by Diane Brenner, with photos by Kate Ewald
Ben Brown grew up in Worthington and has been collecting old bottles since he was five. His enthusiasm encouraged his father, Harold (“Brownie”) Brown, to begin collecting as well. The photographs below show only a part of Ben’s collection, which was catalogued for a 2007 exhibit at the WHS building.
The Brown bottle collection – all excavated from Worthington soil – includes some marvelously beautiful objects that provide a window on our daily lives in the not-so-distant past. These bottles held patent medicines, beauty products, food and beverages, and other household items – some whose names remain familiar, and others that have, often deservedly, been forgotten.
Until relatively recently, composting was so much the norm that it didn’t even have a name. Every Worthington home not only composted but also had one or more dump sites for uncompostable materials: old cans and bottles, broken dishes, unrepairable shoes, bent nails, rusted carriage parts, you name it. These sites were often pits located away from the house and eventually covered over with dirt. Often they were located near streams, whose steep banks were convenient for moving materials out of sight. Some dump sites still exist, but they are ever harder to find and their contents are increasingly broken and decayed.
In the photo above, the five-inch-tall bottle on the far left, from the Williams & Carlton Co. in Hartford, held root beer extract and dates from the late 19th century. The third bottle from the left, which reads “USE RENNE’S PAIN KILLING MAGIC OIL,” is from the early 20th century and the “magic oil” probably contained an opiate.
Among the Brown Collection are many other questionable home remedies. One patent medicine bottle from the late 19th century, embossed with “DR. KING’S NEW DISCOVERY FOR COUGHS AND COLDS,” contained a mixture of morphine and chloroform that was both seductive and toxic. The “New Discovery” brand was marketed starting in 1885 as a cure for consumption.
Another curiosity in the collection – found near Elderberry Lane, just northeast of the Corners Grocery – is an amber, pear-shaped bottle embossed with “VALENTINE’S MEAT JUICE.” This combination of glycerin and meat extract, prepared by Mann. S. Valentine of Richmond, Virginia, was promoted in the late 19th century as both a restorative food and a medicine, achieving popularity among prostitutes as a supposed cure for sexually transmitted diseases.
This faceted, amethyst-tinged bottle stopper from the mid-19th century was Ben’s first find at age five. The stopper was partially exposed above ground near 43 Witt Hill Road.
The second bottle from the left, from the early to mid-19th century, was found at the same spot and reads “DR. LANGLEY’S ROOT & HERB BITTERS, 76 UNION ST., BOST.” Bitters is an alcoholic herbal preparation, still used today.
The taller bottle in the middle reads “DR. D. KENNEDY’S FAVORITE REMEDY, KINGSTON, NY.” This patent medicine from the late 19th or early 20th century was a cure-all for kidney, liver or bladder trouble, not to mention – according to their advertisements – “all weaknesses peculiar to women” and “all the unpleasant and dangerous effects on the system produced by the use of whiskey, wine or beer.”
Second from the left is a hexagonal, late 19th-century ink bottle, 5.5 inches tall, with fluted panels, and embossed with “NOT TO BE TAKEN.” The tall cobalt bottle in the middle is an apothecary jar from the late 19th century, possibly used as storage for tablets, cotton balls, and so on.
In the late 19th century, Carter’s Cathedral Ink was sold in these dramatic cobalt bottles with gothic arches embossed on hexagonal panels. This special edition bottle is eight inches tall.
Many older bottles can be dated or identified by their “pontil scars,” the marks formed on the bottom where the glass-blowing rods were removed. Later bottles tend to be blown into molds and do not have pontil scars.
The second bottle from the left, from the mid-19th century, is almost two inches tall and once held ink for dipping a quill or steel-nib pen. The third, octagonal bottle is also an ink holder, flanged out at the base, from the early 19th century.
The four-inch-tall bottle on the left, found near Conwell Road in South Worthington, contained liquid soap or glycerin. “J.D. Larkin, Manufacturer of Plain and Fancy Soaps” started his company in Buffalo, New York in 1875, and soon expanded from laundry bars into soap powder, harness soap, and oatmeal soap.
The bottle on the far right is embossed “STEPHEN SWEET’S LINIMENT INFALLIBLE.” Sweet’s Liniment, an oil-based pain-relieving lotion, was manufactured by Richardson & Co. in Norwich, Connecticut. As noted in an 1861 history, Dr. Sweet “was most remarkable for his skill as a bone-setter, and a preparation made in accordance with his prescription has been advertised by this firm wherever newspapers are printed.” This bottle was blown in a mold, and then the top was reheated and an “applied top” was added.
