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Merchant's Gargling Oil
A Liniment For Man and Beast
A typical Victorian patent medicine tends to have a startling name, a ridiculously wide range of uses, a flurry of hyberbole (often in the form of fascinating letters from happily cured folks) and - if we're lucky - some wonderfully loopy, but beautifully executed advertising art.
Thus I present to you my latest find: Merchant's Gargling Oil. The name was what first grabbed my attention. Because as a rule I do not think of "gargling" and "oil" together. But George Washington Merchant of Lockport, New York, who first made his Oil in 1833, claimed that his concoction could can used to cure sore throats. Also toothaches, so rub some on your teeth before you take a swig. Then you can keep slathering it on your skin, because this stuff is also great for "Burns, Scalds, Rheumatism, Flesh Wounds...and many other diseases known to man and beast."
Yes, after you were done doctoring yourself, you could mosey on out to the stable and cure the horses of - well, various ailments. The journal Michigan Farmer implied, in 1850, that Merchant's could be used for wounds, scratches, saddle galls and sprains. It also said that its recipe for Black Oil was a lot cheaper and better than Merchant's, so there's that. Black Oil was made from linseed oil, tar, alcohol, turpentine and a few other oils; I'm not sure that you'd want to take that for a sore throat, though, would you?
What was in Merchant's? It was pretty similar to Black Oil. I found a recipe for it in Richard Moore's The Universal Assistant (1882), which was one of the many Victorian Top Secret Recipes books that were printed. His directions say to mix a couple of gallons of linseed oil and turpentine, add a gallon of "western petroleum" and some "liquor potassium" - just mix it up and there you have it. Only don't drink it or go near it - it sounds awful !