Johnson, N. C.
Autograph Letter Signed, Newbury, July 7, 1846 to B. F. Palmer, Meredith Bridge, New Hampshire

quarto, two pages, formerly folded, postal markings on integral address leaf, some splits along folds, else in very good, clean legible condition.

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An unusual letter, in which a woman writes about acquiring a prosthetic foot. The man she writes to, Benjamin Franklin Palmer, or B. Frank Palmer, as he called himself, had his own leg “ground off in a bark mill” when he was ten or eleven years old. Palmer, born in 1824, tried and was dissatisfied with “all the most approved artificial legs, and resorted to fashioning his own out of a section of a 4willow tree from his New Hampshire farm. In 1846, Palmer secured the first American patent for an artificial limb and began to publicize his invention. Palmer’s device first earned acclaim at the 1846 National Fair in Washington, D.C.  In 1847, Palmer opened a factory at Meredith Bridge, New Hampshire. He later took on partners, and moved the business to Springfield, Massachusetts, and established offices in Philadelphia and other cities; he even granted a manufacturing license to a firm in London. Among Palmer’s employees and partners before the Civil War were men who later started their own companies and became business competitors. The excellence of Palmer’s product and his company’s position as an incubator of future rivals made him a central figure in the American artificial-limb industry during the mid-1800s.


         “Dear Sir,

               Being one of the “daughters of affliction,” and haveing been deprived by disease and the surgeon’s knife of a natural limb, I am under the necessity of applying to science and art for a substitute and being of course desirous to obtain the best substitute I write to make a few enquiries of one of whom we have of late heard much and in whom I, and others who have experienced so great a calamity, am deeply interested.

              I have obtained all the information I can of the “limb manufacturers” in New York and Boston and you will consider strange, an anxiety to procure an article as perfect as has yet been invented.

             My limb was amputated on the 1st morning of January 1846, just below the calf of the leg – and Dr. Crosby who is my surgeon and physician thinks it now ready for a cork foot.

              You will please tell me your price for a foot of this length – were I to go to M – how long it would be necessary for me to remain in order to have one fitted and finished. Please tell me wherein yours differs from others – Where you bring the greatest pressure and whether any comes upon the end of the limb; and any other particulars you please to relate will be gratifying.

             Have heard it remarked that you were in the habit of coming into this region in summer – would like to know if there is any probability of your being here this season.

             I have a great repugnance to taking the journey under these awkward and disagreeable circumstances and would like if possible to avoid it. Suppose it would be necessary for you to measure the limb in order to fit the new one, and that you also must apply it when finished. Or, in case you are not coming this way, could I send the measure and thus shorten my stay at your place.

              Could I, by being with you, learn to take care of the machinery myself, if at any time a slight disarrangement should take place, far away from those who have any knowledge of such things.

              Any advice concerning the matter will be very acceptable. …”