Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dr. John S. Sappington - Part II - "Sappington on Fevers"

Jim Schmidt Collection
"As I have long since departed from the theory and practice in which I was principally taught, and am now engaged in writing against them, it may be proper that I should give my reasons to the public for doing so."  — Dr. John Sappington, Theory and Treatment of Fevers (1844)

In Part I of this series (here), I introduced Dr. John Sappington of Arrow Rock, Missouri, and his "Anti-Fever Pills," a popular remedy in the 1830s and 40s.

In this post, I'll describe another of Sappington's accomplishments: his publication, in 1844, of Theory and Treatment of Fevers, also known as Sappington on Fevers.

The book is important on several counts:

It is one of the earliest books published west of the Mississippi and the first medical book printed in Missouri (some say it was the first medical book published west of the Mississippi)

In the book, he criticizes what he called the "pukes and purgatives" practice of so-called "heroic medicine," which included the heavy use of calomel and bloodletting.

He also revealed the recipe of his pills (much to the consternation of family members who grew rich off agencies and collections):

Jim Schmidt Collection
"Although the author has vended pills to a large amount, and realized considerable sums of money by his sales, the people have also saved a great many dollars by using them; been relieved of much pain and suffering, and very many lives have no doubt been saved and prolonged. The author considers himself driven to this alternative, more from motives of benevolence than from those of self-interest." (p. 79)

 “[The pills] were simply composed of one grain quinine each, three-fourths of a grain of liquorice, and one-fourth grain of myrrh, to which was added just so much of the oil of sassafras as would give to them an agreeable odor” (p. 79)

Sappington printed about 25,000 copies of the book and took advantage of his network of agents to sell them.  He also published notices in papers such as this:


Boon's Lick Times (MO) - October 19, 1844

Unfortunately for Sappington the book did not achieve great sales...originally priced at $2.00, plummeted to twenty cents a few years later, and finally for five cents in 1854.

A link to the full text of the book is provided below via  I obtained a great softcover reprint of the book via the Friends of Arrow Rock for the bargain price of $5.00.  Still, curious to see if an actual 1844 copy might be available, I scoured one of my favorite rare book sites: ABEBooks and was fortunate to find a copy for a very affordable price and happily in great condition (for being 170 years old!): good, if worn, binding, and some foxing on the pages, but otherwise a really nice addition to my personal library...other extant copies  can still be found, with price generally depending on condition.



Unknown said...

I follow your posts via email and really enjoy them on a regular basis. This one in particular I found especially great b/c it covers one of my favorite subjects - Old Books. Congrats on your ABEbooks score. Well done!

Sam said...

Thanks for this very informative article! Question: Is the book available from the Friends of Arrow Rock based upon his earliest edition and is it in a format suitable for reenacting?

Jim Schmidt said...

Hey Sam - Thanks for the kind comment! The reprint is based on the first (and only) edition...I'm not sure how suitable it would be for a living historian - it has "modern" softcover binding with a "vanilla" cover that matches the title page of the original...the only indication that it is from the "Friends" is on the inside pages.

Jim Schmidt said...

I looooove finding old books to add to my's a post about another one, with a great inscription!

Mark said...

It's amazing how much they explained away with fevers back then. but many times they were correct:)