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Lost children and leeches.

May 14, 2010 7:55 AM | 2 comments

The recent announcement by Verizon that they will no longer be distributing telephone directories in print form made me think about how the directory has evolved or--some might say--regressed--over the course of the last 200 years.

We recently acquired a group of four Brooklyn City Directories, all in wonderful condition, from 1839-1840, 1840-41, 1842-43 and 1844-45. Yes, they all exist on microfilm, but the convenience of a print directory is equaled only by its ability to conjure the atmosphere of an era. Aside from the listed occupations that no longer exist, the addresses that lack street numbers because there weren't any, the impression of the letterpress--it is the advertisements in old directories that provide endless fascination.

In the 1844-5 volume a gorgeous foldout announces confectioner George W. Mumby's Ladies Saloon, with delicate artwork printed by R. Butt, Lithographer, of 158 Fulton Street, Brooklyn.

Mumby advertisement

Our visiting middle schoolers might blench, though, at an advertisement to be found at the rear of the directory, suggesting a solution for the problem of lost children:

Lost children

Mr Oakes evidently had a gallows sense of humor. Or worse, perhaps not.  

1842-3 gives us information that must have gladdened the heart of many a Brooklyn resident wondering what to do with the birds and rabbits dispatched on his last hunting trip:

Akhurst advertisement

Readers of this blog may remember a post some time ago that touched on the swill-milk trade in Brooklyn. Those wishing to avoid the scourge of milk from cows fed on distillery slops would, we learn, be well advised to buy their milk from the Mount Prospect Milk Dairy.  As you may know, Mount Prospect lies right behind this library building, so I am particularly glad to know that wholesome milk was available in this immediate neighborhood.  In fact, we are told that "The cows are fed upon NATURAL FOOD,  such as grass, hay, meal, roots and without anything artificial, such as distillery slops, or Brewers Grain, or other unwholesome food."

My favorite advertisements, though, come from the volume for 1840-41. First of all as a student of the history of printing in Brooklyn I am happy to see Alden Spooner touting his services as "Book and Letter Press Printers. Office Long Island Star."  But better yet, that small, slimy and indispensible element of the 19th century pharmacopeia, without which no physician could properly ply his trade, is handsomely represented:

Leeches advertisement

It must have been comforting to know that one's leeches would be carefully applied; but there were surely times when, no matter how skillful the hands of a male attendant, a lady needed another lady to apply her leeches. She need look no further than the City Directory!


Mrs Hall was clearly not a woman who wasted words. Really, the advertisement tells you all you need to know.   



5/14/2010 11:17:13 AM #

Thanks, Joy, for this entertaining tour of the city directories...I hope that there's enough material there for a follow-up posting. By the way, leeches have made a comeback in the medical world, see this website if you dare!

Doug Wooley

5/15/2010 2:03:08 AM #

What actually happened in a "Ladies Saloon"?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Save the Slope