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ca. 1899 SANITARY POCKET CUSPIDORS – DEVISED BY US ARMY SURGEON MAJOR DANIEL M. APPEL – VERY INTERESTING EARLY EFFORT TO CONTROL COMMUNICABLE DISEASES – “LIKE NEW” OLD STOCK:  One of the more interesting pieces of 19th Century personal hygiene products I’ve seen, this packaging carton of Sanitary Pocket Cuspidors containing six of the cuspidors has to qualify as the most unique.  Devised by Major Daniel Appel, a surgeon in the US Army, patented by C. R. Wyman in 1899, and manufactured by Seabury & Johnson of New York, these disposable pocket cuspidors were created in response to the wide spread use of chewing tobacco and the resulting – and necessary – continuous spitting which in turn facilitated the spread of communicable diseases. 

While diseases that were spread through human contact and from airborne pathogens had been of considerable concern to the armies of the world for generations, little progress was made in identifying the cause and effective prevention until the American Civil War.  The army surgeons made considerable advances during the following Indian War years that dramatically improved the health of the frontier soldier, and during the short duration of the Spanish American War the exposure to the tropical afflictions such as malaria emphasized the need for controlling the spread of these deadly diseases.   

As with many medical conditions, we humans are adept at aggravating the situation with life style choices and our daily practices.  Chewing tobacco was widely used in 19th Century America among most adult males, and not a few females, and it was certainly a favored distraction for soldiers.  At the risk of stating the obvious (or for those of you who have never had the pleasure) unless you have a cast iron stomach, one who chews tobacco has to relieve himself of the copious amounts of saliva that results from having the wad of tobacco tucked into his cheek.   

When you are outdoors, ridding yourself of the saliva is not much of a problem as long as you avoid your bunkie’s boots, but when indoors you need a receptacle of some sort.  Spittoons were a common fixture in almost every public building, and even today if you know where to look, most antique buildings – barracks and headquarters buildings included - that still retain the original wood floor will have that distinctive ring of dark stained wood surrounding a circle of lighter colored wood about 8-12”in diameter where the spittoon was located – the darker wood evidence that some chewers had better aim than others.  Unless these spittoons were emptied on a daily basis (now there’s a job to aspire to) they became a breeding pool for any of the infectious diseases carried by the people who had used them.  Isolating the exposure to the saliva, or eliminating the spittoon altogether, was the purpose of these individual, and more importantly disposable, cuspidors.  As the directions printed on the packet state, the user was directed to dispose of the cuspidor every 24 hours by burning, indicating it was known that fire would destroy any disease that was present in the saliva.   

These disposable pocket cuspidors were devised by Major Daniel Mitchell Appel, a US Army Surgeon.  Mitchell joined the army from Pennsylvania in 1876 as an assistant surgeon and was promoted to major and full surgeon in November of 1895.  He was assigned to Ft. Baynard, near Pinos Altos, in southwestern New Mexico Territory, a post originally established to control the Apaches, where surgeons, military and civilian, had come to realize that the soldiers suffering from tuberculosis and some other diseases seemed to improve more dramatically in New Mexico than they did in other parts of the country.  Recognizing that the high elevation, clean air, and low humidity were contributing factors to these results, in August of 1899 the War Department authorized Surgeon General of the Army General George M. Sternberg to establish a hospital at Fort Bayard for use as a military tuberculosis sanatorium.  That fall, Major Appel opened the hospital, the first of its kind.   

The timing of Appel’s assignment to Ft. Baynard and the patent date of these cuspidors – 1899 – is more than coincidence, and it is understandable that his assignment to the tuberculosis hospital was instrumental in Appel’s inspiration to devise them.  I’m quite certain that these cuspidors were issued to the patients as well as being used by those who chewed tobacco, whether the packets were sold or provided gratis to customers of such places as saloons, theaters, or stores.    

The manufacturers, Seabury and Johnson, was founded in 1885 by chemist and pharmacist George J. Seabury (11-10-1844 to 02-13-1909) and American industrialist Robert W. Johnson I (02-20- 1845 to 02-07-1910), one of the three brothers who founded Johnson & Johnson.  Both men shared an interest in the discoveries of Sir Joseph Lister, in particular his studies of antiseptics and germ theory, so it is not surprising the firm manufactured these disposable cuspidors.  

This grouping consists of the original brown paperboard packaging carton and six of the original paper cardstock pocket cuspidors.  The carton, measuring 10 ¼” long, 3 ½” wide, and 3 ¼” high, shows some shelf wear but still retains both of the end labels.  The individual cuspidors, measuring 3 ½” wide, 3 ¼” high, and ½” thick when closed, are all in like new condition showing no wear or aging and each is complete with the absorbent cotton wad in the bottom of the packet.  All of the printing on the individual packets is legible and contains basically the same information as that found on the end labels of the carton.   

This is a very unique offering of a scarce medical device of the period, and one that would be an interesting addition to an Army medical or barracks room display.  The individual cuspidors are $30 each, or as a group the six cuspidors with the larger carton is $180

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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