H. H. Warner Goes to Sea: Maritime Images in Safe Cure Advertising

As you can imagine, part of doing a blog on Warner’s Safe Cure involves research. Although I would consider myself to be knowledgeable about H. H. Warner and his patent medicine empire, I am always reminded of how much remains to be discovered. Part of my research includes looking at the vast array of advertising that Warner used to develop his brand. That includes newspaper advertising, almanacs, trade cards, posters and on and on. 

The American Reformer - Warner's Rheumatic Cure - Dec. 6, 1884

Warner’s Safe Rheumatic Cure Ad in the American Reformer on December 6, 1884

When you look at that much advertising, you start to notice that certain themes emerge repeatedly as well as certain images. Warner was a master at using the media available in the 1880’s to make his product a household name. For example, much of Warner’s advertising was designed to encourage potential customers to take charge of their own health with the help of Warner’s Safe Cure. Ironically, Warner also made frequent use of testimonials by physicians, who recommended the use of Safe Cure. 

For whatever reason, one of the themes that seems to show up in Warner’s Safe Cure advertising is the notion that Safe Cure provided hope for the hopeless. Indeed the early Safe Cure almanacs contain the story of H. H. Warner’s claim that Dr. Craig’s Cure saved him from certain death as a result of Bright’s Disease. It was for that reason that he claimed to have purchased the remedy to market it to the public at large.

Rescue of the hopeless is often portrayed in a maritime context. I imagine that in the days before GPS and satellite navigation, being lost at sea was the epitome of hopelessness. This is perhaps why Warner seized upon that as a theme. Indeed hope for the hopeless showed up repeatedly in Safe Cure Advertising. Here are a few examples:

An Anchor to Health - The Metropolitan (Kevin Taft)

Warner’s Safe Cure Ad in The Metropolitan of August, 1890

The above ad was featured in the August, 1890 edition of The Metropolitan and was located by Kevin Taft. It is loaded with symbolism. First, of course, is the anchor, which represents safety in stormy seas. The words “SAFE SURE STEADFAST” speak for themselves as does the rainbow with the words “HOPE HEALTH HAPPINESS”.  In essence, the ad offers Safe Cure as hope to navigate the stormy seas of disease. Not exactly subtle, but the Victorians were not known for their subtlety. 

Warner’s Safe Cure as a beacon of hope to the distressed appeared on the cover of one of the almanacs in 1887:

1887 Beacon Light of Safety Almanac

Warner’s Safe Cure Almanac – “The Beacon Light of Safety” (1887)

The theme was even included in advertising issued out of Warner’s London Office:

Warner's Safe Cure Life RaftIt was also used in the sale of Warner’s Safe Yeast, which claimed “Be Guided By This Beacon Light, Your Healthful Course Will E’er Be Right”. Below is one of the Safe Yeast trade cards that promised to guide distressed mariners through the rocks and shoals of Indigestion and Bad Health.


The Safe Yeast/Safe Cure almanac of 1886 featured a girl perched on the shoulders of a sturdy sea captain. Note that the word “Reliable” is prominently featured on the cover of this almanac as well as on the British almanac above. It has an almost subliminal character.

Warner’s Safe Yeast Almanac – “The Old Mariner” (1886)

The constant recurrence of the notion that Warner’s Safe Cure offered the sick safe refuge from the stormy seas of disease was no accident. One must remember that in the 1880’s, the United States was still largely a rural country with a literacy rate far below what it ultimately achieved in the 20th Century. Images were nearly as important as words and Warner knew that. Indeed, the idea of a “Safe Cure” was designed to encourage the public that the product offered a risk-free path to health. Apparently, it was a theme that worked.

Warner’s Safe Diabetes Cure

Warner's Safe Diabetes Cure, 1906-1908. From americanhistory.si.edu.

While this is not a perfect Warner’s Safe Diabetes Cure label, it’s still nice. One of the things I really love about Warner’s labels is that they really exude Victorian detail. This label was obviously post-1906, given the reference to the Pure Food & Drug Act. As yet, the word “CURE” is still used. Just goes to show that the transition from Cure to Remedy was not instantaneous. 

Are Pressburgs Still Rare?

Green Pressburg with Label 9

The short answer is an absolute “Yes”!! The reason that I post this question is that it has been asked of me on several occasions, most recently at the Baltimore Antique Bottle Show earlier this month. However, as with assessments of rarity among antique bottles, the answer comes with caveats. Indeed, not all Warner’s Pressburgs are created equal. In an absolute sense, even the most common Pressburg, the amber pint Safe Cure is considered rare among Warner’s collectors, but just not as rare as it used to be.

