Life Among the Shakers; Patent Medicine 1880
|Why It's Interesting|
This lovely booklet is one of the few patent medicine publications featuring the Shakers that is found in a respectable number of academic libraries. Written by Mary Carr, it recounts her visit to the Shaker community of Mount Lebanon. The back cover is a colored scene “Sunday at Mount Lebanon; strangers coming to the Shaker Meeting.” The booklet has two line illustrations, of “the oldest and youngest Shakers” and “the Shaker school children.” It preserves much rare information about Shaker life but, like most such publications of the late 19th century, dwells upon patent medicines supposedly discovered by Mother Siegel. It devotes 5 pages to her story and then addresses the diseases and conditions helped by her discoveries. The ailments relieved included those of the liver, bowels, and stomach; piles, headache, rheumatism, nervous disorder, “female diseases,” heart disease, worms, skin diseases, etc.
Whatever happened to this and the other great wonder drugs marketed so widely at the time? [Were they banned by the FDA, which so many Tea Partyers would now like to abolish, going back to the good old days of quackery? Mother Siegel would be so proud of them.]
The remainder of this booklet consists of numerous testimonial letters from delighted consumers [all address to a Mr. A. J. White of New York City]. The users ranged geographically from New England to Kansas. A respectable number of writers were ministers.
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.