Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2018 Issue

Bill Helfand: gone but not to be forgotten

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Bill Helfand: A Collector

Bill Helfand, [William H. Helfand], an exceptional collector and member of the Grolier Club since 1978, passed away recently at 92 and left us much to consider.  He had a drug problem, that is, a lifelong interest in drug ephemera, particularly quackery, that he came by naturally. 

 

His subject was a thin niche that required he figure out who might have material of interest because much of his collecting predated the internet.  For that, he visited shows, regularly received catalogs, and traveled for the Merck Drug Company in the United States and Europe.

 

There are not many advantages to advanced age but if you were a life-long collector and lived to be 92, that means you started to collect before collecting categories had become so settled.  That in time, if you were persistent, made you an expert, and in his case, the expert, in a slim niche that only became visible with the explosion of the Internet 25 years ago.  By that time Mr. Helfand had already amassed a huge collection of printed quackery and would go on, when he was 76, to publish his well-regarded and interesting volume, Quack, Quack, Quack in 2002.

 

He had the proper background for it.  Mr. Helfand was the son of a druggist, earned a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in 1948, and an additional degree from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1952, after which he joined Merck. He also worked early on in his father’s drug store and may have found the labels more interesting than the pills and powders for their names and claims were clues to their efficacy and he would later spend his free time identifying and acquiring examples of spurious drug advertising.

 

In his seventies he would allow, after a career in the marketing of medicines, that the distinction between quackery and helpful medicines was often a matter of perception, and sometimes the most garish claims were the only hope sufferers had.

 

He has now departed and we do not, so much anymore, visit the graves of they who have run their race and so it’s unlikely many will find his resting spot.  But they will find him now and again online.  His book, Quack, Quack, Quack will live on, copies in time climbing into the auction ring where descriptions and prices will be noted and his name referenced when serious collectors in his field consider what he figured out long before the Google search replaced inspiration and perspiration with term matches.

 

For collectors of false claims and nostrums Quack, Quack, Quack sets a very high bar by which to judge your collecting ambitions and accumulations. It includes his succinct and very clear history of the field followed by 183 examples that illustrate the changing intersection of hope and medicine.  Go back several hundred years and you’ll find that medical claims were more the stuff of conjurers than physicians.  That of course has changed, if not altogether, for the better.

 

With this article are 10 examples of quackery from his collection, that, after looking them over, should be followed by an examination of your medicine cabinets. 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> MITCHELL, John (1711-1768). A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America. Copperplate engraving with original hand color. London, 1755. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Brown Pelican (Standing), Plate 251. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $175,000 to $225,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Fish Hawk or Osprey, Plate 81. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London: 1827-1838. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> GONZALES DE MENDOZA, Juan (1545 - 1618). <i>The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China…</i> London, 1588. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623-1688). [World Map] Kun-Yu Ch'uan-Tu. Engraved twelve sheet map with vertical sections joined to form six sheets. Korea, Seoul, c. 1860. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> SANGGI, Chong (1678-1752). Korean Atlas. Manuscript map on mulberry bark paper. C. 1750-1790. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Plate 66. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AKERMAN, Anders (1721-1778). & AKREL, Frederik (1779-1868). Pair of Celestial and Terrestrial Globes. Stockholm, c. 1800. 23 inch diameter, each. $60,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> BENNETT, Lieut. William Pyt (d. in action, 1916). AN IMPORTANT AND APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED SERIES OF GELATIN SILVER PHOTOGRAPHS OF LHASA AND TIBET TAKEN DURING THE CELEBRATED YOUNGHUSBAND MISSION OF 1904. $60,000 to $80,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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