Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Series 52: Week 3

Theme:  Glass
Pharmacy Glass:  Miraculous Cures and Other Scientific Marvels!!

For this weeks 'glass' theme, I decided to photograph some of my old pharmacy bottles.  I'm a pharmacist (although not in the traditional sense of the guy in the white coat behind the counter) and have a collection of old Rx bottles and related.  I decided it would make a great photo-challenge.  How do you make a bottle look interesting??  I used back lighting and textures which I think spiced things up a bit. Thanks to Nancy over at A Rural Journal for providing the challenge and the motivation to research a few of my bottles!
Traditional pharmacy bottles and related stuff.
Warner's bottles (there are many varieties) are some of the best know and most recognized by bottle collectors the world over.  A little history... feel free to skip this part if you find yourself yawning! Warner came to Rochester in 1870. He started his career as a fireproof safe salesman, but his business really began to boom when he started selling his own brand of remedies. He was considered the "patent medicine king" with products like Warner's Safe Liver Pills and Warner's Safe Kidney Cure. He erected the Warner Building on St. Paul Street for his factory. He built a grandiose $150,000 mansion on East Avenue, the likes of which Rochester had never seen. In 1882 Warner built the Warner Observatory for the use of Professor Lewis Swift. Warner served as the first president of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. Once considered a millionaire, he lost his fortune in a poor mining speculation in the Panic of 1893.  Reference:

I was very surprised to find that you can still buy Scott's Cod Liver Oil in pharmacies!  However, it has been significantly reformulated to improve the taste.  Here's a funny mention I found on a website...
Back when i was a kid, when my mother said it was time for Scott’s Emulsion, I had to run for cover. Back then it was a bottle of thick white stuff, no nice orange flavor; it had a strong, almost nauseating fishy flavor. My brother and I always had to close our nose drinking it, and the thick fishy taste stayed with you for hours after that. Especially when you burped. Ewwwww.

On the right is the box that the bottle of Scott's Cod Liver Oil came in.

Here's a photo of my 'Double Distilled' Witch Hazel bottle.  Definitely not as old as most of the others, with Witch Hazel-based products still available in pharmacies today.

Witch Hazel is a genus of flowering plants in the family Hamamelidaceae, with three species in North America (H. ovalis,[2] H. virginiana and H. vernalis).  Almost all pharmacies carry some type of witch hazel preparation in the form of lotions, hemorrhoidal pads, and suppositories. Besides their use topically for hemorrhoids and veins, witch hazel lotions are useful on rough, swollen, gardener's or carpenter's hands. You can also use witch hazel internally to treat varicose veins, hemorrhoids, or a prolapsed uterus, although not the witch hazel/isopropyl alcohol preparation frequently found in drug stores.


Paine's Celery Compound was especially egregious at making sweepingly broad claims that were totally unsubstantiated by any science whatsoever!  But remember, back in the day before the FDA required medicines to prove they were safe and effective, people were desperate (and more than a little gullible)!  Paine's Celery Compound was described as the wonder drug for the elderly.  There were published testimony for a 99-year-old woman who reportedly had remained healthy by taking daily doses.  Celery Compound purportedly worked it's wonders by replacing "worn-out parts" with "healthy, new ones".

Another interesting story I found out the interned posted by a bottle collector:
When I was a kid bottle hunting with my father in the early 70's we ran across a weird Paines site. It was a old cemetery behind a old log house. My father  had found some good stuff in a ravine beside the house. So he expanded his search area and we walked through this old cemetery and he said look over there at that grave. I looked and it was a grave totally lined with amber bitters looking bottles. They were totally outlining the grave stuck upside down into the ground. We pulled them out and every one was a Paines Celery Compound. He said leave them here we don't want to take them. I returned there many years later and they were all gone. I suppose it was just a cheap way to decorate the grave or maybe he had loved Paines in life and this was what put him in the grave so they outlined his grave with empty bottles who knows . After 30+ years of digging / collecting I have never run across anything like that again.

Dr. J. Hostetter's Stomach Bitters is one of my older bottles.  Again, some interesting info from the internet...
Hostetter's "Celebrated" Bitters was a nostrum developed by Dr. Jacob Hostetter of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His son, David Hostetter, put the formula into large scale production in 1853 and it soon became a national best-seller. During the Civil War, Dr. J. Hostetter's Stomach Bitters was sold to soldiers as "a positive protective against the fatal maladies of the Southern swamps, and the poisonous tendency of the impure rivers and bayous." The original formula was about 47% alcohol -- 94 Proof! The amount of alcohol was so high that it was served in Alaskan saloons by the glass. Hostetter sweetened the alcohol with sugar to which he added a few aromatic oils (anise, coriander, etc.) and vegetable bitters (cinchona, gentian, etc.) to give it a medicinal flavor. From 1954 to 1958, when it was no longer marketed, the product was known as Hostetter Tonic.

No identifying marks on this bottle, but I can tell from its strange ridges, bubbles and imperfections that it is very old... probably the oldest in my collection.  Just guessing, but I think it might be an old whiskey bottle.  But then again, most of the old medicines were primarily alcohol-based anyway (see Dr. Hostetter above @ 94 proof!).  Back then, the line between medicine, alcohol, and opioids was very blurry (no pun intended)! 

So there you have it:  Miraculous Cures and Other Scientific Marvels!!


  1. How long did it take you to collect all those bottles? You have many interesting hobbies!

  2. You have an interesting collection. Who would have guessed they could be so attractive?

  3. Great vintagy looking shots of medicine bottles. Thanks for joining my blog. Ain't the desert a great place?

  4. Interesting way to present the bottles! I was checking out last week's Skywatch, and saw your photo, and decided to explore your blog. I have bookmarked it now! The dog is cute, too!