My Favorite Recipe Book: The Circle of Useful Knowledge

books

I want to share one of my favorite little books with you today.   Although it is a book of only 255 pages, The Circle of Useful Knowledge contains much of the practical knowledge to be had in the year 1893 when it was published.  I’ve spent several hours wandering around inside this book since receiving it as a gift in 2007, and have even been a little tempted to test some of the suggested remedies for their effectiveness.

According to Charles Kinsley’s preface, “The “Circle of Useful Knowledge” is a system of useful information, and contains hundreds of valuable receipts in the various departments of human effort, which can be relied upon, as they are tried receipts and have been procured from the most reliable sources, many of which have cost the author quite a sum of money for the right to publish them. They tell how to manage a farm, how to cook, all about wines and vinegar, how to fish and tan, how drugs and chemicals are composed, how to be your own doctor and nurse, – in short, everything connected with everyday life is treated of in a concise, clear style that tells what you wish to know.”

And Mr. Kinsely wasn’t kidding. Want to know how teach a horse to follow you? How to free your hands from warts? How to cure ringworms? How to clean silk? How to salt ham? How about the best way to make boots or shoes last three years or how to get rid of mosquitoes without using smoke? It’s all there and more. Mr. Kinsley’s little book is jam-packed with hundreds of tidbits that are still interesting and useful today.

Here’s Kinsley’s “receipt”for getting rid of bed-bugs:

To Clear Your Dwellings from Bed-Bugs

Corrosive sublimate and the white of an egg, beat together, and laid with a feather around the crevices of the bedsteads and the sacking, is very effectual in destroying bugs in them. Tansy is also said to be very effectual in keeping them away. Strew it under the sacking bottom. Common lard, or equal quantities of lard and oil, will destroy or keep them away. The best exterminator is black hellebore pulverized. It is a deadly poison to them. Place it where the bugs will be apt to crawl.

Judging from the marks he made in the book’s Table of Contents, the original owner of this little book, one Mr. Peter R. Fairweather of Toledo, Ohio, seems to have been particularly interested in the sections on “Shaving Soap,” “Shaving Cream,” and “How to Make Red or Gray Hair Glossy Black.” Nothing like a little DIY knowledge for the well-groomed man of the 1890s, after all.

There are recipes for dozens of health ailments, some of them rather ambitious, I suspect, like the ones to cure deafness, lockjaw, consumption, squinting eyes, and gonorrhea.  I know you’re wondering about that deafness cure, so here it is:

Obtain pure pickerel oil and apply 4 drops morning and evening to the ear.  Great care should be taken to obtain oil that is perfectly pure.

I have to assume that his might help to clear the ear canals of built up wax, so maybe the cure really did work.

Ever the optimist, the author says that his book will save money for: “lumber manufacturers, lumber dealers, millmen, carpenters, builders, carriage makers, ship builders, cabinet makers, ship brokers, ship carpenters, railroad conductors, engineers, machinists, freight agents, teachers, students, architects, accountants, farmers, housekeepers, stock-raisers, packers, doctors, clerks, gardeners, liquor dealers, druggists, photographers, artists, bakers, confectioners, flour dealers, hairdressers, ink makers, whitewashers, soap makers, bankers, barbers, printers, gilders, painters, shoemakers, clothiers, dry goods dealers, brewers, grocers, hotel keepers, iron workers, plasterers, masons, marble cutters, and many others.”

That should should be the vast majority of people alive in 1893, I suppose, so  I hope the man made a lot of money from The Circle of Useful Knowledge.  At $2.50 a copy in 1893 dollars, this little recipe book was quite an investment.

Belford, Clarke & Company Charles Dickens Set (1880s vintage)

Rearranging my bookshelves is a recurring game with me, but I have to admit that it is much easier to take 850 books off the shelves than it is to get them back up there.  For some reason, I always seem to have books left over at the end of the process – proving that I eventually use every square inch of bookshelf space available to me.  But the best part of the whole process is that I get to enjoy some quiet time with books I’ve started to take for granted.

This time around, I was struck again by the beauty and dignity of a Charles Dickens set that I acquired from a very kind lady back in 2007.  Earlier that year I purchased two of the fifteen volumes in that set from the 1880s and posted about it on Book Chase.  A woman in California who had acquired all of her father’s books saw the post and told me that she would be happy to send me the whole set if I would agree to pay the postage to Houston.  I did – and she did – and the books have been the centerpiece of my bookshelf display ever since.

For display purposes, I have temporarily placed them on my set of library steps:

This is an example of the type of illustrations that each book contains:

And this picture is an example of the front covers of the various books (they are all the same):

One of the books even included a small set of instructions on how one should properly open a book in order to best preserve its binding:

In addition to the fifteen-book set, there was this 1875 volume of Dombey and Son in one of the boxes.  It is one volume of the “Works of Charles Dickens: Globe Edition.”

