Monday, January 09, 2006

Quacking Up

Quacking Up

Ephemera For All!

A couple of months ago, I was visiting my friends April and Andy when I noticed something quite peculiar on their mantle. Now, Andy makes lamps from flea-market finds, so the house is full of old, interesting things that I could easily break — therefore, I try and follow a strict "no-touching" policy similar to the one I employ at museums and funerals. But this was such an out-of-the-ordinary find that I was willing to risk looking at it and destroying it.

The oddity was a book; and what caught my eye was that it was almost as thick as it was tall and wide. If you were to add any more pages, it would run the risk of being a cube. I was intrigued; what subject matter was so bottomless that you could publish a near-cube's worth? Upon closer inspection, the book appeared to be pretty old, only increasing my curiosity. So, pulling it down, I began to leaf through what turned out to be a medical tome from 1919.

Finding a book that old is an exciting occasion, especially for someone like myself. The oldest things I own are probably tape cassettes and the gift sweaters at the back of my bottom dresser drawer. Finding a "pre-kevin" era book promises numerous examples of traditional printing errors, samples of weathering paper, uproarious old-timey photography, and boundless examples of dying language. But I would say this was an extra-special find because it's about medical techniques from long ago. That means there's an additional element to look forward to: quackery.

A Thorough and Concise Knowledge of the Prevention, Causes, and Treatments of Disease Simplified for Home Use

The Near-Cube of Knowledge

In all, the book is a total of about 1600 pages, complete with photo inserts. The majority of the book deals with diagnosis and treatment, and is about as dry as a modern medical journal martini in terms of its entertainment value. Although, there is a fair amount of humorous imagery. Like the young lady below, taking great care to avoid double-chins with the latest of medical techniques:

Bandage for Preventing Double-Chin

Or this robust gentleman, doing the recommended daily exercises to remain a robust gentleman:

A powerful Neck is a healthy Neck

There's also a variety of medical illustrations, although at some point a few of them were "revised":

The Altered Woman

I can't decide whether the culprit was a prude improving this book, or a pervert improving some other book.

My "Proud Flesh" is Much Much Worse Than Your "St. Vitus's Dance"

The real value to the Health Knowledge Medical Journal of 1919 lies in the back of the book, in the "Home Remedies" section. Here I can find the common-man solutions to my every affliction, especially my dangerously low levels of quackspeak. Just within the span of two pages, I get quite a satisfying dose:

For my severe Barber's Itch, I'll be painting the affected area of my body with a tincture of iodine; after a few minutes, I'll wash off the iodine with alcohol and apply a sulpher salve. Then I'll put that Barber through a round or two of fisticuffs for giving me such an itch.

I know we ALL struggle with Biliousness. I can reduce my own case by opening my bowels freely with calomel. Perhaps I'll augment that with fifteen to twenty drops of the fluidextract of Queen's-Root taken three times a day, before my meals. Within days, you'll all absolutely marvel at my Biliousnesslessness!

Are you Bleeding from the Skin? Good thing you keep an absolutely filthy house, so there will be plenty of cobwebs around to apply to the cut. If it's particularly deep, you can sprinkle on some powdered alum, provided you can hold the can in your blood-slippery hands.

I don't know what Chilblains are, but I at least know to massage my legs with olive-oil, and then apply raw onions to the affected parts night and morning. Judging from this remedy, Chilblains must mean my legs turn into some sort of dinner entree.

Modern Problems, Time-Tested Solutions

Not that all of the quackery is relegated to outdated ailments. Many recognizable medical problems are addressed with equal bizarreness:

If for some reason I start to feel that my Freckles pose a threat to my health, I can remove them with a ten-per-cent solution of saltpeter applied to the face every night and morning. Just a note here; If freckles were dangerous in ANY way, the Irish would not exist.

Lockjaw sufferers need to immediately be placed in a dark room, light apparently being the main cause of lockjaw. Inhalations of chloroform should be administered until the doctor arrives to confirm whether the bottle you grabbed in the dark is actually chloroform.

Doctors advise placing Hysteria sufferers in a dark room as well, probably so that they can't see the creepy turn-of-the-century dolls that get them so riled up. You should also administer fifteen grains of potassium bromide every three hours. Oh, and don't forget to give them a strong laxative at night; the last thing you want is a fully-loaded hysteric. Those things can pop off at ANY time.

Your every day, run-of-the-mill Headache is easily solved with your every day, run-of-the-mill hot mustard foot bath. Of course, if it's really severe, you better upgrade to a mustard plaster on the neck, and apply hot fomentations of essence of peppermint. I guarantee your headache will abate, though you now run the risk of children finding you delicious.

