Relative chemical dating
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The breadth of variety within the medicinal bottle category is indicated by Fike (1987) dividing his classic book (The Bottle Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Historic, Embossed Medicine Bottles) into over 40 different "product" chapters, ranging from "bitters" to "cures" to "purifiers" and many more.Within each chapter is a listing of hundreds of different embossed bottles with many times more embossed ones not addressed by Fike's book.
This section also includes druggist bottles (aka pharmacy, drugstore, or prescription bottles) due to their close connection to the other types of medicinal bottles.Most of the many thousands of local druggists during the 19th and early 20th century typically concocted their own medicinal compounds to sell from their stores utilizing proprietary druggist or prescription bottles, i.e., bottles with the druggist or store name, address, city/state, and/or other information or a graphic feature (Feldhaus 1987).There were likely ten's of thousands of different druggist bottles made between the 1870s and 1920s - the heyday of the proprietary druggist bottle.This section also includes chemical and "poison" bottles which, of course, contained liquids that were not for human consumption but were sold and/or distributed by some of the same companies as medicinal bottles (e.g., The Owl Drug Company - example to the right).Medicinal bottles are probably the largest and most diverse group of bottles produced during the era covered by this website - the 19th through mid 20th centuries.To quote Fike (1987) on medicine bottles - "Literally hundreds of thousands of brands and variations of vessels were manufactured..." during the noted era.
This variety is not too surprising since one's health was (and still is) probably the most important personal issue of all time, made even more important during the era of primitive medical knowledge and practices and universal ignorance about hygiene and even the causes of disease.
As noted in the opening line of Odell (2000), "Medicine is as old as man, no doubt born of necessity and wrought by trial and error." Self-medication was often all that could be had by most people and the ability of doctors to help a person - if they were even available - was very limited and their training and/or backgrounds often suspect.
Thus, the allure of patent or proprietary medicines (Young 1961).
The picture at the top of the page shows just a tiny bit of medicinal bottle diversity which is frankly staggering in depth and variety as virtually any shape imaginable was used at some point.
The bottle pictured to the left is a mid-19th century medicine with a general shape (rectangular with indented panels) that was used for tens of thousands of different medicinal products from the mid-19th century until at least the Depression in the 20th century.
Though intimidating in its immense diversity there are some useful trends in shapes that mark a bottle as very likely to have been used primarily or originally as a container for some type of medicinal product.