The Long-Lost Friend: The Rheumatism Letter

It’s been a very long evening, mostly spent examining different iterations of Hohman’s rheumatism cure.  I’ll break the monotony by discussing its background.

In early America, as in Europe, much literature was circulated via broadsides, single sheet publications usually addressing a particular topic.   In an era before health insurance or regular medical care, many of these were medical in nature, detailing various cures for particular afflictions.  This exhibit at the Library Company shows some examples of broadsides circulating in Pennsylvania at this time.

I’ve yet to find an example of this particular rheumatism charm, but it seems to have been known in Hohman’s time.  Our author recognized its worth for treating the condition, but condemned the price and its incomplete nature in his introduction:

A letter to cure rheumatism, sold at from one to two dollars, and, did not even give directions how to make use of it: these depending on verbal communications.

That price seems quite low today, but that should be put into context.  Upon its original release, Hohman’s book sold for the price of three shillings, or approximately seventy-two cents, over a quarter less than the price of this letter, which was one remedy on a single page.

There’s some debate as to how much Hohman was motivated by money.  We know he was – after all, he mentions in his introduction that he is publishing the book because he is poor and deserves to make money from his publications – but the question might be asked as to whether he was sincere in presenting these works or simply trying to fleece his readers.  How can we tell?

This charm provides an important indication.  Hohman was no stranger to broadsides; if he had never published a word on charming, he would be known as the foremost publisher of ballad and hymn broadsides of his time.  If Hohman were truly trying to exploit his readers, he could easily have printed up a broadside of this charm, sold it for the same cost as his book, and done so at a much smaller expense.   This suggests that Hohman did, indeed, believe in the efficacy of these charms and the importance that they be available to a wider audience.

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 12:24 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Bringing out Pow Wow’s is an excellent idea – there is massive money to be made from fleecing all the Hoodoo suckers out there now. And there is a lot of them, and they are mostly pretty dumb, but white and wealthy.

  2. I’m not fleecing them, trust me – that would take a lot less effort than creating an annotated edition!

  3. I shouldn’t have been mean – sorry. I just started to read hoodoo literature and got turned off by pedantic arguments over what is authentic. You can be sure I’ll be purchasing your book, it’s fun to read even without annotations. Besides, I’m developing a nasty wheal…

  4. I am looking forward to this publication. It looks like you’ve done a lot of heavy-lifting to get at the Hohman’s personal history and that of his book. I’m doing something similar with Egyptian Secrets.

    • Sounds great. Will you be including the fourth book?

      • Funny you ought to ask that. All of the editions that I have only contain 3 books with a few extra sympathies added on behind the third. However, my German 1845 edition does have the fourth book, so I will take the fourth right out of that edition.

  5. I forgot to add that I did not get my German edition until a few months ago, and was ignorant of the fourth book.

  6. […] of the author, Saint Lawrence, the Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus, German hymns, beer, the rheumatism letter, running water, the use of the devil’s name – or lack thereof, in the book, and […]

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