Warner’s Safe Cure: Dr. Diocletian “Dio” Lewis (1888)

It seems like every time that I think I have seen all there is to see in Warner’s Safe Cure paper, another piece pops up that grabs my attention. This is particularly true of Warner’s Safe Cure almanacs. Beginning in 1879-80, the Warner’s Safe Remedies Company, like many of its competitors, issued almanacs that contained a wide variety of helpful material, intersperced with testimonials and ads for products. When I first began collecting these almanacs, I wrongly assumed that there would be one for each year. I soon found, however, that, like baseball cards, different almanacs surfaced for the same year. Accordingly, there was no way to know whether you had them all, because no one seemed to have a comprehensive list. This is a roundabout way of saying that I am no longer smug enough to think that I have seen all the paper Mr. Warner and his company had occasion to put into circulation.

Case in point, an 1888 almanac featuring the countenance of Dr. Diocletian “Dio” Lewis (1823-1886), an apparently acclaimed temperance leader of the time. The contents of the almanac are the same as most Warner almanacs, a collection of testimonials and descriptions of various disease for which one or another of Warner’s Safe Cures can provide relief. The only mention of Dr. Lewis that I can see is on the front cover and it consists of the reproduction of a letter from Dr. Lewis endorsing Safe Cure. Amazingly, Dr. Lewis, who practiced homeopathy and states in his letter “…years ago I gave up the use of medicines…”, apparently suspended his convictions and downed a dose of Safe Cure that was “three times the prescribed quantity” in response to a serious kidney trouble. Go figure.

I think that the significance of the 1888 Dio Lewis Warner’s almanac is that it sounds a theme common to Warner’s Safe Cure advertising. The product is endorsed by noted physicians, so it must be beneficial. In the case of Dr. Lewis, he was no longer alive to argue the point. As if to drive the point home, the back cover of this almanac bears another testimonial letter from 1883 from R[obert] A. Gunn, MD.  The letter is subtitled “A High Endorsement.” Dr. Gunn claims to have been the Dean and Professor of Surgery of the United States Medical College and author of “Gunn’s New and Improved Hand-Book of Hygiene and Domestic Medicine.” While I was not able to confirm the existence of the United States Medical College, I was able to confirm the publication of Gunn’s Hand-Book, which appears to have been a self-help medical book of the day. As with Dr. Lewis, the strategy is the same, if Safe Cure is good enough for trained physicians, it must be good enough for you.

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2 thoughts on “Warner’s Safe Cure: Dr. Diocletian “Dio” Lewis (1888)

  1. Great article and yet another great example of absurdity of testimonials of this era, yet sadly they must have worked well given the great fortunes some of these men acquired.

    The Patent Medicine kings had something of a modern day MLM scheme going – a marketing house of cards. The house came crashing down in 1906 with the Pure Food + Drug Act…

    • Thanks Chris. I think the success of patent medicines was a combination of the lack of regulation and the lack of trained physicians. In that era, you could proclaim yourself a physician without testing or licensure. The average person did not have access to properly trained doctors or the money to pay them. I think we have a similar situation today with respect to herbal remedies and non-FDA regulated substances. In that regard, no much has changed in 120 years.

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