The teal-green bottle resting on its side, found at the Witt Hill Road site, is from the mid-19th century and reads “GARGLING OIL, LOCKPORT, N.Y.” The brand name was Merchant’s Gargling Oil, manufactured from 1833 to the early 20th century. This topical ointment treated humans, horses and other animals for ailments ranging from burns, sprains and bruises to hemorrhoids, piles, toothache and sore throat. Other veterinary applications included garget, mange, roup in poultry, horn distemper in cattle, foot rot in sheep, and ringbone, poll evil, and foundered feet in horses!
The green bottle on the left likely held a liqueur in the mid-to-late 19th century.
The quart-size amber bottle with a coat of arms reads “DUFFY MALT WHISKEY COMPANY, ROCHESTER NY.” This company was founded before 1881 by Walter B. Duffy and closed down after 1925. Though basically whiskey with a high alcohol content, Duffy’s was also marketed as a medicine and the company was a member of the Proprietary Association of America, an early lobbying group devoted to preventing regulation of patent medicines. In any case, the people of Worthington went for it – Ben found this bottle at several different sites.
The bottles resting on their sides have rounded bottoms and were known as “ballast bottles,” because they were used as ballast in ships traveling to and from Europe and the Caribbean. These specimens are from the mid-to-late 19th century and likely held beer or rum.
The somewhat uneven bottle on the far right, with the applied top, reads “THIS BOTTLE NOT TO BE SOLD” and was used for soda or beer around the late 19th century. Though such bottles were indeed sold, the warning was intended to discourage people from taking or not returning the bottles, or, even worse, selling them to rival bottlers. This bottle was found near 343 Huntington Road.
This amber bottle, almost eight inches tall, with its original stopper, dates from around the late 19th century and probably held peroxide. The bottle was found near the Corners Grocery, and still contains some of its original contents.
The second bottle from the left is 6.5 inches tall and reads “ATWOOD’S JAUNDICE BITTERS, MOSES ATWOOD, GEORGE-TOWN, MASS.” Atwood manufactured this product from 1840 to 1850, when he left for Iowa.
The bottle on the far right reads “NERVINE” in an arc just below the neck. In the late 19th century, nervine was a popular sedative made from inorganic bromides and used to treat any case of “nerves.”
The narrow-necked bottle in front held ammonia.
The bottle with the embossed floral pattern held lime juice manufactured by L. Rose & Company, founded in Edinburgh by Lauchlan Rose in 1865. To prevent scurvy, the disease caused by vitamin-C deficiency, sailors on long trips were supplied with lime or lemon juice preserved in 15% rum. Rose, who was born into a family of shipbuilders, patented a process that prevented fermentation and preserved fruit juice without alcohol. The signature “lime leaves & fruit” pattern adorned the bottles from the beginning. Rose’s Lime Juice is still sold today.
The bottle on the right, found near 343 Huntington Road, is embossed “GREAT BEAR SPRING, TRADE MARK, FULTON, N.Y. THIS BOTTLE IS LOANED, NEVER SOLD.” The Great Bear Water Works Company was founded in Fulton, New York in 1884. The business expanded rapidly and for decades sold and distributed water throughout the Northeast.
In the photo below, the pinkish bottle in back held olives (or perhaps oysters) and was probably dumped by the Worthington Inn/Lafayette Lodge, the large resort hotel that burned down in 1931.
Almost all the bottles in the Brown Collection were gathered in the 1960s. Ben says there was always some surface clue to a dump site, and he never had to dig around with a shovel to locate them. He would excavate the sites carefully with a potato hook or some other tined implement. Bottle collecting for fun and profit caught on in the 1970s, and all the visible sites were soon picked clean.
You may still have a concealed dump site containing beautiful bottles on your property. All you need is a little luck.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Diane Brenner moved to Worthington in 1994 and shares her large white house with her artist spouse, Jan Roby. She is an indexer with a background in public health and an avid interest in historical research and genealogy. She is a longtime member of the board of the Worthington Historical Society, and has been active as one of the society’s archivists, helping to create many recent WHS exhibits including the one discussed in this article. She also serves on the Worthington Historical Commission and Worthington Board of Health, and is president of the board of the Hilltown Community Health Centers. At her home she has found a few tantalizing pieces of old plates and one or two bottles, but she is still looking for the main dump.
Kate Ewald is an amateur photographer living with her husband, Evan, in Worthington, MA and serving on the WHS Board. She received her PhD in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Massachusetts, so when not photographing she assesses human health risk for hazardous waste site cleanup.
WHS board member Evan Spring provided supplementary research for this article.