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January 31, 2010 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Timothy Dexter was an 18th Century American entrepreneur from Newburyport, MA who made his money in fairly baffling ways. He successfully sold coal in Newcastle and shipped stray cats and mittens to the Caribbean at a sizable profit. Self-described as "First in the East, First in the West, and the Greatest Philosopher in the Western World," he is listed in an entry in the notably hoax-filled Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography, but NPR believes that he existed.

Besides his mercantile "acumen," Dexter is probably best known for his prose style, which lacked punctuation and consistent spelling. When criticized about the former, he reissued his text with a DIY punctuation element. His best-known work is A Pickle For The Knowing Ones (available in a variety of formats here; this helpful page includes the text and a "translation"). This site is an excellent resource, and almost as much fun to read an navigate as Dexter's prose. [Previously]
posted by GenjiandProust (16 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am pretty sure that www.LordTimothyDexter.com is the site mentioned in Joey Michales' post, just at a new url.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:43 AM on January 31, 2010


Pretty neat. I'm getting set to move to Newburyport and it's fun to arrive with a quirky bit of local trivia. Thanks.
posted by Miko at 6:45 AM on January 31, 2010


He successfully sold coal in Newcastle...

Yeah, but did he carry it there? Cause apparently that's the trick.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:47 AM on January 31, 2010


This is really weird. Just yesterday I decided to look up people who had faked their own death (pseudocide). Timothy Dexter is one of the funnier entries: One day he began to wonder what people would say about him after he died. He proceeded to announce his death and to prepare for a burial. About 3,000 people appeared for the wake. However, Dexter's wife refused to cry for his passing, for which he later caned her, and so he decided not to appear to his guests at all.
posted by billysumday at 6:47 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


almost as much fun to read an navigate as Dexter's prose.

I'm going to have to quibble with your idea of fun. The text on that site is at least 25% over my maximum whimsical-font threshold.

My library apparently has the 1802 first edition, if anybody wants to stop in for a look.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:10 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


shipped stray cats and mittens to the Caribbean

Please tell me the two items weren't some sort of vertical enterprise.
posted by gimonca at 7:41 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Please tell me the two items weren't some sort of vertical enterprise.

The mittens were evidently bought for by other merchants for export to Siberia. The cats remain a mystery. I do not believe that there was a "buy a pair of mittens, get a free cat" promotion.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:52 AM on January 31, 2010


I do believe reading, somewhere, that some of his business initiatives, like shipping coal to newcastle, were done at the mocking suggestion of his peers - who thought him (probably rightly so) to be an idiot. He took this to be good advice, and did so, not realizing newcastle was a coal producing capital or some such thing.

His shipment happened to arrive just as there was some giant coal-mining strike, or some other such thing which I can't remember, and he ended up making a fair bundle on it - by pure chance.

He was considered to be successful by pure, unadulterated luck.
posted by TravellingDen at 8:59 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you for this! I read about Dexter in one of those big old wacky-facts bathroom readers and I was always curious about what his book was like.

I got to page eight before I decided I'd had a nuf.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:44 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the wikipedia article: "His relationships with his "nagging" wife, daughter, and son were not particularly good, either. This became evident when he started telling visitors that his wife had died, despite the fact that she was still very much alive, and that the "drunken nagging woman" who frequented the building was simply her ghost."
posted by Catblack at 12:12 PM on January 31, 2010


The cats remain a mystery.

That one's not too hard. Islands had a dearth of cats prior to European colonists bringing them as pets. The Europeans were also interested in building plantations. The plantations and the associated households attracted vermin (in some cases, species also brought along by Europeans. Cats would have been desirable on the islands, as they were on ships.
posted by Miko at 12:22 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am pretty sure that www.LordTimothyDexter.com is the site mentioned in Joey Michales' post, just at a new url.

It is, but thank goodness for the repaired link! Favorited!
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:40 PM on January 31, 2010


I've never heard of him, but love these sort of of odd historical figures. I particularly like this line about his book:

The book contained 8,847 words and 33,864 letters, but absolutely no punctuation, and capital letters were sprinkled about at random.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 4:30 PM on January 31, 2010


GenjiandProust: I do not believe that there was a "buy a pair of mittens, get a free cat" promotion.

Of course not. But "Buy two kittens; get a free set of mittens!" - now that's a promotion I could believe in…
posted by Pinback at 4:38 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Self-described as "First in the East, First in the West, and the Greatest Philosopher in the Western World," he is listed in an entry in the notably hoax-filled Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography, but NPR believes that he existed.

I don't understand what you're going for here. Is this some kind of überirony that's too hip for my aging brain?

Incidentally, Dexter's famous "peper and solt" is mentioned towards the end of this excellent article on punctuation by Wendell Phillips Garrison, from the August 1906 Atlantic Monthly.
posted by languagehat at 5:16 PM on January 31, 2010


I don't understand what you're going for here.

Nothing much; I found the entry in Appleton's amusing, but, as I dug around a little I found out the "cyclopaedia" contained hoax entries -- biographies of non-existent people. And, since Dexter is so odd, it's a little hard to image that he wasn't a hoax. And yet...

That kind of thing. Less irony, more wonder.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:36 PM on January 31, 2010


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