Old Doctor’s Almanac

By Carrie Blough, Curator, Historical Society of Frederick County | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 09.06.13 – History, Timepiece

The word almanac has a mysterious etymology. The soundest origin places its roots in the Saxon tongue: The first almanacs were kept on carved sticks called “Al-mon-aght,” meaning “observation of the moons.” Today, almanacs are annual publications that include weather forecasts, tide times, planting and harvesting dates, holy days and astronomical information.

Annual almanacs were second only to the Bible in popularity by the 16th century. When the first printing press arrived in New England in 1638, the second document it printed—after Oath of a Freeman—was Almanack Calculated for New England. By the 18th and 19th centuries, almanacs were a common fixture in many American homes.

So-called “health” almanacs first appeared in 1817. These almanacs had a different tone than the traditional farmer’s almanacs, instead commissioned or printed by the purveyors of fraudulent patent medicines. These almanacs carried many advertisements for medicines that purported great curing and restorative properties.

The Frederick Almanac of 1913 was issued by Victor Remedies Co., in Frederick, owned by Dr. P.D. Fahmey. He produced and patented writing ink as well as a host of patented medicines. In addition to the timetables that almanacs are known for which list the tides and important dates, Fahmey’s almanac offered page after page of advertisements extolling the healthful properties of his various medicines. In his pages, readers discovered that Victor Liver Syrup would cleanse their bodies and that Victor Infants Relief helped nervous babies relax.

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 ushered in the end of these patented medicines. The new laws required the makers to list their dangerous ingredients, especially alcohol, cannabis, opium and a variety of toxic additives. Consumers could now see what they were taking and these patented medicine makers lost business. Victor Remedies Co. continued making medicines until 1922, five years after Dr. Fahmey died.

Almanacs are still produced annually; one of the most well-known in America is the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which many farmers and gardeners still swear by for recommended planting and harvesting dates.