For those of you who have collected Warner’s Safe Cures for many years, the name Mike Seeliger is familiar. For those who are new to Warner’s collecting, Mike was one of the pioneers and published the first guide to collecting Warner’s Safe Cures back in 1974 called “H.H. Warner: His Company & His Bottles.” I started collecting Warner’s shortly after Mike published his book, so he deserves a good deal of the credit (or blame) for getting me hooked on these bottles. Mike also participated in the Great Warner’s Safe Cure Exhibit on April 21, 2001 in Rochester. I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate in that exhibit and to get the chance to meet Mike.
When I started this blog, I wanted to interview some of the collectors who have contributed to Warner’s collecting and have posted interviews of Jack Stecher and Dave Kyle. Mike was also on my short list and I am happy to report that he agreed to participate. Thanks to Mike for bringing Warner’s collecting into its own and for sharing some of his insights.
1. When did you first start collecting Warner’s Safe bottles?
I actually started collecting Ruby Red Schlitz throw away bottles. We would find them and could sell them for about $6 each. These were made in 1963. This was about 1969 or so. We then found some ruby red beers from 1949-1953 and these brought even more money (Quarts and 7oz returnables). We would find the old dumps and leave them alone. Then we found that this is where the real money was and the real interest. I would go out with my Aunt and hunt bottles during the day when I wasn’t attending classes at the University of Wisconsin.
When we would dig a dump at an old farm house or go into an abandoned farm building or house, you could almost write the history of the illnesses, and what the family was doing based on the old stuff in dumps. You knew what illnesses they had and what they drank or used for food based on the bottles that ended up in the dump.
3. What was the first Warner’s Safe bottle that you added to your collection?
After hunting one morning, I went up to an old abandoned house and started digging behind it. The hillside sloped down about 80 feet into the Wisconsin River. The whole hillside was broken Warner bottles. There were double collar tops, blobs, cures, remedys and even a Safe Remedies Co. pieces. I have a olive green corner of a warner (K&L Remedy) that I found there. No whole bottles. I always wanted a Warner bottle but had not acquired one.
Then my shovel struck a Warner bottle right in the middle. I reached down and started digging with my hand. The bottle was upside down so it might be intact. It was. A double collar K&L cure. I almost cried I was so happy and excited. I quickly rushed to the car and hid it in case I got kicked out of the dump.
I ended up digging 5 whole bottles out of that dump. 3 Cures and 2 Remedys. Almost every bottle in the dump was a Warner. KL cures and remedys. There was never a Nervine, Diabetes Cure, Bitters, Tippecanoe or anything else. Seems this family needed to cure their Kidneys or liver and that was all. The bottles ranged in age for over 25 years. They must have been a great customer of Warner.
4. What is the last Warner’s Safe bottle that you added to your collection?
I just added a nice double collar reverse safe.
5. Out of the Warner’s Safe bottles that you own or have owned, which was your favorite and why?
1. The labeled Animal cure on Ojea’s cover. I offered it to Jack Stecher when I sold it but Jack couldn’t buy it then. He eventually got it from Luke. The bottle is the king of all cures and labeled at that.
2. If you read the second “Collecting All Cures” by Agee, you will see a reference in the back talking about 2 Animal cures London that I sent him.
I had argued with the owner of a shop about their authenticity and he wanted $18 for them. I said they were fake. Finally, I bought them when I came to my senses and realized that $18 was a small price to pay for an Animal cure even if it was a repro.
The two were different colors, olive and apple green. I started to realize that they were English glass. Why two different colors of repros? Were they real? I called Agee and discussed. I sent them to him to see. I also sent them to Jack to see. Were they real?
Agee said he didn’t know but if they were real, they were the greatest cure to be found at the time. The rest is history.
At that time I found an “Antique Trader Magazine” in England and started to advertise for Warner bottles. Suddenly I could by all sorts of them. Bottle hunting was just beginning in England and I had the market almost to myself. It was great. Soon I was collecting all sorts of Warners. I also found some collectors in Australia and Germany and started to get Warners and began to trade, buy and sell.
