Baltimore, Maryland: [circa 1869]. Envelope or Cover. This four-page advertising circular measures 8.5” x 11”. It was sent from P. Zell & Sons in Baltimore to William R. Rhea in 3 Springs, Virginia. The circular is undated, but no in-text testimonials are dated past 1868. Overall, the circular is in nice shape, however it has some soiling and postal wear along the folds including the beginnings of a few small splits. There is a 4” closed tear across the spine. The circular begins with a short essay, “How to Improve Your Soil and Increase Your Crops” that promotes the use of Guano and Bone Phosphate as fertilizers. One inside page provides pricing and descriptions of Zell’s products. There are two pages of customer testimonials from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Good to Very Good. Item #009704
In the 1840s, after Europeans realized the tremendous fertilizing power of the guano, i.e., seabird excrement, that Peruvians routinely harvested from mountainous deposits on their country’s rocky coastal islands, its value skyrocketed, and an entire “white gold” industry sprang up almost overnight. Millionaires were quickly made, primarily Peruvians and Englishmen who lured and indentured Chinese and Polynesians as virtual slaves to dig and harvest the guano. Americans began to search the coasts of Mexican, the Caribbean and the Pacific for other deposits, and Congress passed the Guano Islands Act in 1856 that authorized U.S. citizens to temporarily hold any uninhabited and unclaimed island until they stripped it of the valuable fertilizer. It had long been known that bones, especially crushed bones, provided nutrients to soils that promoted crop growth, however in the 1840s, a German chemist, Justus von Liebig, discovered that by first treating them with sulfuric acid allowed for a much more rapid and thorough absorption of their phosphate nutrients. Together, guano and bone phosphate fertilizer made possible the tremendous increase in agricultural production that occurred in the mid-to-late 1800s. (For more information, see Tandon’s “A Short History of Fertilizer” at the Fertiliser Development and Consultation Organisation online.).