I’m also happy to report, that unlike quite a few books of this age, the print is large enough that I am actually able to read the books rather than just turn them into display copies.  Needless to say, I am still overwhelmed by the generosity of the previous owner of the books.

Pennsylvania Library Finds 174-Year Old Book among Sale Donations

Something like this is just unbelievable to me. How can anyone be so oblivious when it comes to books that they would donate a book that is almost 175 years old to a library sale? Was it not kind of obvious that this one bears little resemblance to a James Patterson novel?

The picture, at left, is of the book’s author, Lydia Maria Child, who was 31 years old when this book was published in 1833. The fact that her book was rebound together with a slave’s memoirs results in a very meaningful volume.

Volunteers sorting through donated books for a book sale found an abolitionist text and a slave’s memoir, both dating back to the 1800s.

The books were discovered together last month in a single leather-bound volume that was clearly an unusual find, said Liza Holzinger, coordinator of the Bethlehem Area Public Library’s book sale.

“When this appeared on my desk, I couldn’t believe it,” Holzinger said. “I was pretty impressed by it, especially after I started doing research on the topic.”

The volume contained a first edition of Lydia Maria Child’s 1833 book, “An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called African,” and an 1840 second edition of “The Slave: Memoirs of Archy Moore.”

Daniel Wilson, professor of history at Muhlenberg College, said Child’s book was an early abolitionist text that received a lot of attention when it was published.

As a book collector, I have to cringe when I read something like this, but it is exactly the kind of thing that draws me to yard sales and flea markets when I have some time to spare.

More Dickens Lust

Some of you will recall a post that I made last month regarding the two 1885 Dickens volumes that I picked up via a couple of eBay auctions. I was excited about getting my hands on two of the ten volumes that were being auctioned on eBay in February and posted some pictures of the two books and an inscription that the original owner placed in one of the books during the 1886 Christmas season.

As it turns out there were some 15 volumes in this set, and a very generous lady from California has taken the time and trouble to box up the whole set and send it to me here in Houston.

This is an example of the type of illustrations that each book contains:

And this picture is an example of the front covers of the various books (they are all the same):

One of the books even included a small set of instructions on how one should properly open a book in order to best preserve its binding:

This last shot shows an 1875 volume of Dombey and Son that was included in one of the boxes of books. It is one volume of the Globe Edition of Dickens’ Works.

I’m in the process of finding these 16 books a proper home on my library shelves and plan to give them a prominent spot because of the great respect that their age and content demand. I’m also happy to report, that unlike quite a few books of this age, the print is large enough that I will actually be able to read the books rather than only to display them. My sincere thanks go to the previous owner of the books who so generously passed them on to me.

The Trash Man Almost Cometh

Thanks to an alert family from Vienna, Virginia, a set of 100-year-old books on the Ulster O’Neils has been safely returned to Ireland where the books are much appreciated. In fact, the Belfast Telegraph considers this to be a newsworthy event.

The O’Neill books by Thomas Mathews, from the house of Sealy, Bryers & Walker in the Southern capital, had been tossed into four cardboard boxes outside a Victorian house along with first editions, unwanted anthologies, paperback classics and a vintage copy of Ulysses and collections of poetry by WB Yeats.

But before the binmen arrived book lover Pam O’Connor, passing by, spotted the treasure trove of literature and saved the lot for posterity.

She loaded the four boxes into her car and took them home, where she and her family examined the unwanted hoard which she found out had been the property of James C O’Neill, a professor of romance languages at the University of Michigan, who had died.

Whoever cleared the O’Neill house was obviously uninterested in the value of the books.


Mr Swindall, whose JIRI Books company promotes the Belfast Book Fair every November, contacted Mrs O’Connor through an internet website and persuaded her to let him have the O’Neill three-volume set.

“I’m sure there is an O’Neill out there who has been searching for this extremely rare set for years,” he explained.

“The last time a similar set turned up and was catalogued by a local book dealer was 1986 and it was snapped up immediately.”

Stories like this one make me cringe when I read them and realize just how close these books came to being destroyed out of sheer ignorance. While I realize that not everyone is a book lover, I do find it almost impossible to understand how anyone could be willing to trash anything of this age and beauty without at least first trying to find it a new home.

All of us, as is anyone who ever takes five minutes to read even one book blog or one book review, are in the process of building private libraries that are very important to us. Those libraries contain the books that have filled our lives with so much pleasure, some of them even having attained a reasonably dear monetary value at this point, and they represent who we are. Have you ever wondered what will happen to those books when you are no longer around to care for them and protect them? Will they end up being sold off at a buck a book in some garage sale or will they end up being boxed up for the trash collector? Or will you be one of the lucky ones who have a booklover in your family who will cherish your collection when you are gone? It may sound a bit strange, but I see signs in my 8-year-old granddaughter that such a person might have come along for me and I actually find that to be comforting.

