Warner’s Safe Dictionary Revealed

Blogging about H. H. Warner means blogging not only about his extensive line of cures and remedies, but also about his amazing advertising pieces that he used to make his products a household name in the late 19th Century. Unlike today, people of that era did not have access to reference material that we take for granted. Even something as simple as a dictionary was probably not something that most people had access to. Indeed, unless you lived in a large city, access to public libraries was a luxury denied to the masses.

Warner understood this unfulfilled need and tapped into it by providing advertising pieces that highlighted his product line while also providing information that people could use in their daily lives. The best examples of this nexus between advertising and resource material included his almanacs loaded with household hints and tips. He issued one or more almanacs each year that were distributed to the public by local druggists. Another excellent example was his Safe Dictionary.  I featured the Safe Dictionary is a post I did back in October, 2008. At the time, I was limited to providing a picture of the cover.

Recently, however, I stumbled upon a digital version of the Safe Dictionary put online by the National Library of Medicine. The great thing about this version is that it allows you to read through the entire Safe Dictionary by clicking on the pages. Pretty cool. Now, you don’t have to settle just for the cover but ALL 5000+ words!





Warner’s Safe Promotions: Safe Dictionary

Warner's Safe Dictionary

Unlike the name Webster, the name Warner is not synonymous with dictionaries and with good reason. Webster had a considerable head start on Warner,  publishing his first dictionary in 1806 and continuing in various forms until the present day. Nevertheless, Warner saw yet another opportunity to get his name in the hands of the common man. Many people would not have had the money to buy a dictionary, but would be inclined to accept one for twenty-five cents. Having said that, a quarter in 1889 would be worth about $5.81 today after adjusting for inflation, so it would not have been free. Likely, Warner’s retailers may have distributed it to their customers.

For those of you who have seen one of these, you know that it has nothing on Webster’s for size, even though it boasts “over FIVE THOUSAND WORDS” and, even more importantly “ALL THE MORE DIFFICULT WORDS IN GENERAL USE.” I’m not exactly sure how they decided on which words were the more difficult, but I’m sure they consulted all of the experts of the day. From a guy pitching cures for any number of chronic illnesses, the boast seems easy to believe.

These Safe Dictionaries turn up with some frequency, but are considered a good go-with by Warner’s collectors, because they are an excellent example to Warner’s marketing and include references to Warner’s Safe products.