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

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  • <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Leaves from<br>George Washington's Own Draft <br>of His first Inaugural Address. An Extraordinary Rarity!
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Tyler 1818 - First Print with Facsimile Signatures.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Thomas Jefferson Signed Act of Contress Authorizing Alexander Hamilton to Complete Famous Portland Maine Lighthouse.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Emanuel Leutze. Silk Flag Banner designed by Leutze, created by Tiffany & Co., and presented to Gen. John A. Dix, 1864.
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    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Lincoln Summons His Cabinet for a Historic Meeting to Discuss Compensated Emancipation.
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    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Robert E. Lee. Autograph Letter Signed, June 11, 1782. Hours after the Battle of Culpeper Court House, Lee Escapes Again.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> George Washington. Letter Signed, as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to Elias Dayton, Headquarters, [Newburgh, N.Y.], June 11, 1782.
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    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>James Montgomery Flagg,<br><i>Wake Up, America!</i>, 1917.<br>$4,000 to $6,000.
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  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> KEY, FRANCIS SCOTT. <i>A Celebrated Patriotic Song, the Star Spangled Banner.</i> 1814.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> [COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER, Amerigo Vespucci ..] Bernardus Albingaunensis .. Dialogo nuperrime edito Genue in 1512.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true originall copies,</i> 1632.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (WATKINS, TABER &c.). <i>An album of 32 photographs of the Yosemite and American West Various places</i>, c. 1890s
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (BATTLE OF CONCORD.) <i>Powder horn used by Minuteman Oliver Buttrick at the Battle of Concord</i>, April 19, 1775.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (CIVIL WAR.) <i>An Extraordinary Confederate Photograph and Autograph Album of Dr. R. L. C. White</i>, 125 original mounted salt prints. 1859-61.

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