Posts Tagged ‘patent medicine’

Thought I would post a couple of comical Victorian trade cards to “lift” the winter blues.  Spring can’t come fast enough for me.

Comical stock card of man leaping over fence to leave dog behind.

Comical stock card of man leaping over fence to leave dog behind rather than having a bite taken out of him. (ouch!)

Minard Liniment Victorian Trade Card

Patent medicine Victorian trade card advertising Minard's Liniment for Nelson & Co. of Boston (poor guy)

Sweet Home Soap Victorian Trade Card
Victorian Trade Card advertising Sweet Home Soap for J.S. Larkin & Co. of Buffalo, NY (what kid wants to take a bath?)

* More great Victorian trade cards for sale can be found at Remember When Vintage Postcards.

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Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil was a liniment formulated by Dr. S.N. Thomas in the late 1840s.  Per Joe Nickel, a snake oil expert, it contained: spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, and fish oil specially processed.  Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil claimed to cure ailments such as toothache in 5 minutes, backache in 2 hours, deafness (?) in 2 days, and coughs in 20 minutes.

Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil Trade Card

What Are Liniments?

Liniments are strong smelling, watery substances rubbed onto, not into, the skin to relieve sore and stiff muscles.  Rubbing them on too vigorously has been known to cause blisters, since they contain skin irritants.  Why would people be willing to put irritants on their skin?  Think about it.  Turpentine?  Oil of Tar?  Ben Gay is a liniment that contains many of the same ingredients as Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil.  I use it when I can’t stand a back ache anymore.  It is my belief that pain has an amazing ability to get people to try cures they might not otherwise try if they knew what these so called “cures” were made of.

Road to Success

Dr. Thomas homemade Eclectric Oil was a smashing success. In the 1880s, he sold the name and formula to Excelsior Botanical Company.  Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil then appeared in the Farmer’s Almanac as Excelsior Eclectric Oil.  When Foster, Milburn & Co., of Buffalo acquired Excelsior Eclectric Oil a few years later, it was again marketed as Dr. S.N. Thomas’ Eclectic Oil.  It became successful in both domestic and international markets.

Canadian Law Doesn’t Stop Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil

Northrop & Lyman, a Canadian pharmaceutical firm established in 1854, licensed the rights in Canada from Foster, Milburn & Co.  They sold literally millions of bottles of Eclectric Oil until the 1908 Proprietary or Patent Medicine Act was passed in Canada. This law didn’t stop the sale of Eclectric Oil as it did so many other patent medicines.  Nope.  This liniment was sold right up until the end of World War II.

You can find more great Victorian trade cards at Remember When Vintage Postcards.

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Every once in a while, I find myself puzzled about the things people during the late 1800’s believed in.  In this case, the curative properties of Burdock’s Blood Bitters (or BBB) advertised on this Victorian trade card.  Burdock Blood Bitters was a patent medicine made by T. Milburn & Co. of  Toronto until just prior to the repeal of prohibition.    


Burdock Blood Bitters Victorian trade card

Burdock Blood Bitters   

What are blood bitters?  It is a liquid used in the making of alcohol cocktails.  Hmmm.  No mention of a medicinal ingredient.  This is surprising since blood bitters were often marketed as a cure for female “miseries”.  What is not surprising is the mention of alcohol (a prime ingredient in many patent medicines of the late 1800’s).  

What is burdock?  It is the sticky weed balls that get stuck to pets.  Turns out burdock roots have been a favorite medicinal herb for centuries.  For example, they were used in remedies for constipation, hair loss, and as a blood purifying agent.  Burdock roots are still being sold as an ingredient in acne medicine.  

As an added note, BBB contained nearly 20% alcohol.  It seems like this “medicine” was a great way to hide alcohol consumption during the temperance movement and prohibition.  It is more likely people bought this medicine for the alcohol, than for its so-called curative properties. 


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