One of the perennial questions that comes up among bottle collectors, especially those of us who collect cures and remedies is “does a label on a bottle increase its value?” The answer to that is most often “yes,” but there are some qualifications to that answer. It is not an absolute truth. It’s important to understand why labels are valuable. In my mind, there are two primary reasons that labels are important. First, they provide valuable information about the bottle and the product it contained. Second, they add to the aesthetic quality of the bottle.
From an informational standpoint, a label can make an enormous difference. This is particularly true where the bottle is unembossed and, but for the label, its contents would be lost to history. This is also true where, in some cases, the manufacturer may have used a generic bottle to contain different products. Let me give you two examples in the context of Warner’s Safe Remedies. Early Melbourne cures were likely manufactured in Rochester or London and shipped to Melbourne for resale. This is likely, because glass manufacturing in that British colony was not well-developed in the late-19th Century. Consequently, early Melbourne cures have the familiar embossed “Safe” and identity of contents, such as “Safe Cure,” “Diabetes Cure,” or “Nervine.” Later Melbourne bottles were manufactured there and bore the generic embossing “H. H. Warner & Co. Ltd.”/Melbourne”. Absent a label, the actual contents of the bottle would be unknown. Undoubtedly, it was cheaper for the Safe Remedies Co. to produce a single bottle and vary the label. The photograph above shows an H. H. Warner & Co. Ltd. bottle with a Nervine label and box.
Another good example are the “Safe Remedies Co.” bottles from Rochester. These bottles appeared well after Warner had lost the company to bankruptcy and its operation was in the hands of others. Like the later Melbourne bottles, the “Safe Remedies Co.” bottles were generic. They appeared in three colors: amber, clear and aqua. However, absent a label, the contents of a particular bottle would be a mystery. The above photographs show the Safe Remedies Co. variant with the Safe Compound label. The Safe Remedies Co. bottles held not only Safe Compound, but the Kidney & Liver Remedy, Acute Rheumatic Remedy, Diabetes Remedy and Nervine among others. Below is a blotter from the early 1900’s showing the Safe Remedies product line.
On occasion, labels can also give us additional information on the where the product was actually marketed. Generally speaking, this is not a problem with Safe Remedies, because Warner took great pains to make sure his foreign markets were featured on his bottles. This was particularly true for this 3-CIty cures that were sold in Toronto, but were embossed with Toronto, Rochester and London and his 4-City cures distributed from Dundein, New Zealand that were embossed Melbourne, Rochester, Toronto and Rochester.
There are, however, a couple exceptions to this rule that I am aware of (and perhaps others). One of these exceptions is Paris. The occasional Safe Cure advertisement listed an office in Paris, but no bottles embossed “Paris” have surfaced. Indeed, but for a London Safe Cure with a French label, there would be no evidence that Warner marketed his cures to the French.
The other, and more recent, example of Safe Cures without an embossed place of origin is the so-called “No City” Safe Cure. Examples of this variant first surfaced about a year ago. They appear to be blank at the base of the bottle where a city would normally be embossed. Although I was and remain a bit skeptical about them, they might have been designed to serve a similar purpose as the H. H. Warner & Co. Ltd. bottles. Specifically, the allow the company to label them for a particular destination city. However, that is pure speculation on my part.
The fact remains that labels can add considerable value to Warner’s Safe Remedies from an information standpoint. Next, I will address labels as an enhancement of aesthetics.