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Warner's Safe Cure bottle

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Familiar to collectors of antique bottles, especially those for patent medicines, is the distinctive flask-shaped, amber-colored bottle for Warner’s Safe Kidney & Liver Cure. H(ulbert) H(arrington) Warner (1842-1893) was a Rochester, New York, patent-medicine mogul. Having purchased a medicinal formula from a Rochester physician, Dr. Charles Craig, Warner would subsequently claim that Craig’s vegetable concoction had cured his Bright’s disease (a vague, obsolete designation for kidney disease) when he was near death! He introduced his Warner’s Safe Kidney & Liver Cure in 1879.

Warner had become a millionaire with his previous Rochester business, a company specializing in fire- and burglar-proof safes. However, he made millions with his next enterprise, selling patent medicines. The word safe in his business name not only provided a link to his previous success, but of course seemingly promised that the product could be taken without fear of harm - which, as we shall see, was untrue. The safe design - embossed on bottles and printed on labels pasted to their opposite side - was copyrighted and intended to help give his Warner’s Safe Cure products a recognizability that could not easily be imitated.

The word cure on such early products was a sign of quackery. A Warner’s advertising booklet of 1892 states, “We do not cure everything from one bottle” (Warner’s had other products); however, its “Warner’s Safe Cure” (a short designation for its original kidney and liver nostrum) was recommended for a remarkable variety of conditions: Bright’s disease, jaundice, lame back, impotency, dropsy, liver inflammation, “female complaints,” debility, and many more, including malaria! Among the company’s other products with such outrageous claims were Warner’s Safe Diabetes Cure and Warner’s Safe Rheumatic Cure. The Kidney and Liver Cure, at least, was “fraudulently” advertised, according to the American Medical Association, for its claim, for example, “that a pain in the back is a sure sign of Bright’s disease.”

With the passage of the 1906 Food and Drug Act, Warner’s company was required to replace “Cure” with “Remedy,” but the American Medical Association was not mollified. Noting that the Safe Kidney and Liver Cure contained herbal extracts, alcohol, glycerin, and potassium nitrate, the medical authorities observed that alcohol should be avoided in the case of kidney inflammations and that potassium was actually a kidney irritant! Not only would Warner’s Safe Remedy “not cure Bright’s disease but it may hasten the death of the sufferer who takes it,” (Nostrums and Quackery, 1911-36, II: pp. 208-211).

Warner’s Rochester business - begun in 1878 - eventually reached around the world. From 1883 he opened branch offices in Toronto, London, Melbourne, Frankfurt, Pressburg (Hungary), Dunedin (New Zealand), and elsewhere. In addition to his Safe Cure products, he offered a tonic, a nervine (supposed to soothe the nerves), bitters, “Log Cabin Sarsaparilla,” and something simply named “Log Cabin Pills.” Warner built a lavish mansion, but the Panic of 1893 sent his already declining business into a tailspin, and he was forced into bankruptcy. However, investors continued to operate the American branch as the Warner’s Safe Remedies Company into the 1940s. Warner’s 7-story building (completed 1884) still stands, a monument to quackery.


H. H. Warner and Co.


H. H. Warner and Co.



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