The Future is Later!

I do wonder which of the remedy suggestions would actually work, and which would cause harm. I'm sure the majority of them are somewhat effective; I don't think they would have packaged a book of bunk remedies with the rest of the legitimate material with which the book seems to be comprised. What really makes these funny, after all, is mostly the dated terminology. They're no less humorous than today's medical lexicon: Mucinex, Adderall XR, Augmentin... think of all these words that will sound crazy to our grandchildren. Observe:

(My grandchild and his friend enter scene. Friend has a sucking chest wound)
ME: "Oh God! Kevin the Third, what happened to your friend!!? We better get him to a Hospital!"
KEVIN III: (looking uncomfortable) "Pop-Pop, you're embarrassing me in front of Zeleroy. No one knows your crazy words..." (Kevin III goes to kitchen drawer, pulls out Wound Stabilization Ray and zaps friend.)
ME: "Dude, that shit was off-the-hook!"
(Kevin III and Friend roll eyes, then go upstairs to play Playstation 42)

Own your own Home! Remedies!

For those of you out there with Gleet, Gravel or Grip, or even the unfortunate contingent of my readers with Milk Leg, here's some good news. I scanned in the Home Remedies section in its entirety, which can be downloaded here:

Home Remedies (.pdf)

Of course, without the previous sections of the book, it will probably be difficult for you to diagnose some of the more obscurely-named afflictions, but that's probably for the best — if you can't diagnose it, you can't try the outdated remedies that will possibly do more harm than good. Besides, half of these call for opening the bowels freely, which is something your body hopefully does on a regular basis already.

As for myself, I'll have to give this book back to Andy and April pretty soon; and while part of me wishes I could keep it, many other parts of me will be relieved to give it back. Leafing through a musty 87 year-old book is giving me chest pains and sinus congestion, and lugging the entire cube on and off the scanner is really starting to strain my back. But, twenty grains of sulfate of zinc, one teaspoonful of borax, and seven ounces of rose water mixed and injected into the nostrils with an atomizer three times a day should clear that right up. And if not, I can always open the bowels freely.

Comments on this Article

There are currently 28 comments.

[ Add one of your own! ]


my grandfather was a doctor and I've got some pretty wacky medical books of my own. Includin his medical school year book that has all hand drawn portraits of every damn person graduating and the book itself is textured like a skull. Oh, it's also called "The Skull". It's like something out of evil dead.

John Nick

Superb post! But shouldn't that derby be floating?


Bandelin - Wow - what year was the book published? It's hard to imagine that hand-drawn class portraits would be more economically feasible...

John Nick - Haha - Well, the derby is sick too...


Wow. What a read. Although now I have cabbage eye.

Rob Wilmshurst

Earache: Hot raisins placed in the canal of the ear often afford relief...

I presume that's if you can get them out again.


I believe i tried some home remedies for freckles i heard on the radio when i was a wee lad. They didn't work at all. In fact, I think it made them explore more of my face. If only I had this nation-of-a-book!


This is the sort of thing I absolutely love to have. My best posession in this direction is a dictionary from the early 1930s, unfortunately.

Maybe I should hit up the flea markets sometime.


Wow. I'm jealous. This book sounds fabulous, and your write up is absolutely hilarious. For the record, though, peppermint scent really DOES work for headaches.


Rob: It's no surprise that the soothing sounds of Marvin Gaye are homeopathic.


Wow ... this is the most I've ever seen you write (I believe)! I've got some magic brownies that will take care of that industriousness ... ;-)

Scratch that, for loose-lippedness of the hand, please inhale two frog farts and have a good ol' fashioned Mexican stand-off with a squirrel.


Ooh ooh!! THAT's how you cure cracked nipples!!!

*me calling my girlfriend later* "Hey baby, you know that thing with your nipples? Well ...

Ara Pehlivanian

This reminds me of my pocket science book from the early 1900s. I'll have to dig it up and see if gravity was discovered at the time, or if that only happened once the world stopped being flat.


Ian - You know what helps that? Cabbage.

Rob Wilmshurst - Haha - good observation ;)

Sutter - Perhaps it just reversed the freckles and skin color. Did you use Corpus Capway's Reversifying Unguent?

Jordan - A dictionary from the 30's sounds pretty cool. None of those distracting modern words like "internet" or "skank".

Rachael - Really? But does it need to be in fomentatious form?

Ara - Yeah - that would be a pretty funny read too!


