Barker’s Nerve and Bone Liniment was a proprietary medicine introduced by Thomas Barker in Philadelphia in 1859. It was intended for both man and beast.
According to later testimonials in one advertisement, a druggist claimed “One of our merchants had his horse cut so bad on his fore leg that he thought he could not use him all winter.” But Barker’s “healed it up,” and in four weeks the horse was working. Again, a Virginia man wrote in to say that having “mashed” his foot and applied Barker’s, “In eight days I walked on my foot again. I think it is the best liniment on earth” (“Barker’s” 2017). Such testimonials are typical of those given for even the most discredited of snake oils.
However, to quote from Terence Hines’ classic Pseudoscience and the Paranormal (1988, 236–237): “One can find testimonials of almost anything.” He adds: “It is safe to say that if testimonials play a major part in the ‘come on’ for a cure or therapy, the cure or therapy is almost certainly worthless. If the promoters of the therapy had actual evidence for its effectiveness, they would cite it and not have to rely on testimonials.”
The original firm was soon assumed by Barker’s son Robert, together with partners Ben Mein and John Moore. This occurred in the 1860s, and in 1893 Robert purchased his partners’ interest. Judging from city directories and other evidence, the enterprise ceased business some time in 1916 or 1917.
The aqua glass bottle pictured here (blown in a two-piece mold and finished with an “applied lip”) measures about 21/4” wide by 11/16” deep by 61/8” high). It is embossed, “THE BARKER / MOORE & MEIN / MEDICINE COMPANY // PHILADELPHIA.” Such were shipped in crates that held half a dozen bottles (“Medicine” 2017).
In addition to liniment, the manufacturers also sold a variety of powders and remedies for animals. These included Barker’s Poultry Disinfectant, Lice Powder, Roup Remedy, Gape Remedy, Dip and Disinfectant, and Horse and Cattle Powder.
They are remembered for a series of souvenir “Komic” pictures around the turn of the last century, showing various mishaps that could be set right by their products. (“Medicine” 2017; “Barker’s” 2017). The company also provided advertising almanacs to their customers and “elegant show cards” to merchants.
Barker’s Nerve and Bone Liniment. 2017. Online at https://www.sideshowworld.com/43-SO-MS/Bakers-Joy/World.html; accessed April 5, 2017.
Fike, Richard E. 2006. The Bottle Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Historic, Embossed Medicine Bottles. Caldwell, NJ: The Blackburn Press.
Hines, Terence. 1988. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Medicine Shipping Crate. 2017. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1361784; accessed April 4, 2017.