I did buy Lafferty’s collection that had the Bitters, Tonics and Tonic Bitters in it. Also it had a black glass Diabetes cure 4 cities and a Safe cure 4 cities that was almost clear on top and light amber at the base. The two were quite a pair.
6. Is there a Warner’s Safe bottle that you always wanted, but were never able to add to your collection? If yes, which one?
I think the green Tippecanoe is the greatest Warner of all time.
7. Apart from Warner’s Safe bottles, is there another piece of Warner’s advertising or paper that is your favorite? If yes, what is it?
I collected all the Almanacs I could find. When I compared them from year to year I could trace Warner’s expansion through the years. I finally had to write a book to clear up all the confusion about Warner bottles in the early 1970s. The books written up until then didn’t do Warner justice.
8. What’s your best story (or stories if you have more than one) about getting a Warner’s Safe bottle? The more details, the better.
The two stories about digging my first and the Animal cures from London are the best. My next best story is a man who called me from Germany. He had 14 Warners from Frankfurt that came out of his wife’s attic. He wanted $1200 for the lot. I didn’t have that kind of money at the time. I went to my father and asked for a loan. He thought I was crazy. But I had never asked for anything before. He said are you sure you can get your money out of them? Needless to say when I received the bottles 9 Cures 4 green ones, and 5 Nervines large and small some with labels I had no problem selling them. He got his money back in 2 weeks.
Another story really is about writing my book. Back then it was written by my wife Alice (Married 39 years) and I with a typewriter sitting on the picnic table out in the back yard. The bottles were drawn around a cardboard template and all the drawings were done by me freehand. I kept trying to make it as complete as possible but Warner bottles kept turning up. Soon I had to publish it. I bought 250 copies for $1 each printed by Insty Prints. I sold them for $2.50 which included the postage. The first few I didn’t sign and these are the rare ones after that I signed each one.
I believe in the dedication at the front of the book. My wife’s understanding of my need to collect and my enthusiasm toward bottles has allowed this all to be an important part of my entire life. I think that without this any collector will tear apart a marriage, collecting can become an addiction. A good addiction but an addiction none the less.
I did walk into a store to find a large safe with H.H. Warner sole agent written on the front. Store owner wouldn’t sell it to me. It is still there although he painted some screens while leaning then against the safe a few years ago.
9. If H. H. Warner were still alive and you could interview him, what questions would be at the top of your list?
Did you really think this cured anyone?
How did you develop your great marketing plan?
The 9 ½ inch Safe Cure (safe) Rochester N Y, where did that bottle fit in in the time frame of Warner bottles? Is it a mold error like the reverse safe? How about that reverse safe, did you know about it?
Also the Safe cure around the neck, I think it is a transition bottle between the Double collar K&L cure and the blob because it has the Safe Cure Label on it not the K&L cure label, when was it used?
10. Other than Warner’s Safe bottles, what is your favorite bottle or bottles? Why?
I have both of the Spark’s bottles. I really like them. One time I found a Spark’s dose cup.
11. What’s the best way to encourage young bottle collectors to develop an interest in Warner’s Safe bottles?
Unfortunately digging is really the way to really get to like bottles. When you look at bottles they seem to reek history. I love black glass and think about Washington, Jefferson and others drinking out of them. I love movies that are true to bottles in the period films.
Bottle collecting has made me some very dear friends that have been with me all my life, this is the best part. Now I go to bottle shows with Bill Mitchell of Steven’s Point Wisconsin we make about 8 shows a year and the National Show is the high point.
Thanks again Mike. I think if I had come across that dump with all of the Warner’s, I might have gone into shock. Needless to say, the price of Animal Cures has risen somewhat from $18, not to mention the price of Frankfurts, especially Nervines and labelled ones. With any luck, I will try to get Mike to provide us with some more Warner’s stories and information that will dazzle you.