A Trip Into The Past: Part 2

by Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA


In Part 1, we looked at 2 issues of The Hawkeye Ornithologist and Oologist from 1888 and 1889. This time, we shall be moving eastward and back a year in time. I have before me a copy of The Hoosier Naturalist, Vol. 2, January 1887, No. 6, published and edited by R.B. Trouslot, Valparaiso, Indiana. This too is a remarkable publication for those interested in some of the quirky aspects of natural history and the eccentricities of human beings and vice versa. This single issue is a treasure trove of both.

Mr. Trouslot showed considerable versatility in the promotion of his publication and one suspects in making some shrewd deals with his advertisers. On the inside of the cover page is a listing of the contents of the issue and also the offer of 10 premiums.

The premiums range from a dozen Japanese toothpicks in the form of umbrellas to an 18" Chinese back scratcher “the handle clarified bone and the hand white bone, nicely carved”. These premiums were all connected with trying to get you to subscribe to The Hoosier Naturalist (hereafter H.N.) for a year which, if you simply subscribed, cost 60 cents for the year. Regarding the umbrella toothpicks–you could buy a dozen of them for 15 cents or you could get them free with a subscription. The back scratcher cost $1.00, but if you included an additional 15 cents, you would get a years’ subscription of the H.N. “free”. Fifty years ago, if you deposited $1,000 in a particular bank’s savings account, you could get a “free” toaster or for $500 a “free” matching pen and pencil set. Today, credit card companies try to get you to ignore the fact that they are practicing usury by offering you airline miles with your purchase or credits towards gifts (most of them probably made in China) or a percentage “refund” of your purchases if you spend over a certain amount. I would much prefer that they offer an honest rate and quit with the gimmicks. We tend to think that our ancestors were more upright and virtuous somehow, but all you have to do is recall the phrase “snake oil salesman” to be reminded of those “magic elixirs” that were sold with the claim that they would cure everything from the common cold to arthritis to impotence to tuberculosis to cancer. Fortunes were made from such concoctions, so never underestimate the gullibility of the general populace–just look at whom we have for president here in the U.S. in 2006.

Now, I’m not accusing Mr. R.B. Trouslot of the H.N. of being a snake oil salesman, but he certainly knew how to use gimmicks. This issue of the magazine (including the covers) consists of 36 pages of which 20 pages are devoted to advertisements of a remarkable variety of items. After the inside cover, the first page contains a column (½ the page) titled: “A Ridiculous Offer To Club Raiser”. As you read on, you quickly figure out that a “club raiser” is little more than a subscription seller. Now, no doubt these offers did provide some with an incentive to organize natural history clubs which likely provided a pleasant diversion after a long day of clerking at the bank, selling fabrics, putting out the twice-weekly newspaper, or writing sermons (the clergy often seemed to be attracted to natural, as well as unnatural, history).

So, what were these temptingly ridiculous offers? There were 4 of them–3 of them were books and the 4th was “Davie’s Egg Check List” (we can’t seem to escape oology.) So, the first book offered:

“James D. McCabe’s Pictorial History of the World has 1344 pages, is embellished with over 650 fine engravings, and is sold everywhere by agents, bound in fine sheep, for $7.00 per volume. Secure a club of only sixteen subscribers to the Hoosier Naturalist, remitting us $9.60, and we will send you this magnificent volume for your trouble.”

A one year subscription was 60 cents, so if you could con(vince) 16 of your friends, acquaintances, and relatives, you would have the $9.60 to send in and then get the book “free”. Remember this was 1887; you couldn’t call them up on the telephone nor jump in your Ferrari and visit them to give them a high pressure sales talk. So, indeed, rounding up 16 subscribers could have been a considerable amount of trouble and even some expense (you might have to buy some extra oats for your horse to make all those visits), so you might just decide to go to a book shop and buy the book for $7.00. Now, let us suppose that you are a diligent sort and really are interested in history, but try as you might, you can only find 14 others and then, of course, your own subscription; so you fall one short of the number needed. Not to worry! Mr. Trouslot has anticipated that this might happen and if you remit the $9.00 for 15 subscribers, then you get:

“Alexander H. Stephen’s large Pictorial History of the United States [which] has 1,048 pages, over 300 fine engravings. Bound in sheep. It is sold by agents at $6.00 per volume.” [We should take note here that per volume simply means per copy.]

