Monday, September 30, 2013

How to Deal With a Unibrow, 1881

Konstantin Makovsky,
Portrait of a Woman (c. 1870)

"Some persons have the eyebrows meeting over the nose. This is usually considered a disfigurement, but there is no remedy for it. It may be a consolation for such people to know that the ancients admired this style of eyebrows, and that Michael Angelo possessed it. It is useless to pluck out the uniting hairs; and if a depilatory is applied, a mark like that of a scar left from a burn remains, and is more disfiguring than the hair."

John H. Young, Our Deportment (1881)

Here's a novel approach to the unibrow: ditch the tweezers and just tell everyone you're the next Michelangelo.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Treat Redness of the Face, 12th century

"Did I overdo it?"
Queen, Lewis Chessmen (12th c.)
"For removing redness from the face, we put on leeches of various colors, which are in reeds, but first we wash with wine the place to which they ought to adhere; they are usually placed around the nose and ears on both sides."  
The Trotula (12th century) 
Feeling flushed? Bloodsucking parasites can help! Just don't forget to remove the leeches of various colors before you go out for the evening.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to Choose Wine, 1689

Jan Vermeer, The Glass of Wine (c. 1660)
"Good Wine ought to be clean, pure, and clear, inclining to a red, called Claret, or Cherry-colour; but let it be of stony and mountainous Places, situate towards the South. Let it be of an excellent Odour, for such wine increases the subtill Spirits, nourishes excellently, and breeds very good Blood; let it be of a pleasant Taste, but let it by no means be too sharp or sweet, but of a middle temper, for if too sweet, it inflames, obstructs, and fills the Head, but the sharp or sowr Wine hurts the Nerves and Stomach, and begets Crudities... The gross, stinking, corrupted, flat Wines, are unpleasant to the Taste, and unwholesom; all which are to be avoided, for they cause the Head-ach, corrupt the Blood, breed melancholick Spirits, and in short, are destructive to the whole body."  
John Chamberlayne, A Family-Herbal (1689)
Here's a tip: if the sommelier tries to interest you in a gross, stinking, corrupted, flat wine, just say no.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How to Make Chocolate, 1685

Joannes de Laet, L'histoire du Nouveau Monde, 1640
"Take seven hundred Cacao Nuts, a pound and a half of white Sugar, two ounces of Cinnamon, fourteen grains of Mexico Pepper, call'd Chile or Pimiento, half an ounce of Cloves, three little Straws or Vanilla's de Campeche, or for want thereof, as much Annis-Seed as will equal the weight of a shilling, or Achiot a small quantity as big as a Filbeard, which may be sufficient only to give it a colour; some add thereto Almonds, Filbeards, and the Water of Orange Flowers." 
The Manner of Making of Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate (1685)
Hankering for some spicy 17th-century chocolate? Well, what are you waiting for? Those seven hundred cacao nuts aren't going to count themselves.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How to Charm a Man, 1896

"When you desire to make any one "love" you with whom you meet, although not personally acquainted with him, you can very readily reach him and make his acquaintance... Wherever or whenever you meet again, at the first opportunity grasp his hand in an earnest, sincere, and affectionate manner, observing at the same time the following important directions, viz.: As you take his bare hand in yours, press your thumb gently, though firmly, between the bones of the thumb and the forefinger of his hand, and at the very instant when you press thus on the blood vessels (which you can before ascertain to pulsate) look him earnestly and lovingly in the eyes, and send all your heart's, mind's, and soul's strength into his organization, and he will be your friend..."

The Ladies' Book of Useful Information (1896)

This handy technique allows you not only to bewitch that alluring stranger, but also to check his resting heart rate.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Interpret Italian Gestures, 1562

Raphael, The School of Athens (1509-11) 
"The Lomberd... is scorneful of his speche. He wyl geve an aunswer with wrieng his hed at the one side displaysynge his handes abrode. Yf he cast his head at the one syde & to shroge up his shoulders speake no more to hym, for you be answerd. The Italyons and some of the Venecions be of lyke disposicon." 
Andrew Boorde, The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge (1562)
You strike up a conversation with a Renaissance Italian. He tilts his head, spreads his hands, and shrugs his shoulders. Translation: quit bothering me with your questions, silly foreigner.

Friday, September 20, 2013

How to Whiten Your Teeth, 1675

Edward Topsell, The History of
Foure-Footed Beasts

"A Dentrifice to whiten the Teeth. Take of Harts-horn and Horses Teeth, of each two Ounces, Sea-shells, Common Salt, Cypress-Nuts, each one Ounce; burn them together in an Oven, and make a powder, and work it up with the mucilage of Gum Tragacinth, and rub the teeth therewith."

