The Rise and Fall of the Warner Empire: Going Public and the Panic of 1893 (Part VI)

By the late 1880’s, Warner had decided that he could leverage the assets of his Safe Cure company by offering shares of it for purchase by the public. Atwater notes that Warner initially proposed a stock sale to employees, but the plan was not executed. In August, 1889, Warner sold the Company to an English syndicate, which incorporated as the H. H. Warner & Co., Ltd. with an initial public offering  of 20,000 shares of preferred stock and 35,000 shares of common stock at par $48.50 per share. The reaction was immediate and the shares were subscribed within a day of their offering.

Seeing the opportunity to secure a short term profit, Warner asked for and secured options from brokers to buy the stock in two weeks at a considerable increase over par. He then went into the market and began buying up shares, driving up the price. When the options became due, Warner had most of the stock, which forced the brokers to buy shares back from him at $250 per share in order to honor the options. When the dust settled, Warner had made several hundred thousand dollars, some 80% of the stock and the title of managing director for five years. Despite this apparent triumph, the public sale of the Company was the beginning of a slide into insolvency.

Warner began to spend less and less time attending to the management of the Safe Cure company and more delving into mining speculation. In the 1892 edition of the Safe Cure Almanac entitled “Law – State & National,” (pictured above) Warner offered his own shares of stock in the H. H. Warner & Co. Ltd for sale, including 4000 shares of preferred and 2000 shares of common stock. In one of the inserts entitled “Notice to Subscribers,” Warner used the same pitch that had worked so well in marketing medicine to the public:

There are millions of patrons of Warner’s Safe Remedies who have but few opportunities to invest their earnings in a live industrial enterprise where they will be safe, and at the same time afford them an assured and high rate of interest….

It would appear that Warner’s grandiose claims regarding the potential earnings from stock never materialized. On February 20, 1893, the American securities market crashed and the Panic of 1893 ensued. He was unable to meet his debts or those of  Arthur G. Yates (on which he had signed off). Although he attempted to satisfy his creditors with shares of stock in H. H. Warner & Co. Ltd., those who declined the offer forced him to assign his assets to a referee, which he did on May 8, 1893.

For the man to whom success had seemed to come so naturally, such an end was both surprising and disappointing. It was not, however, the end of his patent medicine business, which continued well into the 20th Century.



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