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:

Ephemera for Lunch #1:
A girl and her dog

Rolling out a new series, in a new attempt to work through everything on the Papergreat Waiting List. Each week, I'll pick a theme and then have a short new post at noon (Eastern Daylight Time) each weekday.

We'll start the first theme today, so that we're already underway come Monday. The theme is "Vintage photos of animals."

And here we go...

This photo has no date or identifying information. Like most that will be presented under this first theme, it falls squarely in the realm of found photography. This one came from York New Salem.

The little girl has a pleasant smile, but she seems a little bit sad. Or maybe I'm just projecting that, based on the mild squalor of her surroundings.

With all of these posts, please feel free to share your thoughts, comments or suggested captions (humorous or otherwise). Or maybe just say how your day is going. Or what flavor yogurt you had for lunch.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Alex Steinweiss' cover artwork for Columbia's "Peer Gynt"

Many moons ago, I was browsing in a Goodwill store here in York when I came across a gorgeous Columbia Masterworks album, circa the early to mid 1940s.

The album, labeled MX-180, is a performance of Edvard Grieg's "Peer Gynt"1 by Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the London Philharmonic.

The cover artwork was done by Alex Steinweiss (1917-2011), who is considered to be the inventor of the artistic album cover.

(I am stymied by the fact that my scanner isn't large enough for me to scan the entire album cover. A cropped version of the illustration is featured below. There are other places you can view the entire cover, including the great Collecting Record Covers blog.2)

This excerpt from Steinweiss' obituary in The New York Times explains how he brought artistry to record albums when there was no notion of images being used to label music:
"The record cover was a blank slate in 1939, when Mr. Steinweiss was hired to design advertisements for Columbia Records. Most albums were unadorned, and on those occasions when art was used, it was not original. (Albums then were booklike packages containing multiple 78 r.p.m. discs.)

"'The way records were sold was ridiculous,' Mr. Steinweiss said in a 1990 interview. 'The covers were brown, tan or green paper. They were not attractive, and lacked sales appeal.' Despite concern about the added costs, he was given the approval to come up with original cover designs."

Steinweiss designed record covers from 1939 until the early 1970s. During that time, he was at the forefront of inventing the "language" of album design. He also did design work for liquor bottles, posters, magazines, pamphlets, book covers and TV show titles, according to Wikipedia.

The Remington Site takes a deeper look at the influential work by Steinweiss and other early record-album designers. It details, among other things, how Steinweiss was involved with the album-packaging transition required for the move from 78s to LPs.

Steinweiss did at least one other "Peer Gynt" cover — this one for the recording by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It can be seen on Collecting Record Covers.

I think I like this one best, though, especially with the way the red and green pop out against the blue background. It has a nice folklore quality that befits a tale involving woodsmen, trolls and fairies.

If you're now keen on checking out more of Steinweiss' work, a great (but pricey) place to start might be 2011's Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover, a 400-plus-page coffee table book by Taschen that reproduces hundreds of his album covers.

1. First there was "Per Gynt," a Norwegian fairy tale/legend in which a hunter battles trolls and performs a number of heroic acts. Henrik Ibsen based his 1876 play, Peer Gynt, on "Per Gynt" and other fairy tales recorded by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen. "Peer Gynt" is the incidental music, by Grieg, to Ibsen's play.
2. The "Peer Gynt" cover is also displayed on Pinterest, where Fata Tookay has a page dedicated to Steinweiss covers.

Victorian trade card: Rosenbloom's in Watertown, N.Y.

This Victorian trade card, which is slightly larger than a baseball card, is an advertisement for Rosenbloom, Clothing and Furnishing Goods, 23 Public Square, Watertown, New York. The reverse side is blank.

An advertisement for Rosenbloom's from the May 16, 1884, issue of the Watertown Daily Times states, in part:
"The Solemn Truth is that we have the NEWEST, the BEST, the Most Complete and, by far, the CHEAPEST STOCK of Clothing and Gent's furnishing goods for men, youth, boys and children."
The store is long gone, of course. I'm not even sure if it made it to the turn of the 20th century. Online citations are scarce.

To me, the most curious part of this advertising card is that the bench features a bearded man with goat horns on one of its legs. It is probably supposed to be Pan (the outdoors-friendly Greek god of nature, shepherds, animals, fertility and theater criticism) or Faunus or maybe just a run-of-the-mill satyr.

But, on the other hand, horned creatures and deities have been considered less-than-wholesome and sometimes downright demonic by certain groups throughout history.1 All possibilities need to be considered. I wonder what the general public thought of this card in 19th century Watertown.

I prefer the idea, though, of this horned guy being there to remind us of the need for mountain wilds, fresh air and wooded glens.

(That crop would make for a cool poster, by the way.)

1. For example, this page on ties everything from Pan's Labyrinth to The Beach Boys to Paul McCartney to Zeus to witchcraft and Satanic chicanery.