Captions

Panel 1: A close up of Dr. Bailey, his worn black coat with pink flower in the lapel, and his top hat.  He says “I’ll take six 12 oz. bottles of quinine, thirty 2 oz. vials of morphine, for now.  On credit of course, Everyone in these parts keep accounts, and settle up when crops are sold.”  Quinine was an anti-fever and anti-malarial agent derived from Peruvian bark AKA Jesuit’s bark, and perhaps the most widely used and valuable medicine of the 19th century.

All frontier towns of the 19th century operated on credit, the West almost solely a credit/debit economy, especially when currency was issued privately by local banks prior to Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 Legal Tender Act which flooded the nation with federally-issued greenbacks.  (Our story is now in April 1861).

Some sources for this:

“Customers were allowed credit for six months, but were expected to settle their accounts twice a year, January first and June first being the usual time for such settlements….  As money was scarce in the West the mercantile credit system did much to facilitate trade.”  Atherton, Lewis. “The Services of the Frontier Merchant.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 24 (1937), http://www.jstor.org/stable/189207

“Trade was almost universally based on credit….  By extending credit, parties reduced the transaction costs of trading in a society with seasonal agricultural production and limited alternative sources of liquidity.”  Clay, Karen. “Trade without Law: Private-Order Institutions in Mexican California.” Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization 13 (1997), http://www.jstor.org/stable/765133

These articles, and Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) Documents – The Debit Economy of 1830s New England provide a starting-point to understanding this unusual economic system, which in many ways is very different than anything familiar in the 21st century, and in other ways very similar to today’s credit card economy.

Here, it essentially means a chain of debt and payment; the doctor can’t pay Saul until his patients pay him, and his patients pay can’t him until crops or cows are sold to outside buyers who have currency.  More on this as our story continues.

Panel 2: The doctor is in profile in the foreground, and Saul is further back, in his black hat with white trim ribbon banding above the brim and his brown coat, with the drawers and shelves of blue-ish jugs behind him.  “That’s nearly my entire supply of quinine!  And how am I to *eat* credit?“Saul responded.  (It’s also a lot of expensive glass vials).  Dr. Bailey replied “Ho ho! You’re not from the West are you?”  The complex web of credit and payment was particularly tough on newcomers.

Panel 3: Exterior scene, landscape in background with dusky graying overcast dusk skies, and in foreground, Dr. Bailey standing on the dust just before the front porch of the apothecary shop, lifting a bulky package (containing his order of medicines) and trying to lift it onto the back-end of his horse.  “When should I expect you to ‘Settle up’ then?” Saul asked standing upon the shop’s short front porch, hands on his belt.  “June 1st, some cows should come home, and good currency upon their sale.” the doctor replied.  Bailey’s horse, a beautiful buckskin mare, is muscular and broad, with a light brown coat exquisitely detailed, a golden tail, and muscular, defined leg.  Bottom caption: “Saul never foresaw that running a shop would include getting most of his inventory cleaned out in exchange for a few words.”  Again the chain of debt and payment; Dr. Bailey’s patients pay can’t him until crops or cows come in.

“Ranch owners often sold crops or cattle only once or twice a year and in between had no ready cash.” p. 27 in Agnew, Jeremy. Medicine in the Old West: A History, 1850-1900. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2010.

 

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