MEDICAL BOTANY: a course of lectures delivered at Sussex Hall, during 1850. London: Published by W. B. Ford, 47, Duke Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and at 24, Union Street East, Spitalfields.
[1850-1.]. 8vo, pp. xi, [i] blank, [ii] errata and blank, 223,  blank; with tipped in stipple engraved frontispiece portrait of Coffin, and several woodcut illustrations within text; some occasional light soiling and marginal browning, but otherwise clean and bright; in near fine original green blind-stamped cloth, spine lettered in gilt, book block a little shaken, with remains of old advertisement or book-plate on front free endpaper; a good copy. An attractive copy of the first edition of this popular contribution to the genre of botanic medicine, by the American Isiah Coffin (ca. 1798-1866), a disciple of the American herbalist Samuel Thompson, and England’s chief popularizer of medical botany, described as ‘the most significant social movement of the 1840s to express its opposition to the professionalism of medicine by defending the traditional right of everyman to be his own physician’ (Holloway, p. 83).
Coffin believed that all diseases were caused by obstructions in bodily heat, which could be purged by the inhalation or ingestion of Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco), with medicines made from cayenne pepper used to restore the flow of heat. His inexpensive and low-tech system was especially popular in the north of England, where Coffin helped to set up several local medico-botanical societies composed of ordinary citizens, run on democratic principles and responsible for dispensing medicines to anyone who sought the aid of the society. ‘Many of those who listened to Coffin had grown up in the countryside, and could remember a mother or a village wise woman who doctored them with herbs. On fine Sundays, when everyone flocked to the green meadows and woods outside the towns, there were those who could still put a name to and vaguely recall the use of plants that Gerard had written about... Such audiences took the jaunty American botanic doctor to their hearts. Hull was the scene of his first triumph; at Sheffield the welcome was warmer still... and Coffin finally settled in Leeds, with a fast-growing network of agents to sell his herbs, and thousands flocking to hear his lectures’ (Green, p. 188). By 1850, and the time of the present lectures, there were branches of the Friendly Botanico-Medical Society in every major city in the industrial north, as well as in London. He is probably best known for his ‘Botanic Guide to Health’ first published in Leeds in 1845 and which was to remain in publication until 1866, and was translated in Welsh, French and German. Coffin’s refusal to co-operate with the medical establishment, however, and in particular a bitter rivalry with John Skelton, the Devon herbalist, naturally led to confrontations, and the reputation of Coffinism was ultimately tarnished and the movement disintegrated.
Bibliography: Atwater S-258.1; Wellcome II, p. 366; OCLC 10900923 and 182936058; see Griggs, Green Pharmacy, ff. 188 for her Chapter on Coffinism; Holloway, 'The regulation of the supply of drugs in Britain before 1868', in Drugs and Narcotics in History, edited by Porter & Teich, pp. 77-96.