Hannah Woolley, The Accomplish'd Lady's Delight (1675)

Why buy whitening toothpaste when you can make your own? A few treatments with toasted horse teeth and mucilage, and a shimmering smile can be yours!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to Put Out a Fire, 12th century

Quick, the bran!
Madrid, Bib. Nac. Vitr. 26-2, f. 34vb (12th c.)
"If a fire blazes up, it should be extinguished with sand and bran. If it blazes up further, put on sand soaked in urine." 
Mappae clavicula (c. 12th century)
Safety first: be sure to have plenty of sand and bran on hand for your next barbecue or naval battle. (The urine soaking is for when things get really scary.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How to Nap, 1623

Old Man in an Armchair (c. 1650)
National Gallery, London
"Sleeping at noones causeth heavinesse of the head, dulnesse of wit... Moreover it hurteth the eyes, spoileth the colour, puffeth up the Spleene with winde, maketh the body unlusty... Yet... that it is lawfull at any time of the yeare for old men to sleepe a nap at noones, by reason of their imbecility, needs no demonstration." 
Tobias Venner, Via recta ad vitam longam (1623)
Some bad news here for everyone: your refreshing midday power nap is giving you spleen wind, unless you're an old man -- in which case the seventeenth century has diagnosed you with imbecility. Sweet dreams, all!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How to Cure Ear Problems, 1590

Athanasius Kircher, Musurgia universalis (1650)

"Earth Wormes fried with Goose greace, then straind, and a little thereof dropt warme into the deaffe or pained eare, doth helpe the same: you must use it halfe a dosen times at the least. This is true."

Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (1590)

This remedy doth helpe the patient to realize that whatever his original problem was, it wasn't as bad as having hot greasy worms dripped into his ear.

Monday, September 16, 2013

How to Exercise with Friction, 1827

"Friction is a mode of exercise of great value.. It has great power in strengthening the digestive organs, promoting a free perspiration, resolving obstructions, loosening contractions, and imparting a comfortable glow, and an increase of energy, to the whole system... Friction may be applied to the body by hand, or with flannel, rough woolen gloves, or the flesh-brush. The latter is by far the best instrument, and the proper time for using it is in the morning and evening, continuing from fifteen to thirty minutes at each time." 
Thomas John Graham, Modern Domestic Medicine (1827)
Trying to maintain an exercise schedule, but lacking motivation? Consider a vigorous session with the flesh brush! And when you've considered that, you'll undoubtedly be ready to hit the gym instead.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How to Make a Salad, 1660

"Take the buds of all good sallets herbs, capers, dates, raisins, almonds, currans, figs, orangado. Then first of all lay it in a large dish, the herbs being finely picked and washed, swing them in a clean napkin; then lay the other materials round the dish, and amongst the herbs some of all the foresaid fruits, some fine sugar, and on the top slic't lemon, and eggs scarce hard cut in halves, and laid round the side of the dish, and scrape sugar over all; or you may lay every fruit in partitions several."

Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook (1660)

In the good old days, salad was a sugar delivery system, and a salad spinner was a cook with a napkin.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How to Make Someone Die of Laughter, 13th century

Vein Man needs some armpit phlebotomy, stat.
BL Harley 3719, f. 158v (14th c.)
"Beneath the armpits are certain veins called "ticklish" which, if they are cut, cause a man to die of laughter." 
Richardus Salernitanus (13th c.?)
Tired of people not laughing at your jokes? You could just stab them in the armpits...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to Tell a Secret, 1660

Not suspicious.
Caravaggio, Cardsharps (c. 1595)
"Voices may be concealed six wayes: First by absence, and this is the safest way, and if it be not discovered, it cannot be suspected. Then follows mumbling or low speaking, which is unseemly and full of suspition, and ofttimes is the cause of great mischiefs. The third is to speak in a forrain Tongue, as Greek, Latin, Germane, Italian; this also breeds suspition and is unseemly. The fourth is by nodding, as Men playing, but this is most ridiculous and unhandsome. The fift is by words that signifie other things... and this wants long observation: yet if one can do it handsomely there can be no suspition... The sixt is when we speak by cutting off some words, or pieces, this is not rediculous, and becomes a Grave man, because it makes a doubtfull sense, and it is so lawfull that it is familiar in the Writings of great Men."
Johann Jacob Wecker, Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art and Nature (1660)
Relaying secret messages is tough. Mumbling is unseemly, nodding is silly, and Secret German rarely works in Germany. Instead, just leave out a few syllables and words here and there. Your secret may be mangled, but bystanders will have to agree that you are... not ridiculous.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How to Use Tomatoes, 1794

"Love-Apples... The fruit of the wild sort is no bigger than a cherry; but those that grow in gardens are as big as a small apple, very round and red, and therefore called pomum amoris; some call them tomatoes. It hath a small sharp-pointed jagged leaf, growing very thick upon its stalk and branches; its fruit is round and red, or of an orange colour. I have eat five or six raw at a time: They are full of a pulpy juice, and of small seeds, which you swallow with the pulp, and have something of a gravy taste... the fruit, boiled in oil, is good for the itch." 
Henry Barham, Hortus Americanus (1794)
Do you like gravy? Are you itchy? Then the love-apple is the New World fruit for you-- perfect for snacking and for smearing all over yourself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How to Cure Cramps, 1739

"For the Cramp. Take of rosemary-leaves, and chop them very small, and sew them in fine linen, and make them into garters, and wear them night and day."

Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife (1739)

You know what they say: one person's cramp remedy is another person's herbal undergarment.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Tell Time With Your Hand, 1633

Pocket Sundial, c. 1640
Harvard University
"[T]o see onely by the hand what of the clocke it is...  may bee practiced by the left hand in this manner. Take a straw or like thing of the length of the Index, or the second finger, hold this straw very right betweene the thumbe and the right finger, then stretch forth the hand and turne your backe and the palme of your hand towards the Sunne; so that the shaddow of the muscle which is under the thumbe touch the line of life, which is betweene the middle of the two other great lines, which is seene in the palme of the hand; this done, the end of the shaddow will shew what of the clocke it is; for at the end of the great finger it is 7 in the morning or 5 in the evening; at the end of the Ring finger it is 8 in the morning, or 4 in the evening; at the end of the little finger or first joynt, it is 9 in the morning, or 3 in the afternoone; 10 and 2 at the second joynt, 11 and 1 at the third joynt, and midday in the line following, which comes from the end of the Index.
Hendrik van Etten, Mathematicall Recreations (1633)
In theory, this ingenious method will allow you to tell time using only a straw. But you'll be lucky if you manage to calculate the time before the sun sets, and you may inadvertently offend passersby with your finger gestures.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to Eat Politely, 1651

"If thou soakest thy bread or meat in the sauce, soak it not againe, after that thou hast bitten it, dip therein at each time a reasonable morsell which may be eaten at one mouthfull." 
Francis Hawkins, Youths Behaviour 
From the same authority who told you not to be a close-talker, more timeless advice: don't be a double-dipper.

Friday, September 6, 2013

How to Make an Ice Velocipede, 1869

"The machine is intended to be used on ice or frozen snow. The driving-wheel is armed with sharp points to prevent the possibility of slipping... The hind wheel is replaced by a pair of gigantic skates or runners, similar to those used in sleighs or ice-boats."  
Velocipedes, Bicycles and Tricycles: How to Make and How to Use Them (1869)
Looking for a new winter recreation? Try an ice velocipede. Part sleigh and part torture device, it will get you where you're going, assuming that where you're going is the bottom of an icy lake.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Past Asks You: Apple Economics, 1698

Johann Hermann Knoop, Pomologia (1758)
It's time for another puzzle from the past:
"A man sent his three Sons to Market, to his Eldest he gave twenty two Apples: To the second sixteen: and to the third ten Apples, and bid them sell all at a price, and bring all Money alike." 
T. T. A Rich Treasure (1698)
To review: each son has to sell all his apples. No son can set a higher price than his brothers. And each of them has to bring home the same amount of money as the others. How will the clever trio accommodate the economically incoherent demands of their father?

If you think you have what it takes to be a 17th-century apprentice fruit vendor, post your answer in the comments. I'll add the 1698 solution tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How to Cure Nausea, 1693

John Gerard, Herball (1597)
"A speedy Remedy for Fits of Vomiting. Take a large Nutmeg, grate off one half of it, and toast the flat side of the other, till the Oily part begin to ouze or sweat out, then clap it to the Pit of the Patient's Stomach as hot as he can well endure it, and let him keep it on whilst it continues warm, and then if need be put on another."  
Robert Boyle, Medicinal Experiments (1693) 
If you're lucky, the patient will be so surprised by the sizzling, oily nutmeg on his abdomen that he will forget all about his nausea.

(Wondering what to do with the other half of the nutmeg? Pink pancakes!)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to Make Instant Coffee, 1883

That's the caffeine talking.
Currier & Ives, 1881
"Procure one-half pound of the choicest roasted coffee berries you can command, let the same be ground under your own immediate eye, to prevent the opportunity of chicory or any other spurious drug being introduced among the genuine material. Submit the coffee to a clean saucepan, containing one quart of boiling water, stir it round twice or thrice with a suitably-sized spoon, adding, at the same time, two pieces of fresh white ginger. Place the saucepan over a slow fire, and let it simmer until the quantity of liquor is reduced to one pint; then strain the latter off into a smaller saucepan, and allow the liquor to simmer gently, adding to it at intervals as much white sugar as will qualify the character of a thick consistent syrup, when it may be taken up, and when thoroughly cold poured into jars or bottles, stopped closely down for use. It will keep for any length of time in any climate. An individual, possessing the above confection, may command a cup of strong, genuine coffee at a minute's notice; it is necessary only to introduce two or three teaspoonfuls of the essence into a coffeecup, and fill with boiling water." 
S. Annie Frost, Our New Cook Book (1883)
Handcrafted, slow-cooked instant coffee can be yours! Just make sure that unscrupulous coffee grinders don't slip any spurious drugs into your beans. That can make for a rough morning.

Monday, September 2, 2013

How to Make Glow-in-the-Dark Ink, 1661

Doing some low-light writing? Grab a fig.
Samuel van Hoogstraten, Self Portrait (1647-9)

"Letters that are not to be read but in the night, must be written with the Gall of a Tortois, or Fig milk, if you put it to dry at the fire, or else [with] Water of Glow-Wormes."

Johann Jacob Wecker, Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art & Nature (1661)

If I may offer a recommendation: opt for the fig milk. The tortoise dissection might be a little messy on your writing desk.