What a relief! Remember the first volume was described as “magnificent”; this one is described as “beautiful” and the next one is described as “valuable.”

And what is this third volume? Well, suppose you lived in one of the small population centers and so could get only 10 subscribers. In that case, you get:

“McCabe Pictorial History of the United States [which] has 1,120 pages over 500 fine engravings. Price, bound in fine sheep, $4.50".

So, you send in $6.00 from ten subscribers and you get this book. Clearly the best deal. Stephen’s volume has 1,048 pages and over 300 engravings; this one has 1,120 pages and over 500 engravings. Surely more is better.

However, let’s suppose that you’re a lazy lout and can only muster 2 subscribers and yourself. Even so, not all is lost; you can still get Davie’s Egg Check List which ordinarily costs a dollar so, you’ll still save 40 cents, which is more than an indolent oaf like you deserves anyway.

But Mr. Trouslot isn’t through with his offers. The other half of this page is titled:




Again, the entire thrust is to get someone to organize a club of subscribers and the special terms are to club raisers only. He or she can buy 2,3,4,5,6,8,10,12,15,35,or 50 copies, each having different premiums and different prices, although in each case the price per subscription amounts to 50 cents. The details in some cases are a bit fuzzy, but let’s consider a typical example that is clear; so, hang on to your hats, this gets very interesting. Suppose you buy 8 copies for $4.00. Now you get to select 40 books from List 1,2,3,or 4 which conveniently occur on the next 3 pages. The titles of these are splendid:

List No. 1–Books for the Millions

List No. 2–Books for Ladies

List No. 3–Books for Farmers

List No. 4–Books for the Masses

These lists are worth a close look. Regarding List 1, we are assured that the books are printed from good type on good paper and “in cloth bound would cost $1.00 each.” This suggests that these were paperbacks which is much earlier than I would have thought for them to appear. When I was growing up, I remember paying 50 cents for a copy of The Universe and Dr. Einstein. My parents were always a bit concerned about my purchase of paperbacks since, at that time, big sellers in the paperback market were dubious items like the novels of Mickey Spillaine–how tame those seem now, not that I ever read one, of course.

Item No. 55 on List 1 is of interest:

Winter Evening Recreations, a large collection of Acting Charades, Tableaux, Games, Puzzles, etc. for social gatherings, private theatricals, and evenings at home.”

These were the days before electronic entertainments and such books were very popular. Other items included:

No. 48, Fancy Work for Home Adornment

No. 52, Manual of Etiquette

No. 56, The Home Cook Book and Family Physician

No. 24C, 87 Popular Ballads

No. 81, How to Make Poultry Pay

No. 54, Parlor Magic and Chemical Experiments

and for those with literary inclinations:

No. 34, The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott

No. 5, Amos Barton by George Eliot

No. 45C, Aesop’s Fables.

Their offer without subscription to the H.N. was :

We will send any four of these books postpaid for 12 cents, any eight for 20 cents, any forty for $1.00.”

List No. 2– Books for Ladies contained among other items:

No. 124, Decorative Painting

No. 115, Manual of Floriculture and, of course, the inevitable

No. 11A, How to Become Beautiful.

List No. 3– Books for Farmers was very practical in nature and included:

No. 2A The Stockbreeder’s Guide No. 3A The Whole Subject of Fertilizers

No. 7A Home-Made Farm Implements.

This list contained only 8 books and you could acquire them all for just a total of 20 cents.

List No. 4– Books for The Masses is indeed a mishmash ranging from Poems of Longfellow to Famous Detective Stories to The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid and again you could get all 40 items for just $1.00.

So, as a club organizer, you can buy 8 copies (subscriptions) of the H.N. for which you remit $4.00 and then you get to pick 40 books from these four lists as your premium. So, all you have to do is find 7 subscribers, buy a subscription yourself for 60 cents, and buy a 2 cent stamp and send it off to Mr. Trouslot and you’ll get 40 “free” books. What in irresistible deal. Did I mention that our friend is the owner of R.B. Trouslot & Co., Publishers and Booksellers of Valparaiso, Indiana?

