We have several examples of these from other sites we have excavated on campus, and a couple fragmentary ones have come off site already. So I was happy to see someone recover this complete bottle of Dr Thomas’ Eclectric Oil, as it is a product that always brings a smile to my face. It seemed to tickle everyone’s fancy as it was voted today’s Artifact of the Day.
This is one of my favourite quackery medicines, and indeed, was Canada’s most popular snake oil medicine of the late 19th century.
What is “Eclectric Oil”?
This was a patent medicine originally formulated by Dr. S.N. Thomas of Phelps, New York in the late 1840s. It contained spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme and specially processed fish oil.
Dr. Thomas made like Colonel Sanders and licensed his secret recipe to other producers. Northrup & Lyman was a very successful Canadian pharmaceutical firm who acquired the Canadian licensing rights from the Foster, Milburn & Co., Buffalo, NY.
Northrup & Lyman were established in 1854 in Newcastle, Ontario, and moved to Toronto in the mid-1870s.
The name seems to have piggybacked onto the fascination with electricity and how it related to health. This ad seems to indicate Eclectric is a portmanteau of Electric (or “Electrized” which sounds much fancier) and Selected.
This is a tooled-finish bottle, which means it was mouth-blown into a mold and then the mouth was finished by hand. This means this bottle is no younger than about 1915.
If you are interested in reading more about this medicine, please read Catherine Sullivan’s excellent Parks Canada Research Bulletin No. 218.