Garrett Scott, Bookseller has issued his latest catalogue of the obscure and bizarre. It is unlikely you have even heard of anything in this catalogue let alone have a copy in your collection. This one is Catalog 46: How to Kill an Eel. You don't want to know about that one. Most items are from the nineteenth century. You can look at them and laugh at how crazy and gullible people were then or you can look at them and see how little we have changed. The difference is they had to print their nonsense because there was no internet to post it on. Here are a few selections.
We begin with the image seen on the catalogue's cover. It is The All Do It Joker. The contemporary topics covered date this to circa 1877. It is a collection of stories, jokes, and cartoons likely compiled by George Small, aka “Bricktop.” It comments on the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia, a “satirical cut on the death of Brigham Young,” and the scandals and corruption in Washington. Indeed, little has changed. The image on the cover represents wives of members of President Grant's cabinet. There was corruption there and presumably the pictured wife is trying to look like high society, likely with the help of her husband's ill-gotten wealth. Item 1. Priced at $250.
Before there was Viagra there was Dr. Larzetti's Juno Cordial or Procreative Elixir. This is a broadsheet published in 1844 when quack patent medicines were available to cure just about anything. As the good doctor, who almost certainly didn't exist, explains, “And I assert that I have discovered a medicine that will create, as it were, 'new life,' by exciting to action the hitherto dormant organs.” Dr. Larzetti was conveniently located in Naples, too far away for anyone to check his credentials let alone existence. Scott was last able to find anything about this medicine in 1864, presumably meaning the problem was fully cured by then and there was no continuing need. Unlike Viagra, Dr. Larzetti's medicine also cured certain maladies of women and consumption, a broad category of every unexplained wasting disease that came to particularly refer to tuberculosis. One of the miracles of patent medicines is they usually cured a wide array of unrelated problems. Item 8. $650.
This next item is not a joke, but a candid and fascinating look at some of America's most important political leaders from the first half of the nineteenth century. The writer was William Leete Stone, a journalist with connections in Washington. The letter was to his wife Susannah, written on December 23, 1831. He had spoken to Henry Clay, who had just been nominated for President by the new National Republican Party. That party would evolve into the Whigs by the next election. Stone reports, “Wednesday I am to dine with Mr. Clay, and a select party of friends.” He describes the group as being “of the highest character,” witty, and “intellectual as well as moderately convivial.” He then goes on to describe Daniel Webster. “Webster, among strangers, and when he does not wish to be communicative, is as cold as an iceberg, and as distant as the farthest constellation. But among friends, when he chooses to unbend, he is one of the most delightful companions in the world.” He continues, “I have been to see the Cherokee Delegation this afternoon. Poor fellows! I pity them from the bottom of my heart. But I fear their case is hopeless. They are all intelligent men. I like [Elias] Boudinot & John Ridge. They call themselves Indians, but I told them their Indian blood had all been washed out. They said no – but that the White and Indian blood had been thoroughly mixed in.” Stone was prescient about their case being hopeless. They were trying to hold on to their ancestral homeland in Georgia, but were forced out, leading to the horrific “Trail of Tears.” Item 7. $450.
This is a catalogue for Whit's Novelties, circa 1935. They sold books, photographs, and other “novelties.” Among the books are such classics as Confessions of a Young Girl, Confessions of a Bell Boy, Queen of the White Slaves, Facts About Sex, and Frank and Fearless Sex. Among the “novelties” is a “Hotcha Dancing Girl” rubber doll. It employs a spring motor to make her dance. There are, “32 Miniature photos of attractive French girls in pleasing art poses, 72 photos of pretty young California flappers in scanties...Arts of Kissing, Hugging, Flirting, Harem Secrets, Adventures of newly married couples.” Lest you get the wrong impression, they assure us “This Catalog Does Not Contain Any Obsene [sic] Books...” Whew. Had me scared for a moment. Item 19. $200.
If you wanted to go West in the days when Ohio was part of the West, this is the guide you needed. The title is The Navigator: Containing Directions for Navigating the Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers...with maps of the Ohio and Mississippi. To which is Added an Appendix, Containing an Account of Louisiana and of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, as Discovered by the Voyage under Capts. Lewis and Clark. First published around 1801, it was very popular, this being the eleventh edition, published in 1821. The publisher was Zadok Cramer of Pittsburgh, which would have been a gateway to the West in those days. Actually, the West had greatly expanded by the time of this edition as it covers all the way to the Columbia River. Cramer had a jump on information about Lewis and Clark as he published the first account of that journey in 1807 by Sargent Patrick Gass. That came out seven years before the official account. It provides navigational data such as location of sand bars and crossings, along with information about the towns along the rivers, local history, and Native history. This copy is complete with the maps. Item 10. $975.
As for the eel, it comes from a handwritten joke story with the line “I saw Sal unbutton his pants and pull out a live eel.” Like I said, you don't want to know.
Garrett Scott, Bookseller, may be reached at 734-730-0643 or email@example.com.