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).