Warner’s Safe Cure: Christmas Wishes from Down Under

Although I am a couple of weeks late, I recently stumbled upon this full-page Christmas Warner’s Safe Cure ad from The Sydney Mail dated December 20, 1890. I really like the ad because it is an excellent example of the classic Warner’s Safe Cure pitch. That is, lots of claims about the health benefits of Safe Cure supported by a variety of testimonials from happy patrons. Because of the size of the ad, I had to break it into three parts:

The Sydney Mail - Dec 20 1890 - A Christmastide Greeting 1

In 1890, the British enterprise, H. H. Warner & Co. Ltd. was distributing products not only to London, but also to Melbourne and Dundein. The ad contains the classic mix of sweeping health claims along with testimonials to the effectiveness of Warner’s Safe Remedies.

The Sydney Mail - Dec 20 1890 - A Christmastide Greeting 3

The final portion of the ad gives us a snapshot of the products that H. H. Warner & Co. Ltd were marketing in 1890. Those products included “Safe” Cure, “Safe” Diabetes Cure, “Safe” Rheumatic Cure, “Safe” Nervine (in two sizes), “Safe” Asthma Cure, “Safe” Pills, “Safe” Plasters and Tippecanoe.

The Sydney Mail - Dec 20 1890 - A Christmastide Greeting 2

This is particularly interesting because I had always wondered if Tippecanoe had been marketed outside the United States. I had never seen any evidence that it was sold from London or Frankfurt. It had been suggested to me that it was sold from the Melbourne Office, but I had never seen confirmation of that fact. This advertisement provides that confirmation and also includes the Asthma Cure and Safe Plasters among the products available to Australasians. It also confirms the location of the Melbourne Office at 147 Little Lonsdale Street in 1890.

hhwarnercoltd-nervine

wscboxmelbourne

I find that Warner’s Safe Remedies newspaper advertising can provide some very interesting clues about the scope and extent of the available products. My initial reading of this ad was that it was merely an expression of seasonal greetings. A closer look, however, revealed some more important details from down under.

Cooking with Warner’s Safe Cure – The Warner’s Safe Cook Book Revisited

One of the ways that H. H. Warner used to market his products and to make them household names was to appeal to American women. In the 1880’s, women were, for the most part, relegated to running the household and raising the children. Their civil rights did not include the right to vote or the right to sit on a jury. Consequently, an appeal to them meant an appeal to something that would assist in their daily work. That included cooking and baking. In 1887, Warner published the Warner’s Safe Cook Book.

The Fifth Edition of the Warner's Safe Cook Book was published in 1891

The Fifth Edition of the Warner’s Safe Cook Book was published in 1891

Like most cookbooks, the Warner’s Safe Cook Book contained hundreds of pages of recipes broken down into categories that included Meat, Poultry, Fish, Vegetables and Desserts. Unlike most cookbooks, it yet another promotional publication designed to make Warner a household name.

The interior of the front cover reminded readers that the cookbook was the product of the Warner's Safe Remedies Company

The interior of the front cover reminded readers that the cookbook was the product of the Warner’s Safe Remedies Company

1891 Warner's Safe Cookbook (5th Ed. 1891) (Title Page)

The Cook Book promoted  Safe Yeast in particular with the puzzling admonition “The Best Authority That Experience Can Command.” Like many Warner’s Safe premiums, the Cook Book was available by redeeming 10 pictures of the Safe from the Safe Yeast box along with postage.

The back cover of the 1892 Warner's Safe Cure Almanac promoted the Cook Book

The back cover of the 1892 Warner’s Safe Cure Almanac promoted the Cook Book

The Cook Book contained all manner of recipes along with illustrations of kitchen utensils and other helpful hints.

1891 Warner's Safe Cookbook (5th Ed. 1891)(Utensils)

Interestingly, the recipes were not formatted in the manner we expect to see today with a list of ingredients and measurements followed by preparation instructions. Rather, they seem to use a narrative format.

