery and Imposture in Medicine. Ticknor was a physician, and believed in the value of traditional medicines. This is not to say he was against vegetable medicines, but believed that scientific testing of efficacy was required, and pointed out that herbal medicines, if abused, could be just as dangerous as chemical medicines when abused. Ticknor was free in using the term “quack” to describe those who advocated unproven patent medicines. Item 83. $95.


We certainly would not want to put this next item under the heading of quackery. No, not at all. Item 9 is Baunscheidtismus or the New Curing Method, Improved by Dr. J. Firmenich... published in 1862. If you aren't familiar with Baunscheidtismus, let alone know how to pronounce or spell it, it is because the practice does not appear to be in vogue these days. Its developer, Carl Baunscheidt, was not a doctor. He was more of an inventor, though of dubious merit. One day, a swarm of gnats alighted on Baunscheidt's arthritic hand, several biting him. He noticed the arthritic pain went away. That was all Baunscheidt needed to come up with a medical explanation, and a device to mechanically perform the gnats' cure. He concluded that the openings in his skin caused by the bites enabled the “morbid accumulations” causing his pain to escape his body. So, he invented a device called the lebenswecker (life awakener) to serve as artificial gnats, so to speak. It consisted of a series of sharp needles in a spring loaded mechanism. Set if off, and the needles stabbed the patient, creating the necessary openings to let the bad stuff escape. He then poured a toxic oil on the wound, which caused it to become irritated and blister, as the oozing was a sign of the poisons leaving the body. This, he concluded, was similar to the healing action of the poison in the gnat bites that cured him. Firmenich, explains that “Baunscheidtismus desires to deliver the world from the errors and abuses of the old faculty of physic...” Sadly, it introduced a new series of errors and abuses. $150.


A medical book not published until 250 years after it was written is likely to be out of date, but this one is very interesting anyway for its historical value, both as a look at colonial America, and the thinking of its author, perhaps the most important American theological figure before the Revolution. Item 56 is The Angel of Bethesda: An Essay upon the Maladies of Mankind. It was written by Cotton Mather from 1722-1724, and while excerpts were published at the time, this is the first edition of the complete work, published in 1972. Cotton Mather was a major religious figure, his reputation forever tarnished by his tacit approval of the Salem witch trials. However, his interests ranged far and wide, and medicine was among them. His work was long ignored as it mixes religion and the occult with medical science. As the book's jacket notes, “Mather's remedies were a mix of the bizarre, benign and beneficial.” It should be noted that while Mather's background was not ideally suited for medical advice, he was an early, vigorous proponent of a very controversial procedure at the time – inoculation for smallpox. It would take most of the remainder of the century for people to become convinced, but Mather was medically correct on this one. $30.


This next book is of some note, though not so much for its medical breakthroughs. Item 75 is The Theory and Treatment of Fevers by John Sappington, published in 1844. Sappington criticizes the bleeding and purging of other doctors at the time, and instead recommends “vegetable alkaloids” to cure fevers. Sappington also just happened to make some pills containing these substances. However, Sappington's remedy was actually somewhat effective, unlike the typical patent medicine, as he used quinine, a natural medicine that does help. What makes Sappington's book particularly notable is that it was printed in Arrow Rock, Missouri, and is generally regarded as the first medical book printed west of the Mississippi. $175.


Yesterday's Muse Books may be reached at 585-265-9295 or yesterdays.muse@gmail.com. Their website is found at www.websterbookstore.com

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 7. Ritter's unusual sun-dial world map, 1607. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 16. Fascinating Japanese satirical map published prior to WWII, 1932. Est. $1400 to $2000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 30. Newton's 2" miniature terrestrial globe, 1833. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 318. Braun & Hogenberg's first plan of Moscow in contemporary color, 1575. Est. $2750 to $3500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 346. One of the most decorative 18th century maps of Malta, 1680. Est. $1200 to $1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 412. The first printed map devoted to the Pacific in full contemporary color, 1589. Est. $8000 to $10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 425. Rare set of celebrated explorers of the New World, 1592. Est. $1900 to $2300
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 436. Two superb miniature atlases bound in one volume with 98 maps, 1682. Est. $5500 to $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 445. Part IV of de Bry's "Grand Voyages" by Girolamo Benzoni, 1613. Est. $2000 to $2500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 447. Tallis' "History of the United States of America" in six volumes, 1850. Est. $1500 to $1800
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 448. Mallet's miniature military masterpiece, 1672. Est. $1400 to $1700
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Malcolm X, Autograph Letter Signed, from prison, 1950. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Letter from Moses Walker, an enslaved Georgia man, to his mother at another plantation, 1854. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Signed cabinet card of Frederick Douglass, albumen photograph, Boston, circa 1879. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Placard from the Memphis Sanitation Worker's strike, 1968. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b><br><i>The North Star,</i> volume 1, issue 27, Rochester, NY, 1848. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Hand-tinted tintype of John Brown, circa 1860. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster signed & inscribed by Huey Newton, circa 1967. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Album of aerial views of the march on Montgomery, taken by federal troops, 1965. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster for the SNCC, photograph by Danny Lyon featuring John Lewis, circa 1962. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
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    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000

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