Toward the end of this issue we find a full page of “Desirable Books for the Naturalist or Collector” followed by a condensed catalog of books published by John B. Alden of New York and for sale by–guess who–yes, R.B. Trouslot. This condensed catalog has categories devoted to works of history, poetry, biography, English classics, the sciences, Christian classics (including Thomas Hughes’ The Manliness of Christ for 25 cents), Ancient classics, juvenile classics, American humorists, and David Hume’s History of England in 3 volumes. And this is not the end of his offerings, for on the page just before the advertisements for the books, he has one for The “Ideal” pens for which he is the sale agent. Well, of course, it’s not so unusual that a bookdealer should sell pens and even stationery, but the other item which he offers on the same pages is a bit unusual–it is a set of clips for attaching your cuffs to your sleeve without “the nuisance of buttoning cuffs to your sleeve.” Thank goodness that’s a fashion which has gone out of style

On the inside of the back cover, he ventures into yet new territory with a full page announcement that he is the agent for:



So, if you were a pirate with an ugly eye patch, you could toddle over from Massachusetts or California to Indiana and pick up a nice artificial eye. No, no. These were the sort that were used by taxidermists and this page helps to explain the enigmatic appearance of a full page diagram 2 pages earlier, titled: “Diagram of Sizes” and rather than trying to describe it, I shall scan it so you can get an idea of the range of glass eyes for deer, moose, goats, best foxes, best tigers, to fish and alligator eyes.

The advertisement page lists 27 types in 4 styles and they ranged in price from 3 cents per pair to $1.30 per pair.

The back cover is:

The Hoosier Naturalist’s Newspaper Club List

If you subscribed to any newspaper or magazine on the list which costs $2.00 or more, you get a free subscription to the H.N. If you subscribed to one that cost more than $1.00, but less than $2.00, then you got 6 months of the H.N. free. Mr. Trouslot didn’t miss a trick. If you were already a subscriber to the H.N., then you would get a special reduced rate on any newspaper or magazine subscription. Furthermore, if you knew of someone who wanted to subscribe to any paper or magazine whether on the list of not,

if you secured their order and sent it to R.B. Trouslot & Co., then you would get a free 1 year subscription to the H.N. I’m glad he wasn’t selling used cars, but I suspect there weren’t many of those around in 1887.

The list is an interesting one and there are many items that have long since gone off into the Great Publishing House in the Sky. However, what I found most intriguing was that a significant number of publications after 118 years, are still around, albeit in dramatically different form. Some examples with the annual subscription prices:

Atlantic Monthly $4.00

Boston Globe $6.00 (imagine getting a daily newspaper these day for that price.)

Chicago Times $1.25 (at this time it was a weekly)

Harper’s Bazar [sic] $4.00 (weekly)

Harper’s Magazine $4.00 (monthly)

New York Times $2.50 (semi-weekly)

Popular Science Monthly $5.00

San Francisco Chronicle $2.00 (weekly)

Scientific American $3.00 (weekly)

The total list consists of 110 magazine and newspapers.

R.B. Trouslot & Co. was clearly not only a provider of the H.N. and books, newspaper and magazines, but acted as an agent for almost anything he could get connected to, including “The New Rapid Type Writer.” The advertisement is small, but I will try to scan it so you can get a notion of what typing would have been like in 1887.

I guarantee you that if I had had to use such an instrument to prepare my articles for Micscape, you would never have gotten to read a single one. I suspect some of my students today may never have seen a typewriter and certain have never owned one. The irony is that if you now had in your possession one of these 1887 ten dollar typewriters, it would likely be worth hundreds of dollars. At the same time, you can go to a yard sale and purchase a relatively recent first class manual typewriter for $10 or less.

Mr. Trouslot did well from his advertisements, but clearly he desired, and got, other advertisers to help support his enterprises. There is an assortment of the type that one would expect in a natural history publication: advertisements for birds’ skins and eggs, minerals, fossils, Indian relics, ornithological journals, books on taxidermy and two ads for Scientific American.

Less usual was a full column advertisement for the Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute. What will surely make present day students envious is the fact of tuition at $8.00 per term and “good board and furnished room” at $1.70 to $1.90 a week. Even less usual however, was a full half column advertisement for “Drs. Starkey and Palen Compound Oxygen. Not A Drug.”

So, here perhaps, we are back to the snake oil salesmen. The ad consists of a statement from a card of endorsement signed by 3 “distinguished” gentlemen. It is sufficiently brief and sufficiently intriguing that I will quote it in its entirety.

