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Monday, September 21, 2009


Antique collecting is a lot like fishing: the two most fun parts of it are the thrill of catch and then showing it off to others. But here's the key - you have to find kindred spirits who are interested in the same thing you are, be it fishing or antiques, because if you try to show a disinterested person, your personal pinata gets clobbered in one swing, spilling out your accumulated ego, excitement, and joy. I know firsthand. That's why I'm doing this blog. You folks around the world who are reading my blog are my kindred spirits. I knew you were out there; I just didn't know where! I'm glad you're enjoying my blog. So with that little preface, let me share another one of my fish stories:

I vividly remember finding this unassuming trade card. I was at Brimfield, the largest outdoor antique fair in the U.S., about ten years ago. It was hot and dusty because I was near the street at the time and my feet and back were aching from being bent at a 45-degree angle over the dealers' tables, thumbing through boxes and bowls containing trade cards. I was feeling a sympathetic bond to these little scraps of paper, carelessly tossed naked (no archival sleeves, no unarchival sleeves) and sometimes jammed into shoeboxes then callously fingered by people bent on speed at all costs so that they can get get back to the hunt for the next box load of paper scraps. These cards suffer more bent corners, scratches, and tears in one antique show then they have from the previous 150 years of their fragile existence. I feel that I don't buy trade cards - I rescue them.

But I digress. I suspect the trade card collectors who did their quickie groping through the box near the dusty street at the Brimfield show passed by this particular card because it was "just a common." The front is a common stock card image, but the card turns out to be anything but common. I know that it wasn't because they all had this little treasure. It was the first one I'd seen and I've only seen one other in the ten years since this show. Some probably made the mistake of seeing "Independent Spiritual Retreat" on the card front and just figured it was some kind of religious card, like those put out by the American Tract Society. Not so. Dr. Hargrove was a dyed-in-the-wool spiritualist and a person who claimed to heal others with the help and aid of the spirits of the departed with whom he could commune. Many of these spiritualists laid claim to having a "spirit band," a sort of consortium of spirits who were dedicated to channeling through a particular mortal medium. Dr. Hargrove had his allies in the spirit on whom he could rely to help him in his calling as a doctor; he mentions his spirit band on this card. They apparently helped him to build a table unlike any that you or I have seen, with holes and tubes connecting the patient to the central container of leaves and roots, etc. It almost sounds like sick people were having a seance at a round pool table whose pockets and passages were filled with the healing aroma of healing leaves and roots instead of the clacking of cue balls.

The front of this trade card may be common, but the back is rich with history and quackery. I can't do it better justice to it than to let it speak for itself:


A Spiritual, Medical and Developing Table


Through the Mediumship of Dr. A. Hargrove, the

English Test, Medical and Business Medium,

1243 Washington Street, Boston, Mass.

This wonderful invention consists in disposing the medicinal substances from which the operative or healing effect is to proceed, in a Closed Chamber of suitable form and dimensions, having a covered passage from the inside of the Chamber to an opening or openings near the patient, over which openings the patient to be treated places his hands. The Chamber which is to contain the medicinal substances is located in a table with circular top, and from the inside of the Chamber are made in or under the table top, covered passages extending to openings in the upper surface of the table around and near the edge of it when not in use. These openings are fitted with and tightly closed by suitable ornamental covers. When in use, the patient or patients sit at the table, and two of the openings are uncovered for each sitter at the table, and the hands of the patient are placed over the openings, and the active medicinal properties of the vegetable substances which the disease of the patient requires are transmitted through the passages to the system of the patient, and produce the desired effect with more certainty and safety than when administered in the ordinary manner. The Vegetable Substances to be used in the Chamber are selected and compounded by the aid of spiritual knowledge, in connection with Pure Vegetable Substances. The magnetic currents are kept in constant operation, producing wonderful results. Substances correct all impurities. Spirit forms are frequently seen and described by the medium and others at the table. Manifestations of a remarkable nature are continually occurring.

Remedies magnetized in the table by the Doctor's Spirit Band, in connection with his wonderful powers, and sent to any part of the United States. Parties wishing particulars must enclose stamp. Sittings daily at the table, 9 A. M. to 5 P. M. Valuable advice upon sickness and all matters.

Special Notice. Free Circles for Ladies only, Sunday & Wednesday Evenings at 7:30. These Circles are to be held especially for the development of a high order of Spiritual Knowledge. A few of the Drs. personal gentlemen friends excepted.

Dr. A. Hargrove was Alfred Hargrove. Born in England about 1848, he was a grocery clerk in Boston in 1870, was practicing as Dr. Hargrove in Boston around 1875 and was in Providence, Rhode Island in 1880, listed as an astrologer.

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