1891 Warner's Safe Cookbook (5th Ed. 1891)(Recipes)

Judging by the number of Safe Cure Cook Books I have seen over the years, they must have been handed down one generation to the next. Cookbooks and recipes were not nearly as available as they are today and these books were probably used until they literally fell apart. Yet another way in which the Warner’s Safe brand name became part of the American household.

Warner’s Safe Cure: Test Your Kidneys!

Part of the appeal of Warner’s Safe Cure was the fact that it sold the notion that any person could effectively be his or her own physician. With the United States in the throes of becoming an industrial world power, the exercise of self-reliance was encouraged. This was particularly true given the primitive state of American medicine. Only a small percentage of physicians received formal medical training and most were either self-taught or apprenticed to an established physician.

Warner offered individual Americans the chance to be their own physician. Part of that pitch was what appeared to be a way to test your own kidneys for the maladies that were manifesting themselves in other ways.  For Warner, the kidneys were the key to good health. Over the years, he ran countless ads offering up the same psuedo-scientific test. Below is an advertisement from the December 6, 1903 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Test Your Kidneys - St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO) - 6 Dec 1903

According to the ad, the user was directed to “[l]et some morning urine stand in a glass for 24 hours: if a reddish-brown sediment forms, or if particles float about it, or if it is the least cloudy or smoky [sic], your kidneys are seriously affected and utterly unable to carry the waste out of the body…” Sounds pretty scientific, right? Truth is, any urine left to sit will likely precipitate out or remain cloudy. In short, the fix was in. Almost anyone doing the test, would be convinced that their kidneys were unhealthy. No worries, good health was but $1 away (or perhaps several dollars). So, what are you waiting for? Test Your Kidneys!

H. H. Warner Goes to Sea: Maritime Images in Safe Cure Advertising

As you can imagine, part of doing a blog on Warner’s Safe Cure involves research. Although I would consider myself to be knowledgeable about H. H. Warner and his patent medicine empire, I am always reminded of how much remains to be discovered. Part of my research includes looking at the vast array of advertising that Warner used to develop his brand. That includes newspaper advertising, almanacs, trade cards, posters and on and on. 

The American Reformer - Warner's Rheumatic Cure - Dec. 6, 1884

Warner’s Safe Rheumatic Cure Ad in the American Reformer on December 6, 1884

When you look at that much advertising, you start to notice that certain themes emerge repeatedly as well as certain images. Warner was a master at using the media available in the 1880’s to make his product a household name. For example, much of Warner’s advertising was designed to encourage potential customers to take charge of their own health with the help of Warner’s Safe Cure. Ironically, Warner also made frequent use of testimonials by physicians, who recommended the use of Safe Cure. 

For whatever reason, one of the themes that seems to show up in Warner’s Safe Cure advertising is the notion that Safe Cure provided hope for the hopeless. Indeed the early Safe Cure almanacs contain the story of H. H. Warner’s claim that Dr. Craig’s Cure saved him from certain death as a result of Bright’s Disease. It was for that reason that he claimed to have purchased the remedy to market it to the public at large.

Rescue of the hopeless is often portrayed in a maritime context. I imagine that in the days before GPS and satellite navigation, being lost at sea was the epitome of hopelessness. This is perhaps why Warner seized upon that as a theme. Indeed hope for the hopeless showed up repeatedly in Safe Cure Advertising. Here are a few examples:

An Anchor to Health - The Metropolitan (Kevin Taft)

Warner’s Safe Cure Ad in The Metropolitan of August, 1890

The above ad was featured in the August, 1890 edition of The Metropolitan and was located by Kevin Taft. It is loaded with symbolism. First, of course, is the anchor, which represents safety in stormy seas. The words “SAFE SURE STEADFAST” speak for themselves as does the rainbow with the words “HOPE HEALTH HAPPINESS”.  In essence, the ad offers Safe Cure as hope to navigate the stormy seas of disease. Not exactly subtle, but the Victorians were not known for their subtlety. 

