Warner’s Safe Cure: Tonic, Bitters & Tonic Bitters

If you are confused by why Warner created these three variations among his earliest cure inventory, then join the crowd. I have always just assumed they were basically the same thing in three different bottles. This theory, of course, assumes that there was any distinction between the contents of any of Warner’s cures and remedies. All three were replaced by Tippecanoe and were gone by the early 1880’s. My theory is supported, at least in part, by the fact that we know that Warner’s Safe Tonic often bore a label for “Tonic Bitters.” We saw this again recently in a half pint Tonic with a Tonic Bitters label that sold in the most recent Glassworks Auction.

It’s surprising how little there is in print by Warner about how the Safe Tonic, Safe Bitters and Safe Tonic Bitters compare. This is made more acute by the fact that these three concoctions with gone by 1885, replaced by Tippecanoe. Even a review of his early “pink cover” almanacs yield little in the way of a discussion about the proported benefits of these products.

Warner's Safe Cure Book of Prize Enigmas (1882)

If you flip through the pages of the 1882 Prize Enigmas almanac, you will find the following succinct discussion of Tonic Bitters:

This tidbit yields little except to suggest that Tonic Bitters was a blood purifier and cathartic or purgative. We are told that they were “experimentally compounded, by an eminent practitioner”.  I’m not sure who that was or if that was meant to inspire confidence.

Tonic Bitters were also apparently designed to act in concert with Safe Pills to get rid of malaria and all that “fatty bile” that has accumulated over the winter. In short, if Tonic Bitters cannot help you, no Bitters in the world will. And just to dispel the notion that Tonic Bitters might be consumed as an inebriant, Warner notes that “[t]hey are an unfermented medicine, not a drink” and have received some special exemption by the government.

In the end, I don’t think there was a dime’s worth of difference between these three products. Their purpose, it seems to me, was to give Warner a foothold in the lucrative “bitters” market. In the end, he must have decided that they were not having the impact he intended and abandoned them in favor of Tippecanoe.

Special thanks to Glassworks for the use of their picture of the labelled Tonic Bitters.


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