In a recent browse through the local antique mall, I discovered a weathered copy of a book called Dr. Chase’s Last Receipt Book and Household Physician, published in 1906. I snatched it up to use in my art. After doing a little research, I found out that Dr. Chase’s Receipt Book was one of the first “how-to” books and was popular before and during the Civil War.
If the worth of a book correlates to its full title, this book is one of the most valuable on earth. The complete title is:
Memorial Edition of Dr. Chase’s Third, last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician, or Practical Knowledge for the Peopled; from the Life-Long observations of the author, embracing the Choisest, Most Valuable and Entirely New Receipts in Every Department of Medicine, Mechanics, and Household Economy; including a Treatise on The Diseases of Women and Children; In Fact, The Book for the Million; with Remarks and explanations which adapt it to the Every-day Wants of the People, Arranged in Departments and most Copiously Indexed.
As a kind of afterthought, below the author’s name is one more statement: “Why Conceal That Which Relieves Distress?”
It turns out the copy I bought was a salesman’s copy. It has the beautiful cover, but includes only samples of Dr. A.W. Chase’s copious knowledge. In the back of my copy, there is a subscription page for a salesman to record orders on several fold-out lined pages. Apparently, the owner of my book wasn’t much of a salesman because the order sheets were blank. They looked like the old Red Chief tablets kids used to use in school. Though my copy has just samples, the full book contains advice on everything from medical treatments to bee-keeping, to how to wash lace veils.
The advice about women’s conditions was interesting. Dr. Chase warned women about their periods “Allow me here to give a word of caution about taking cold at this period. It is very dangerous. I knew a young girl, who had not been instructed by her mother upon this subject, to be so afraid of being found with this show upon her apparel which she did not know the meaning of, that she went to a brook and washed herself and clothes — took cold, and immediately went insane.”
Of course, I was curious what kind of man could boast such vast knowledge. Dr. Chase was born in New York in 1817. In the introduction to an earlier edition of Dr. Chase’s book, he wrote that he “carried on the Drug and Grocery business for a number of years, read Medicine, after being thirty-eight years of age, and graduated as a Physician.” The success of his books put Dr. Chase on “the high road to fortune” according to a memoria in my copy. Alas, Dr. Chase lost most of his wealth because he was apparently generous in the service of “advancement of education and benevolent enterprises.” The memoria goes on:
But the storms of life finally overtook him and swept with almost resistless fury around the now aged physician, and a few of the prejudices that characterize the human family found a resting place in the heart of this noble man; yet, when the last chapter shall have been entered in the book of life, the account will probably be balanced.
There is a black and white drawing of Dr. A.W. Chase, M.D. inside my copy. He is extremely wizened with a long white beard that tapers to a point just at the top of his vest. It is an oddly intimate portrait, maybe because the lines of his face and beard are so detailed. Much of Dr. Chase’s advice is outdated. Think about the place where we now get “copious” information on endless subjects — the Internet. It might be kind of comforting to hold in one’s hand all the information necessary to manage domestic life.