Pressburg Diabetes Cure 3

The rarity of Pressburg Safe Cures turns on a number of different factors; however, chief among them is the fact that the Pressburg Office was open only between 1888 and 1890. As Warner’s foreign offices go, that was extremely short. Although I have never seen an production estimates for the Pressburg Office, its limited existence means fewer bottles of Safe Cure went into distribution and in a smaller market. Another factor is that until the late 1980’s, the former Pressburg was located squarely behind the “iron curtain,” with exceedingly limited access by Western collectors. Since then, more Pressburg Safe Cures have surfaced and, I expect, will continue to surface.


To my knowledge, Pressburg Safe Cures have appeared in three color variations: amber, green and aqua. The green variant tends toward the blue/green end of the spectrum as opposed to the more common olive greens we see in the Frankfurt and London Safe Cures. Of these three color variants, amber is the most common, followed by green and then by the most rare aqua. At this point, there are two important caveats. First, my comments are limited to the “Safe Cure” only. The Safe Diabetes Cure (“Diabetic Cure” on the label) is amber, but is in a league of its own. Second, labelled Pressburgs, regardless of color, are extremely rare. A label in good condition is a premium and all bets are off.

Warner's Safe Cure Pressburg with labels

Pressburg Safe Cure 4

As a rule, Warner’s Pressburgs are not strongly embossed. The reason for that is unknown. It does, however, suggest that the Pressburg bottles were not made in the United States, London or Frankfurt and shipped to their ultimate destination. I have also been asked about valuing Pressburgs. I always hesitate to value bottles, because as soon as you do it, the information is obsolete. With that in mind, several years ago amber Pressburg Safe Cures were bringing $900-1000 a piece. Recently, I have seen them in the $350 -400 range. The green and aqua variants have held their value. Greens tend to bring $1200-1500 and aquas, if you can find them around $2500+.

Green Pressburg with Label 7 Green Pressburg with Label 8

Finally, so far only the Safe Cure and Safe Diabetes Cure variants from Pressburg have surfaced. If you know of a Pressburg Nervine or Pressburg Rheumatic Cure, please let me know. Examples of either would peg the rarity meter. And so, I hope I have shed some light on the current market for Warner’s from Pressburg. If not, shoot me a comment.

Selling Tippecanoe in the Newspapers

If you could point to only one quality of H. H. Warner that accounts for his phenomenal success in the fireproof safe business and then, most notably, in the patent medicine business, it would have to be his ability to market his products. He was, perhaps, decades ahead of his competitors in understanding the power of branding and establishing a product as a household favorite. Although he achieved this success through a variety of means, one of those means was simply visibility of his products in the newspapers. Between 1879 and 1893, when Warner was forced out of the business, he undoubtedly spent millions of dollars in print ads. 

His advertising was not limited to major newspapers such as the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune. Indeed, Warner placed ads in newspapers large and small, including The Great Bend Weekly Tribune (Great Bend, Kansas) or The Commonwealth (Scotland Neck, NC).  His advertising was designed to reach ordinary people throughout the United States. In order to do this, Warner relied upon his own in-house advertising department to distribute canned advertising to the various newspapers. Interestingly, this canned advertising was similar ad to ad, but might also contain modest changes. A particularly good example are ads used for his Tippecanoe. Tippecanoe was introduced by Warner between 1883 and 1885 to replace his original line of Safe Tonic, Safe Bitters and Safe Tonic Bitters. It appeared in the figural log-shaped bottle with the mushroom top rather than the familiar embossed Safe Cure bottle.

Warner's Tippecanoe Bitters

A new product meant new advertising and Warner went right to work. At first glance, many of the Tippecanoe print ads appear to be identical. Upon closer inspection, there are subtle differences about the maladies that Tippecanoe was designed to address.

Warner's Tippecanoe The Best Tonic - The Daily Republican (Monongahela, PA) - 8 Jul 1885

The above ad was featured in the July 8, 1885 edition of The Daily Republican from Monongahela, Pennsylvania. It states “Warner’s Tippecanoe Bitters” and “The Best Tonic Bitters” “For All Stomach Disorders.”  The ad also captures the namesake of Tippecanoe, Major General William Henry Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe.

Warner's Tippecanoe Trade Card - Battle of Tippecanoe

Just a month earlier, Warner had published a similar ad in The Dighton Herald in Dighton, Kansas. While the layout of the ad was virtually identical, there were clear differences. In that ad, Tippecanoe was no longer the Best Tonic Bitters, but rather “The Best Blood Purifier” for Tired Feelings and even for Malaria. In all other material respects, the ad is the same. 

