Pontil Medicine Encyclopedia 2007


This book includes Pre-Civil War bottles from many collecting categories such as medicines, hairs, sarsaparillas, and bitters. A few other products, which could not be classified as medicines have been included when I found interesting background information. The primary focus is on early American Patent and Proprietary Medicine bottles and their makers.

Individual Listings

The purpose of this book is to provide bottle collectors with information about the old bottles they treasure and to answer the questions: Who made it? What was the pontil medicine for? and When was it made? Information was recorded in the following order: Product name, proprietor and or agents, address and geographic location, product use, verified dates the product was advertised, cross references, line by line description of bottle embossing, bottle descriptions references as shown below.

DR. WM. EVAN'S TEETHING SYRUP, Dr. Wm Evans (1840-1848); William Evans & Son (1858), Principal office 100 Chatham St (1839); 134 S. Front (1848); 252 S. Front (1858), NYC, NY. Advertised 1839-1840. Possibly called Soothing Syrup as well. See also: Paris'. PNYW Jan. 14, 1840, Dr. // W. Evans // Teething // Syrup, aqua, 2 3/8, rd, flared.

Profusely illustrated

This Second Edition of the Pontil Medicine encyclopedia from Digger Odell Publications features 650 pontiled medicine bottle pictures in the 400 pages. Each page is packed with photos, descriptions and histories of more than 4000 pontil age medicines. This book is the most complete and most informative book available about pontiled medicine bottles. Learn about early American medicine bottles not listed any where else. Check out the sample page.

Sample page 1  

This book is the culmination of thousands and thousands of hours of research and lists more pontil medicines and more information about them than any book or catalog on this subject - in or out of print. Generous collectors have offered to share their finds, many of which have not been seen until now. Numerous diggers have also contributed to this encyclopedic book. Medicines bottles, one of the most popular categories enjoyed by both bottle collectors and many others, are an important part of our country's history. Enrich your bottle collecting experience by increasing your knowledge.

Sample Page 2

Learn the secrets of pricing pontil medicine bottles based on their rarity and desirability. The 55 page price guide available with this edition allows you to use the rarity, price and desirability ratings to save or make you money buying and selling your bottles. Find out about your pontiled balsam, liniment, sarsaparilla and bitters bottles. Every bottle collector will want a copy. Don't miss out or make expensive mistakes, get your copy today.


Medicine is as old as man, no doubt born of necessity and wrought by trial and error. Experimentation with natural remedies over the course of centuries lead to the development of a primitive understanding of practices to treat common ailments. At first these were recorded only in the oral tradition, handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, but gradually they developed into a recorded body of knowledge, superstition and belief. Such was the state of the field of medicine for much of history. It is not hard to imagine, knowing human nature, that unscrupulous individuals learned early on that there was something to be gained by playing on peoples insecurity and fear. Charlatans and quacks knew that hope and promise were the spring tonic of the human soul.

The quack to be successful needs the quackee. The explosive expansion of the American industrial machine provided the means to both produce and promote this relationship. It was a time when parents saw their children die. It was a time if a man lived to fifty he was said to have beaten the odds of nature. It was a time our country and the world were in the unprecedented mix of technological and social change while the field of medicine remained in the dark ages. There were scientific investigations by the men of the day, but largely healing was a home art, replete with the Bedside Medical Advisor. For the most part, physicians were not to be trusted and had a reputation often equal to their training - poor. The lack of scientific examination of health practices together with the cruel reality of disease, served as the springboard for the development of the patent medicine era. During the decades from 1830-1860 what had been simply a body of folklore was raised to a height of humbuggery heretofore yet unknown.


Several factors contributed to the rapid growth of the American proprietary medicine industry. First, the New World had many herbs and plants unknown in Europe and an untapped native folklore in the use of these botanicals. More than a thousand new species of plants were taken to England in mid 1600s. The medicine makers on both sides of the Atlantic were interested in exploiting new botanicals. Medicinal products were extracted from wild strawberry, liverwort, Indian turnip (also known as Jack-in-Pulpit), rhubarb, sassafras, popular bark, mountain ash, and wild cherry.

Secondly, and more powerfully, the growth of American newspapers provided a new wide-reaching vehicle for advertising. A strong and mutually beneficial relationship was established between the papers and medicine makers. So comfortable was this relationship that the two became inseparable. The medicine makers depended upon the newspapers for their profits just as the newspapers depended upon the medicines makers for theirs. As the movement grew, newspaper editors and owners often turned a blind eye to outlandish claims and unscrupulous charlatans. As fledgling newspapers appeared in the frontier towns their first issues were often in part financed by the medicine men. Sometimes as the papers became more established, in order to appear more respectable, the volume of medicinal advertising was reduced. Some papers put the advertisements on the front pages, others relegated them to the back pages. Even the New York Times advertised for the medicine men, albeit in tiny print and without much fanfare. For most of the newspapers the lucrative contracts were simply too rich to pass up. In 1849, Benjamin Brandreth of Brandreth Pills fame was spending in excess of $100,000 a year on newspaper advertising, a tremendous sum of money in those days. The relationship between the newspapers and the medicine men grew to such strength that an act of congress, in the form of the Food and Drug Act of 1906, was required to break the bond.

Thirdly, the Revolutionary War interrupted trade and the English patent medicines were no longer available. There is ample evidence that some apothecary shops had ordered supplies of empty vials prior to War and that empty bottles were being reused and refilled. Years before in 1761, Robert Turlington, had complained about New Yorkers refilling his bottles with a base counterfeit concoction. By the time the War ended and trade was resumed, the public was weaned from their earlier dependence on the English imports and the stage was set for the explosion soon to come.

Very quickly the American medicine manufacturers dominated the field and dominate they did. New American based companies rose to prominence in the early years of our country’s history. Undoubtedly the preeminent proprietor was Thomas Dyott of Philadelphia. Dyott (later his son), created a line of Family Medicines sold under the name of one Dr. Robertson, a noted Edinburgh physician reputed to be the grandfather of Dyott. Dyott later bought a glasshouse (Dyottville Glassworks) in which he produced his own bottles. He set the trend for what was to come opening agencies all over the country, in New York, Cincinnati, and New Orleans. His medicines made him a fortune by 1830 before he fell upon hard times, declared bankruptcy and was imprisoned for his financial misfortunes seven years later. Dyott was, however, the first to claim a national market, and the success of his closest competitors such as Richard and Michael Lee of Baltimore fame, pale by comparison.