Warner’s Safe Cure as a beacon of hope to the distressed appeared on the cover of one of the almanacs in 1887:

1887 Beacon Light of Safety Almanac

Warner’s Safe Cure Almanac – “The Beacon Light of Safety” (1887)

The theme was even included in advertising issued out of Warner’s London Office:

Warner's Safe Cure Life RaftIt was also used in the sale of Warner’s Safe Yeast, which claimed “Be Guided By This Beacon Light, Your Healthful Course Will E’er Be Right”. Below is one of the Safe Yeast trade cards that promised to guide distressed mariners through the rocks and shoals of Indigestion and Bad Health.

WSYeastTradeCard

The Safe Yeast/Safe Cure almanac of 1886 featured a girl perched on the shoulders of a sturdy sea captain. Note that the word “Reliable” is prominently featured on the cover of this almanac as well as on the British almanac above. It has an almost subliminal character.

Warner’s Safe Yeast Almanac – “The Old Mariner” (1886)

The constant recurrence of the notion that Warner’s Safe Cure offered the sick safe refuge from the stormy seas of disease was no accident. One must remember that in the 1880’s, the United States was still largely a rural country with a literacy rate far below what it ultimately achieved in the 20th Century. Images were nearly as important as words and Warner knew that. Indeed, the idea of a “Safe Cure” was designed to encourage the public that the product offered a risk-free path to health. Apparently, it was a theme that worked.

Warner’s Safe Diabetes Cure

Warner's Safe Diabetes Cure, 1906-1908. From americanhistory.si.edu.

While this is not a perfect Warner’s Safe Diabetes Cure label, it’s still nice. One of the things I really love about Warner’s labels is that they really exude Victorian detail. This label was obviously post-1906, given the reference to the Pure Food & Drug Act. As yet, the word “CURE” is still used. Just goes to show that the transition from Cure to Remedy was not instantaneous. 

Are Pressburgs Still Rare?

Green Pressburg with Label 9

The short answer is an absolute “Yes”!! The reason that I post this question is that it has been asked of me on several occasions, most recently at the Baltimore Antique Bottle Show earlier this month. However, as with assessments of rarity among antique bottles, the answer comes with caveats. Indeed, not all Warner’s Pressburgs are created equal. In an absolute sense, even the most common Pressburg, the amber pint Safe Cure is considered rare among Warner’s collectors, but just not as rare as it used to be.

Pressburg Diabetes Cure 3

The rarity of Pressburg Safe Cures turns on a number of different factors; however, chief among them is the fact that the Pressburg Office was open only between 1888 and 1890. As Warner’s foreign offices go, that was extremely short. Although I have never seen an production estimates for the Pressburg Office, its limited existence means fewer bottles of Safe Cure went into distribution and in a smaller market. Another factor is that until the late 1980’s, the former Pressburg was located squarely behind the “iron curtain,” with exceedingly limited access by Western collectors. Since then, more Pressburg Safe Cures have surfaced and, I expect, will continue to surface.

BlueGreenPressburg3

To my knowledge, Pressburg Safe Cures have appeared in three color variations: amber, green and aqua. The green variant tends toward the blue/green end of the spectrum as opposed to the more common olive greens we see in the Frankfurt and London Safe Cures. Of these three color variants, amber is the most common, followed by green and then by the most rare aqua. At this point, there are two important caveats. First, my comments are limited to the “Safe Cure” only. The Safe Diabetes Cure (“Diabetic Cure” on the label) is amber, but is in a league of its own. Second, labelled Pressburgs, regardless of color, are extremely rare. A label in good condition is a premium and all bets are off.

Warner's Safe Cure Pressburg with labels

Pressburg Safe Cure 4

As a rule, Warner’s Pressburgs are not strongly embossed. The reason for that is unknown. It does, however, suggest that the Pressburg bottles were not made in the United States, London or Frankfurt and shipped to their ultimate destination. I have also been asked about valuing Pressburgs. I always hesitate to value bottles, because as soon as you do it, the information is obsolete. With that in mind, several years ago amber Pressburg Safe Cures were bringing $900-1000 a piece. Recently, I have seen them in the $350 -400 range. The green and aqua variants have held their value. Greens tend to bring $1200-1500 and aquas, if you can find them around $2500+.

