Friday, August 7, 2015

Victorian trade card: Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil

It's not often that I come across an obscure piece of ephemera that features a company or product that has already been well-documented by other bloggers and websites.

But that's the case with the blue-and-white Victorian trade card for Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil, which features a young girl feeding what appears to be a doughnut to a deer while an older girl looks on.

Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil has been written about elsewhere, so I'm not going to reinvent the wheel on this one. Here are some links and excerpts from other websites you should check out if you love ephemera and history:


From December 2007 post titled "Canada's Least Valuable Patent Medicine Bottle":
"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. ... 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. ... 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."

Remember When Postcards Blog

According to an August 2010 post on this ephemera blog:
"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. ... [Eclectric Oil] was sold right up until the end of World War II."


In a December 2013 post titled "10 Old Timey Quack Remedies That Inspired The FDA," Debra Kelly writes:
"Ah, the good old days, when there were no government agencies regulating what you could and couldn’t sell as a medical miracle. ... Developed in the mid-1800s by Dr. S.N. Thomas of New York and later marketed under the name Excelsior Eclectric Oil, this remedy had as an eclectic mix of ingredients as ailments it claimed to cure. Active ingredients were opium, chloroform, hemlock oil, turpentine, an unspecified type of alcohol, and alkanet (for color). The commercially produced product was so popular that recipes were published in books like 1899’s Secret Nostrums and Systems of Medicine by Charles Wilmot, giving people the chance to mix their own version."

Arnold Zwicky's Blog

On a February 2011 post from this blog about language, Zwicky discussed the word "eclectric":
"Yes, Eclectric Oil, apparently with a portmanteau of eclectic and electric, both fashionable terms in the 19th century."
Zwicky also provides photographic evidence that the product's name was later changed to Eclectic Oil. forum

From a poster in September 2011:
"Don't want to be the bearer of bad news, but most Dr. S.N. Thomas's Eclectric Oil, Toronto, Ontario bottles are very, very common. In fact, many diggers will leave them behind at digs for others to have for free and when sold at bottle shows up here they tend to go into the bargain boxes under the tables."

So, Eclectric Oil bottles are quite common. And you can also find numerous Victorian trade cards advertising the product. Many can be seen at the links above. Some other places featuring Eclectric Oil trade cards include:

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