Warner's Tippecanoe Blood Purifier - The Dighton Herald (Dighton, KS) - 12 Jun 1885

This same Tippecanoe ad continued to appear in newspapers in 1885 and 1886. In addition to its claims to remedy all Stomach Disorders, Tired Feelings and Malaria, the advertising department of the Warner’s Safe Remedies Company included other vague and implausible claims, including those to remedy “All Gone Sensations,” “Bilious Headache,””Female Debility,””Skin Eruptions,””Spring and Summer Weakness” and “Mal-Assimilation of Food” among other things. Below are a few of those ads with their spurious claims.

Warner's Tippecanoe for Skin Eruptions - The Great Bend Weekly Tribune (Great Bend, KS) - 15 May 1885

The above ad was featured in the May 15, 1885 edition of The Great Bend Weekly Tribune. A week earlier, the ad below was featured offering to deal with Bilious Headache and Female Debility.

Warner's Tippecanoe for Bilious Headache - The Great Bend Weekly Tribune (Great Bend, KS) - 8 May 1885

The Importance of Labels – Part 2

In most cases, labels add to the aesthetic value of bottles as well as to their monetary value. Labels give you a sense of seeing the product as it might have appeared to a potential buyer in the 19th Century. This is particularly true of Warner’s Safe Remedies, because they provide such great detail about the ailments the product was designed to alleviate.

Warner's Safe Cure Label

In the case of Warner’s Safe Kidney and Liver Cure, that included “Stone in Kidney & Bladder, Inflammation of Kidneys, Bladder & Liver, Catarrh of Bladder, Jaundice, Dropsy, Malaria, Female Weakness and Pain in Back”.  The Warner label is also colorful because it includes the trademark iron safe along with the names of all of the Warner’s Safe Remedies available for purchase.

The value of a label also turns on its condition. The above label is in virtually mint condition, which really adds to the character of the bottle.  However, like bottles, labels are not always mint. Often, portions of the label are missing or may have content stains that make the label unreadable.  If a label is less than 50%, I don’t think it adds much, if anything, to the value of the bottle. Indeed, I have heard some dealers say they would rather remove a bad label than keep it on the bottle. The same is probably true for labels in poor condition.

Warner's Animal Labeled

Although I am a bit biased, I would say that Warner’s Safe Remedies labels are a bit more interesting than your average patent medicine label. Perhaps it’s the wonderful graphic of the iron safe or the detail detailed claims of the maladies it was designed to cure. Whatever it is, well-preserved Warner labels add a unique flavor to the bottle.


Labelled Warner's Safe Cure Pint from Frankfurt in Emerald Green

Needless to say, labels on rare Warner’s are even more valuable. Above are examples of labels on a green Animal Cure, on a Pressburg Safe Cure and Safe Diabetes Cure and a rare apple green Frankfurt Safe Cure. Labels on these rare bottles are extremely hard to come by, especially in good condition. In short, the value of labels on Warner’s Safe Remedies defy any hard and fast rules. It is safe to say, however, that the better the condition and the more complete the label, the greater the value it adds to the bottle.

Dan Cowman Collection  Dan Cowman Collection

Indeed, there are some Warner’s collections, like Dan Cowman’s, Terry McMurray’s or Mike and Kathie Craig’s, that are built on labelled Warner’s and other labelled cures. While no one can quibble with some of the wonderful colors in which Safe Cures appear, shelves full of labelled Safe Cures make an amazing impression. One can only imagine walking into a drug store in the 1880’s and seeing boxes and labelled bottles of Safe Cure lining the shelves.

While the bulk of my Warner’s collection consists of unlabeled variants, I really treasure those nice labelled examples that I have. Labels simply add to the excitement and appeal of the bottle and…..in most cases…..the value.


Warner’s Safe Cure on Sale!

In researching Warner’s Safe Cure and the advertising that invariably is connected with it, I occasionally come across period ads that make me chuckle. In this 1896 ad for Lundblades in the The Great Bend Weekly Tribune from Great Bend, Kansas (about 120 miles northwest of Wichita), you could pick up a bottle of Warner’s Safe Cure for the low, low price of 95 cents, rather than the MSRP of $1.25. Not a bad deal – 24% off. But, consider for a moment, the time value of money. $1.25 in 1896 would be the equivalent of about $36 in 2015 dollars. So, in today’s dollars, you would have saved about $9.00 on a bottle. Perhaps Lundblades claim of “Drugs – Cheaper Than Ever Known” is not so far-fetched.

Lundblades Great Bargains - The Great Bend Weekly Tribune - 7 Feb 1896