Green Pressburg with Label 7 Green Pressburg with Label 8

Finally, so far only the Safe Cure and Safe Diabetes Cure variants from Pressburg have surfaced. If you know of a Pressburg Nervine or Pressburg Rheumatic Cure, please let me know. Examples of either would peg the rarity meter. And so, I hope I have shed some light on the current market for Warner’s from Pressburg. If not, shoot me a comment.

Selling Tippecanoe in the Newspapers

If you could point to only one quality of H. H. Warner that accounts for his phenomenal success in the fireproof safe business and then, most notably, in the patent medicine business, it would have to be his ability to market his products. He was, perhaps, decades ahead of his competitors in understanding the power of branding and establishing a product as a household favorite. Although he achieved this success through a variety of means, one of those means was simply visibility of his products in the newspapers. Between 1879 and 1893, when Warner was forced out of the business, he undoubtedly spent millions of dollars in print ads. 

His advertising was not limited to major newspapers such as the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune. Indeed, Warner placed ads in newspapers large and small, including The Great Bend Weekly Tribune (Great Bend, Kansas) or The Commonwealth (Scotland Neck, NC).  His advertising was designed to reach ordinary people throughout the United States. In order to do this, Warner relied upon his own in-house advertising department to distribute canned advertising to the various newspapers. Interestingly, this canned advertising was similar ad to ad, but might also contain modest changes. A particularly good example are ads used for his Tippecanoe. Tippecanoe was introduced by Warner between 1883 and 1885 to replace his original line of Safe Tonic, Safe Bitters and Safe Tonic Bitters. It appeared in the figural log-shaped bottle with the mushroom top rather than the familiar embossed Safe Cure bottle.

Warner's Tippecanoe Bitters

A new product meant new advertising and Warner went right to work. At first glance, many of the Tippecanoe print ads appear to be identical. Upon closer inspection, there are subtle differences about the maladies that Tippecanoe was designed to address.

Warner's Tippecanoe The Best Tonic - The Daily Republican (Monongahela, PA) - 8 Jul 1885

The above ad was featured in the July 8, 1885 edition of The Daily Republican from Monongahela, Pennsylvania. It states “Warner’s Tippecanoe Bitters” and “The Best Tonic Bitters” “For All Stomach Disorders.”  The ad also captures the namesake of Tippecanoe, Major General William Henry Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe.

Warner's Tippecanoe Trade Card - Battle of Tippecanoe

Just a month earlier, Warner had published a similar ad in The Dighton Herald in Dighton, Kansas. While the layout of the ad was virtually identical, there were clear differences. In that ad, Tippecanoe was no longer the Best Tonic Bitters, but rather “The Best Blood Purifier” for Tired Feelings and even for Malaria. In all other material respects, the ad is the same. 

Warner's Tippecanoe Blood Purifier - The Dighton Herald (Dighton, KS) - 12 Jun 1885

This same Tippecanoe ad continued to appear in newspapers in 1885 and 1886. In addition to its claims to remedy all Stomach Disorders, Tired Feelings and Malaria, the advertising department of the Warner’s Safe Remedies Company included other vague and implausible claims, including those to remedy “All Gone Sensations,” “Bilious Headache,””Female Debility,””Skin Eruptions,””Spring and Summer Weakness” and “Mal-Assimilation of Food” among other things. Below are a few of those ads with their spurious claims.

Warner's Tippecanoe for Skin Eruptions - The Great Bend Weekly Tribune (Great Bend, KS) - 15 May 1885

The above ad was featured in the May 15, 1885 edition of The Great Bend Weekly Tribune. A week earlier, the ad below was featured offering to deal with Bilious Headache and Female Debility.

Warner's Tippecanoe for Bilious Headache - The Great Bend Weekly Tribune (Great Bend, KS) - 8 May 1885