Digger Odell Publications 2010

Since the 1850s, the skull & cross bones has been the accepted symbol warning users of a poisonous substance.  Poison bottle collectors love the bottles with the skull and crossbones embossed. In the 1700s the "Skull & Crossbones"  flag was first flown by French pirate Emanuel Wynn.  

The handling of poisonous substances has always been a matter of concern both here and abroad.  Various symbols have been used over the centuries to indicate dangerous substances.  The Danes used + + + on their ceramic containers to warn the unwary.  Sometimes apothecaries would display skeletons when they were compounding poisonous materials.  As early as 1829, New York state required the clear labeling of containers whose contents was poisonous. 

Beginning in the 1870s here in the United States uniquely designed containers in bright cobalt blue began appearing.  In order to warn the user of the dangerous nature of the contents, the outside of the bottle was covered with a series of raised bumps, dots, ridges, or lattice work.  The purpose of these features was that should an unsuspecting victim mistakenly grab a bottle in a dark or dimly lit room he could tell by feel that the contents should not be ingested.  Various unusual shapes (triangular or hexagonal) were widely adopted to store poisons, but the skull and crossbones had a long history and appealed to a primitive part of our conscience.

It was not until the late 1880-1890s that the skull and crossbones became a familiar site embossed on bottles.  The practice continued through the 1920s when it was decided that the brightly colored bottles and symbols maybe attractive to children and harming more than helping the situation.  Eventually the emphasis changed to creating containers which would be difficult for children to open.  Shown below are some of the many skull and crossbones poison bottles available to poison bottle collectors.  To learn more order a copy of Digger Odell's Volume 10, Poisons, Apothecary and Drugstores.


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