Dr. Miles’ Nervine

From Chris Ambidge in the mail yesterday, a version of this vintage ad:

A little searching pulled up another vintage ad for Nervine, one with more copy:

(For a wonderful collection of vintage ads for patent medicines containing cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, chloroform, etc., look here.)

(Yes, sometimes it’s Dr. Miles’ Nervine, with an apostrophe, and sometimes Dr. Miles Nervine, without, but never, apparently, Dr. Miles’s Nervine. When I heard radio ads for the stuff as a child, I thought for a while that the doctor’s name was Miles Nervine and that the medicine was named for Dr. Nervine.)

The active ingredient in Nervine was bromide. From a medical site:

Excerpt: “Bromide was once used as a sedative and an effective anticonvulsant, and until 1975 it was a major ingredient in over-the-counter products such as Bromo-Seltzer™ and Dr. Miles’ Nervine™. Bromism (chronic bromide intoxication) was once common, accounting for as many as 5–10% of admissions to psychiatric hospitals. Bromism is now rare, although bromides occasionally are used to treat epilepsy. Bromide is still found in photographic chemicals, as the bromide salt or another constituent of numerous medications, in some well water, in bromide-containing hydrocarbons (eg, methyl bromide, ethylene dibromide, halothane), and in some soft drinks containing brominated vegetable oil. Foods fumigated with methyl bromide may contain some residual bromide, but the amounts are too small to cause toxicity….”

From the various bromide substances came bromide used for a sedative containing bromide, especially potassium bromide, and from that came metaphorical uses (from OED2):

A person whose thoughts and conversation are conventional and commonplace. Also, a commonplace saying, trite remark, conventionalism; a soothing statement. slang (orig. U.S.).

As for the crab-prince ad copy, it’s an entertaining piece of puffery with a fondness for capitalization in unexpected places (as in the Nasty Pig PlaySheet ad here). And no, the ingredients in Nervine were not in fact “among the safest of effective medicines to calm the nerves” (see above).

13 Responses to “Dr. Miles’ Nervine”

  1. Chris Ambidge Says:

    how could you NOT want relief from nervousness or nervous exhaustion, sleeplessness, hysteria, headache, neuralgia, backache, pain, epilepsy, spasms, fits, and St. Vitus’ dance??

    Or, for that matter, to be reduced to the lobotomised calm of Mary with the noisy children?

  2. Tané Tachyon Says:

    This made me go watch The Babbitt and the Bromide again.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Chris Ambidge on the card that brought me the Dr. Miles’ Nervine ad, an account of Dr J. Collis Brown’s Chlorodyne:

    Unlike many Victorian era patent medicines, this stuff actually worked, against diarrhoea: I can see it now, a little hexagonal blue glass bottle, “one or two drops in a wineglassful of water.” And it did work. Now the two ingredients I remember are chloroform (!) and extract of opium. No wonder the authorities clamped down on it.

  4. Eclect(r)ic Oil « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] I’m not sure I’d want to drink such a concoction, even if I had a really bad cold and sore throat. (Compare Dr. Miles’ Nervine, here.) […]

  5. Nervine settled everybody’s nerves by sedating everyone | Thirty-Seven Says:

    […] A. Dr. Mile's Nervine. Retrieved November 21, 2012 from […]

  6. The Mushroom Says:

    I have both of those Nervine ads above and quite a few more, with a lot more coming as I find the Dr. Miles’ Almanacs and Jokebooks. See what I’ve got so far here in this Flickr set:

  7. Deloris Says:

    Miles Nervine was wonderful! It really worked to calm my nerves and without any side effects whatsoever. Wish they still manufactured it.

  8. Sandy Hughes Says:

    I recently found some boxes in my mom’s attic that held large paper dolls. These cutout dolls are approx. 2′ in height and the names on the back are Dorothy (Dolly Quincy) and Katrina Knickerbocker. Each cut out doll is beautifully illustrated with three complete costumes. The copyright on each doll is 1902. The dolls were promotionals. If you mailed in one wrapper of any of Dr. Miles Remedies and five 2 cent stamps it would be mailed complete, postage paid. Is there a market for these dolls? I’m interested in selling.

  9. Barbara C. Nixon, Alachua, FL Says:

    My grandfather, Dr. C.E. Weaver of LaBelle sold some “patent”
    medicines. I just found a small Weaverene ointment ad in a 1934 Clewiston Paper: ” Weaverene Ointment at Clewiston Drug Stores, For Grounditch and Athlete’s Foot 25 c(ents)”. Others were “Willing Worker” for constipation, “Burnene” for burns and one for worms. Also he had a roach killing powder he sold by mail to people all over the state who swore by it: “Roachene”, with boric acid. I have a ledger with a lot of their letters, and a sales postcard with a photo of my mother, her brother and a cat: “Safe for kids and cats.” He was married to Pearl Hendry, granddaughter of Capt. F.A. Hendry. Dr. Weaver was also Superintendent of Schools. He was from Indiana, where he went to medical school, and died in the early 1950’s. They were married about 1917.

  10. Madonna Says:

    I remember my gramma using these…she even gave them to me! I’m 80 and still here so I guess no harm was done

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