“We, the undersigned, having received great and permanent benefit from the use of ‘COMPOUND OXYGEN’ prepared and administered by Dr. Starkey & Palen, of Philadelphia, and being satisfied that it is a new discovery in medical science and all that is claimed for it, consider it a duty which we owe to the many thousands who are suffering from chronic and so-called ‘incurable’ diseases to do all that we can to make its virtues known and to inspire the public with confidence.

We have personal knowledge of Drs. Starkey & Palen. They are educated, intelligent, and conscientious physicians, who will not, we are sure make any statement which they do not know or believe to be true, nor publish any testimonials or reports of cases which are not genuine.

Wm. D. Kelley, Member of Congress from Phila.

T.S. Arthur, Editor and Publisher of ‘Arthur’s Home Magazine,’ Phila.

V.L. Conrad, Editor ‘Lutheran Observer,’ Phil., Pa., June 1st, 1882"

With these testimonials, how can Compound Oxygen not cure “the many thousands who are suffering from chronic and so-called ‘incurable” diseases.”? After all, the first endorsement is from a Congressman and as Mark Twain remarked: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” The second endorsement is from an editor and publisher and as Adlai Stevenson observed: “An editor is someone who separates the wheat from the chaff and then prints the chaff.” Finally, the third endorsement is from an editor of a religious journal and as A.A. Allen, American Christian faith-healer said: “When you can turn people on their head and shake them and no money falls out, then you know God’s saying, ‘Move on, son.’”

The case of the language of the 3 wise endorsers is revealing. They praise Drs. Starkey and Palen and then add “who will not, we are sure, make any statement which they do not know or believe to be true.” Belief and knowledge are, of course, quite different things. Well into the 19th Century, there were still physicians who believed that blood-letting was a beneficial practice and they prescribe it routinely.

In the latter half of the 19th Century, there was increasing interest in the medical community regarding the use of oxygen as a form of therapy especially for respiratory disorders. Drs. Starkey and Palen, two distinguished looking, bearded gentlemen, decided to exploit this new trend with their Compound Oxygen and established a salon with a rather elegant reception parlor. They produced a pamphlet titled “Compound Oxygen–Its Origin and Development”, published in 1888, and Dr. Starkey had already written (in 1881), a 182 page volume “Compound Oxygen–Its Mode of Action and Results.” This compound was a gift from the gods. The 2 good doctors document cases in which the administration of this compound provided great benefit in the following diseases and disorders: asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, phthisis (the old name for tuberculosis), capillary bronchitis, dyspnea, reflex cough, indigestion, headache, croup, albuminuria, diphtheria, diabetes, pulmonary emphysema, spermatorrhea, rheumatism, insomnia, gout, cholera, anemia, chlorosis, leukemia, poisoning, asphyxia, uremia, puerperal eclampsia, hydrophobia (rabies), tetanus, epilepsy, hysteria paralysis, neuralgia, pelvic cellulitis, neurasthenia, menstrual irregularities, fatty placenta, pyemia, vomiting of pregnancy, ulcers, and septicemia. As W.C. Fields said: “Never give a sucker an even break.” Compound Oxygen, was, of course, not oxygen except for the oxygen in the air and dissolved in water. The compound usually consisted of dilute nitrous oxide–also know as laughing gas. How could you think that you were being bilked when the treatment gave you a nice little temporary “high” and got you giggling?

One advertisement shows a woman sitting at a table with a cylinder on it labeled “OXYGEN”, a tube running from the rear of the cylinder into a large flask, and another tube running out of the flask and this tube she is holding up to her nose. The whole apparatus looks like some Rube Goldberg hookah. A much more modest inhaling apparatus is pictured on the cover of the brochure. There were even some Victorian Compound Oxygen trade cards, one of which shows a sailor sitting in a dory with a bottle of liquid, but there is no inhaler in sight.

This is all part of a fascinating chapter in American medical history which also involved another famous quack. Dr. J.H. Kellogg of the famous cereal family. This Kellogg brother was the one who established the Battle Creek Sanitarium and who was obsessed with vegetarianism, bowel movements, and enemas. So naturally, he introduced the notion of oxygen enemas and in 1888 published a paper “Oxygen Enemata As A Remedy In Certain Diseases Of The Liver And Intestinal Tract” in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Shame on you, JAMA. (For a splendid glimpse into Kellogg’s life, watch the film The Road To Wellville. Sir Anthony Hopkins gives a marvelous portrayal of Kellogg.)

