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For Man and Beast

May 13, 2014 | by

The Internet will lead a traveler down strange byways. I no longer remember where I started, but here I stand, at the end of a circuitous and occasionally treacherous path, suddenly full of facts about Merchant’s Gargling Oil. Let’s not linger on how I got here. I’m as confused as you are.

Merchant’s Gargling Oil is “a Liniment for Man and Beast,” a catch-all salve first produced by George W. Merchant, a druggist, in 1833. Who can guess what compelled Merchant to whip up that first batch of petroleum, soap, ammonia water, oil of amber, iodine tincture, benzine, and water? Who still can say what frame of mind found him slathering this unguent on his skin? And who, at last, will stand up and tell me why Merchant saw fit to market his concoction as “Gargling Oil” even though he intended it primarily for external use?

These mysteries belong to the ages. More certainly, we can say that Merchant’s Gargling Oil was intended to treat burns, scalds, rheumatism, flesh wounds, sprains, bruises, lame back, hemorrhoids or piles, toothache, sore throat, chilblains, and chapped hands; that the Merchant business was successful enough to produce a promotional line of almanacs, songbooks (“songsters”), and stamps; and that horses were evidently crazy for the stuff. Beyond that, this Gargling Oil is awash in contradictions. For instance, despite its external uses, you could, if you wanted to, take it internally: Read More »

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