Friday, December 28, 2007

Canada's Least Valuable Patent Medicine Bottle

Dr. S.N. Thomas Eclectric Oil
This bottle is worthless!

Experienced collectors recognize this bottle as Canada's most common antique patent medicine. It was mass produced.

There are millions of these empty vessels all over Canada and the United States. Consequently, I can assure you, this particular proprietary medicine bottle is absolutely worthless. Oh you don’t believe me? Here’s a recent listing on eBay. And here it is again on e-pier - proof positive that this piece isn’t worth postage.
And yet every time I hold this bottle in my hand I marvel at the heavily embossed slug plates, and the writing all over its surface. INTERNAL and EXTERNAL imagine that; this is snake oil you can swallow. It has a nice cork top and good thick glass - it survives where most other bottles perish because the glass is so thick, and the shape so durable, it takes a lot of concentrated energy to break this bottle.

What exactly is Eclectric Oil?
Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil was a common proprietary medicine in the late 1800's. The substance became a household name due to rise of print media and the mutually advantageous relationship between medicine and Farmer's almanacs. A trade card for Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil stated "it will positively cure toothaches in five minutes, earaches in two minutes and deafness in two days". It could also be used externally, it was certainly not natural skin care, but the ingredients were natural enough...

Originally formulated by Dr. S.N. Thomas of Phelps, New York in the late 1840s, Eclectric / Eclectic Oil contained "Spirits of Turpentine, Camphor, Oil of Tar, Red Thyme and Fish Oil specially processed." This from Joe Nickell, an expert that's published a lot of research on the subject of snake oil.

Dr. Thomas first introduced his homemade Eclectric Oil in the town of Phelps, in NY state in the early 1850’s. It was a smashing success and he grew his business on the product. The good doctor sold the name and formula to the Excelsior Botanical Company in the 1880s, and for a while the product appears in some Farmer’s Almanacs as Excelsior Eclectric Oil, but when Foster, Milburn & Co., Buffalo acquired the property a few years later, the substance was again marketed as Dr. S.N. Thomas' Eclectic Oil. And it was very successful, with a huge domestic and international market.

Northrop & Lyman was a very successful Canadian pharmaceutical firm established in 1854 in Newcastle, Ontario which moved to Toronto in the mid 1870's. They licensed the rights in Canada from the Foster, Milburn & Co., Buffalo, NY.

Northrop & Lyman of Toronto, Ontario sold literally millions of bottles of Eclectric Oil until the Proprietary or Patent Medicine Act was passed in Canada in 1908. But that law didn't stop the sale of Eclectric Oil as it did so many other patent medicines! This mixture was sold right up until the end of World War II in screw top bottles with paper labels.

Unlike the many million clear glass cork top bottles bottles, the Dr. Thomas Eclectric Oil trade cards are actually worth something – here is a trade card currently at auction and it will be interesting to see how much it fetches...
Last but not least there are many collectors and experts with amazing knowledge to share on the subject of Dr Thomas Eclectric Oil on this antique bottles forum.

And here's a comprehensive list of all the Farmer’s Almanacs in the National Library of Medicine.

Advertisements for Dr. Thomas Eclectric Oil can be found in virtually all family health periodicals of the late 1800s.

8 comments:

easywriter said...

I have a full bottle complete with the box. Found it at my Auntie's house. I don't think it's ever been opened.

Jim said...

I just found a pre-1880 bottle 3/4 full at my mother in laws.

Robert Brunet said...

I also have a full bottle!

Toadie Moontoadie said...

They still made this in the 80s. I remember buying it at a local drugstore. Best thing for leg or muscle cramps and ear aches. I'd love to still be able to buy it. Anyone know of a source?

Frank W said...

Does anyone know where I can buy some eclectic oil today? Email me if you know of a place at Wiebe540@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

I have a half full screw top with paper label I my China cabinet

Tuber man said...

Stepper i have full bottle still in bottle and box good shape was priced at 75 cents on box when bought dont know what year no 5520 northop mcgillvray limited toronto canada is it worth anything.

jwmg said...

Are you willing to part with it?