Dickens Lust

I can’t help myself. I love buying books and adding them to my personal library, and with eBay and other internet books sources making it all so easy these days I really have to watch myself. Here’s a good example of what happens to me on a regular basis. The other night I spotted ten very attractive Charles Dickens novels that were published in 1885 by Belford, Clarke & Company of New York. The original owner of the books signed and dated each of them when she received them for Christmas 1886.

Now, right up front, I realized that I could not afford all ten of the books since each one of them had a starting bid price of $5.00 plus $5.00 in postage and handling fees. But imagine my surprise and delight when I picked up two of them for bids of only $5.50 and $7.50, respectively. Two of the books were subsequently withdrawn from the eBay auction but two others were still available when I checked last night. At least one of the ten went for something over $20.00 but I didn’t follow them all too closely because I didn’t want to be tempted into bidding for others in the set. I won’t be receiving the books for about another 10 days, but I’m looking forward to getting my hands on them.

The first picture is self-explanatory but this second book is a front view of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. I’ve also included a copy of one of the simple inscriptions made by the original owner that Christmas season some 120 years ago. The books appear to be in pretty decent shape so I’m hoping that I’m not disappointed when they arrive.

Lions and Tigers and Books, Oh My!


I suppose that I’ve been a fan of the Wizard of Oz books ever since those flying monkeys scared the bejeesus out of me when I was about six years old. I’ve probably seen the movie ten times since then and the monkey scenes are still my favorites. But I’ll never be obsessed with L. Frank Baum (or with any other author, come to that) the way that Mark Shapiro is obsessed with him. Shapiro seems to be a compulsive type of guy who really gets into his collections and now he’s wondering how to share his L.Frank Baum collection with the rest of us.

In 1992 at a swap meet in Long Beach, Calif., he saw a book for sale – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. He bought it for 50 cents.

A couple of months later, he saw a magazine that listed valuable collectibles. His 50-cent book had a listed value of $10,000 (now $18,000).

Shapiro began researching Baum, a former journalist (like Shapiro), who wrote 14 Oz books between 1900 and 1919, when he died. Shapiro bought books, board games, posters, trinkets – anything related to Baum.

He retired from teaching in 2001 and devoted most of his life to finding all things Baum.

Shapiro said he uses winnings from his other passion – horse racing – to pay for memorabilia.


He says he now owns two first-edition, first-state books. (Those “first-state” books were created on the first run of the presses before corrections were made.) A mint-condition first-edition, first-state Wonderful Wizard of Oz book has a $35,000 to $45,000 price tag at AbeBooks.com and BookFinder.com.

“I’ve seen other Baum books offered for $37,000 or $39,000, and they’re not in the condition his are,” said Mark Kirchner, a hand bookbinder in Newport Beach, Calif.

“His are better.”


He wants this story to spread the word. Maybe someone from a museum will call and offer him some space. Maybe an elementary school will set up a tour.

Maybe someone will tell him what he’s supposed to do with all this stuff. Baum’s spirit, as powerful as it is, hasn’t written an ending yet.

Shapiro has put together an amazing collection, no doubt about it. Now he’s reached the point (at 60 years of age) that he’s starting to wonder what will become of the books when he’s gone. In the meantime, he wants to enjoy them by sharing them with others who will appreciate what he’s accomplished. Well done, Mr. Shapiro.

The Circle of Useful Knowledge

I want to share one of my favorite little books because, though a book of only 255 pages, it contains much of the practical knowledge to be had in 1893 when it was published. I’ve spent several hours wandering around inside this book since I received it as a gift from a friend in New York, and I expect to spend several more doing the same.

According to Charles Kinsley’s preface, “The “Circle of Useful Knowledge” is a system of useful information, and contains hundreds of valuable receipts in the various departments of human effort, which can be relied upon, as they are tried receipts and have been procured from the most reliable sources, many of which have cost the author quite a sum of money for the right to publish them. They tell how to manage a farm, how to cook, all about wines and vinegar, how to fish and tan, how drugs and chemicals are composed, how to be your own doctor and nurse, – in short, everything connected with everyday life is treated of in a concise, clear style that tells what you wish to know.”

And Mr. Kinsely wasn’t kidding. Want to know how teach a horse to follow you? How to free your hands from warts? How to cure ringworms? How to clean silk? How to salt ham? How about the best way to make boots or shoes last three years or how to get rid of mosquitoes without using smoke? It’s all there and more. Mr. Kinsley’s little book is jam-packed with hundreds of tidbits that are still interesting and useful today.

Here’s one of Kinsley’s “receipts:”

To Clear Your Dwellings from Bed-Bugs

Corrosive sublimate and the white of an egg, beat together, and laid with a feather around the crevices of the bedsteads and the sacking, is very effectual in destroying bugs in them. Tansy is also said to be very effectual in keeping them away. Strew it under the sacking bottom. Common lard, or equal quantities of lard and oil, will destroy or keep them away. The best exterminator is black hellebore pulverized. It is a deadly poison to them. Place it where the bugs will be apt to crawl.

Never fear, Mr. Kinsley is on the case. His little book is likely to have an answer for most of life’s nagging problems.