Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - February - 2007 Issue

A Sold Out Catalogue from deHartington and Weiss

Onanism

The thankfully unillustrated catalogue on onanism.


By Michael Stillman

Here is a catalogue unlike any others we have reviewed. It is unique both for its subject and the fact that it is the first catalogue which sold out before we even received it! More about that and the buyer later on, but first we take a look at the catalogue itself. It is offered by Michael DeHartington of London and Burton Weiss of Berkeley. The title is simply Onanism. For most, that term probably is not understood. Those who know are smirking.

The subheading enlightens us: The masturbation panic 1756-1973. It must have been serious, as that's an awfully long time for a panic to go on. Actually, you might think a topic like this would not have been discussed that much in public. You would be wrong. As this catalogue elucidates, the topic was the subject of much discussion, or at least of much literature. Why is a mystery. For whatever reason, the practice became a sin in the eyes of prudish theologians and others, which in turn led to a field of quackery "science" which attempted to convince young people it would result in all sorts of medical catastrophes. Of course there was no evidence for this, but as with patent medicine, no evidence was required. So, we have this body of literature, designed to scare people, either with quack medical claims or hellish theological threats. Of course, none of this had any impact, people behaving as they always did, but it is still interesting to listen to the hysterical writers tilt at their chosen windmill. Here are a few samples from these works.

Pastor Sylvanus Stall attempted to instill fear in the hearts of young men in 1897 in What a Young Man Ought to Know. Along with undermining physical powers, destroying health, and bringing on ruin, regret and remorse, Stall informs his readers the "evil practice" can, "in some instances bring softening of the brain, weakening the intellect, and convert its unfortunate victim into an imbecile, thus preparing himself either for the insane asylum or an early place in the cemetery." One wonders if this was the cause of Stall's own imbecility.

While young men were usually the target audience for these publications, women were not spared. Augustus Gardner, an MD no less, informs us in Conjugal Relationships as regards Personal Health... (1918), "much of the worthlessness, lassitude and mental and physical feebleness attributable to the modern woman are to be ascribed to these habits as their initial cause." I always wondered what made modern women this way.

As long as we are picking on women, another MD, John Cowan, in The Science of a New Life, quoting a Dr. J.C. Jackman (seriously), observes, "I never knew a girl to eat lime off the wall, or to chew up her slate-pencils, who was not to a greater or less extent a victim of this practice." Come to think of it, I have never known any girls who ate lime off of walls who weren't either. Is this why they call the British limeys?

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

Review Search

Archived Reviews

Ask Questions