Now–if you’re still reading this–I can hear you asking: But what about the real content of the journal? What are the articles like? Let me answer it this way; after reading the articles—as quickly as possible–I understand why Mr. Trouslot spent so much time and effort with premiums and deals trying to promote this wretched thing. I realize I have already gone on at some length, but I must give you a few examples to justify such a harsh judgment.

The first article runs 3½ pages, double column and is titled: “A Red-Headed Family”. For those of you from other countries who may not know what a “Cracker” is in this context, it is a term usually used in a derogatory manner to denote someone who lives in the southern part of the U.S., often in hill country, who is poor, lives in a crude fashion, and is almost always uneducated, speaks in a patois, and is often portrayed as sly, but rather dim-witted. So, this little piece opens with the following paragraph:

“‘Ce’tingly I ken, ce’tingly, seh,’ said my Cracker host, taking down his long flint-lock rifle from over the cabin door and slipping his frowzy head through the suspension-strap of his powder-horn and bullet-pouch. ‘Ce’tingly, seh., I ken eyarry ye ter wha’ them air birds had their nestis las’ yer.’”

The narrator tells about some of the scenery and the birds and “spices” his account with further examples of the Cracker’s linguistic flourishes.

There is a one column piece on “Remarkable Insects: Peculiarities of One of the Most Curious of Entomological Creatures.” Well, actually, it’s about 2 kinds of insects–stick insects and leaf insects. The prose is clear and direct and we are given a brief description of these remarkable creatures. However, the article is too short and too general to do more than produce a modest spark of fleeting curiosity.

There is a rather silly column entitled: “Attacked by a Menatee.” [sic]. Under the editor’s notes an explanation for this is provided. “In the article ‘Attacked by a Manatee,’ our printer made it read M(e)natee. The proof reader has been dead several days.” Harsh justice for such a small error.

The manatee piece is followed by a column called:

Essay in Natural History

by Little Johnny

The Ephalent

I cannot deny you the pleasure of the first two paragraphs.

“My Uncle Ned he says, he bets I can’t write a discipertion of the bony fidy travler, and I don’t think I can, too, less it’s the ephalent, which I never seen ceptin’ it was travlin with a circus. Then it has a lot of waggins a follerin’, and music a-plane, and my mother she won’t let me go to the sho, but Billy went, and the necks day he hurt hisself jumpin’ over two chairs

The ephalent is the biggest animile but the wale, wich isnt a anamile, but fish, though my Sunday soochl book says it’s a created bein’. The ephalent has a trunk like a tale, but thikker. Its more like long nose, but looser and curlier.”

At the end of the column, the editor (Mr. Trouslot) inserts a question:

“Could you not secure a few subscribers to the Naturalist?”

Then there is an appalling little piece titled “A Birds’ Wing Merchant”. The man in question captures swallows and tears the wings off the live birds. When asked about this barbaric behavior, he replied: “Yes, sir; that is the only way to preserve their luster in the hats of the fair and fashionable ones.” He leaves the birds to struggle and slowly die.

Not wishing to end on such a grisly note, I will mention 2 or 3 other items in this issue. There is a rather charming little piece by a Dr. Charles C. Abbott reprinted from Popular Science Monthly titled: White-Footed Mice: How These Little Mammals Rearrange the Abandoned Nest of Birds.” This is followed by a mercifully short poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson called “The Mountain and the Squirrel” (he should have stuck to essays). And finally, there is an announcement regarding The Youth’s Companion which was about to issue its 61st volume and we are informed that this publication had 400,000 subscribers! At $1.75 per subscription, that’s $700,000 a year which even today is a very large sum and which in 1887 was staggering.

I don’t know how The Hoosier Naturalist fared in the long run because the last date I can find for an issue is 1890. However, some of Mr. Trouslot’s enterprises must have been successful, for there is a brief mention that at about this time, he bought over $3,000 worth of birds’ eggs and skins.

Bill Gates–eat your heart out.

All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.

Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to shares aspects of his wide interests.


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