Chilblains are when you come in from the cold, and your feet are cold and wet, and then you put them in front of the fire, or a heater. If you heat them up too quickly you get red soreness on the skin, which is itchy. Then they go away. Apparently you can get it on your fingers but I never have.

I'm amazed that you don't know what they are. Everyone gets them when they're kids.

Well, everyone here. Maybe they're just an Irish affliction as well as freckles.

Apparently peeing on them makes them better, or so I've always been told


Well I'll tell you what... they sound ABSOLUTELY delicious!

Hugh G.

I have the brain pan of a Stagecoach Tilter, is there a cure in that book for that?


That bastard ANDY! He borrowed this book from me back in ol' days of TMX. I purchased it from a run down "shack" on the side of the road near Kutztown, PA. The book cost me a wopping .25 cents.

Thank you bearskin for finding this long lost gem. Like many other countless treasures, many can be found at Andy and Ape's house.

Short List:
1. Dehumidifier (brand new)
2. -10 degree mummy sleeping bag
3. Medical Journal (pictured)
4. Camping mattress pad
5. "Centerfuge" lamp (he still hasn't delivered it).

Probably more but that's all I know of for sure. Andy is officially Homer Simpson, which I guess makes me Flanders. Ugh, I can't win.

Erik DrablÝs

The oldest book I have myself is a list of the cases in the Supreme Court of Norway in 1903. Only slightly exciting due too it's typography and book binding. My parents, however, have a really cool old book. The Family Bible, With Illustrations, from 1885. It's starting to fall apart though, and we want to get it restored, so I don't think I'll take any risks by scanning and such before we done so.


hey! great site! your article on the med book was interesting. i have a few antique books with titles you might enjoy: lydia e. pinkham's private textbook upon ailments peculiar to women (complete with an order form to buy remedies eg. blood purifier large bottle $1.00); brooks mental arithmatic-the normal mental arithmetic (it was published in 1869). i have a few others but you get the gist. it's amazing what's changed. well again great site and i'll be back to see what other adventures you have! later
p.s. i had no idea what chilblains were either


Great post. If only bringing the words biliousness and ungent to this delightful site.
I think I have the original copy of the bible kicking about somewhere in my mums loft I really must get round to moving my stuff.


Great post, kevin, but there's something here that really freakes me out.

when you take a look at 'worms' you are being referred to tapeworms a.o..

I have always hated those malicious, semi-sedimental things. but now, things have gone worse. They have SNEAKED OUT OF THE LIST. They could be freely slithering across the endless number of pages now, awaiting to attack any unaware, innocent reader that opens the book.

I'd better return the book to Andy an April as soon as possible.


Erik - Yeah... it took me about 5 times as long to scan this book's pages because I had to go so slowly. I also ended up wearing a dust mask because it was SOOO musty.

Christa - Wow! Where did you get those books?

Matt Mullen - Did you check under the corner of the couch?

Tony - YAAAAAHHHH! *kevin jumps up on desk, cringing*


Wow... I just looked in the .pdf... you're totally right, Tony. There's no tapeworm listing...


well, books old and new will reveal the only cure for crabs. douse your pubic hair with lighter fluid and stab the critters with an ice pick as they escape the carnage. another lesser known prescription for 'rhoids is to insert a corkscrew into the taint (aka: assneck, slide area, love seam) yank with much enthusiasm and remove the screw. absolutely takes all attention away from the hemmys...


ill have to get that book and take some pictures. new barely informative/heavily ignorant and opinionated BLOG post coming soon.


d'ya know what? I hesitate to say this, but I have actually in my possession a 'Block of Alum' which is meant to stop bleeding if you cut yourself shaving. And it actually works.

Thankfully, my gleet has abated somewhat.


Norm - I don't know... some of those ideas sound DANGEROUS. Couldn't you use kerosene instead of lighter fluid?

Bandelin - Good show! I await the post.

Anaglyph - Ah! My dad has something called a "Septic Stick" for the same purpose. I guess it's made of Alum!

Mark Wudarski

I am struggling with the diagnoses of bleeding from the skin...since I cannot determine where else one could bleed nah...teeth? technically no..hmmm...EYES!! Yes, the Eyes can bleed...oh god now I feel nautious...

[ Back to Top ]

Recent Articles

[ Visit Article Archives ]

Who Carols Mojo and the Leaves MUSTACHE! The Symbol For Jerk Interpreting Excelsior Dead Love The Big Sandwich Mojo The Bounty Hunter Sketchbook 22 Live! Six-Penny Anthems II