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

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

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