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Patent medicine bottle collection

Scope & content

Dr. David S. Greer, Dean of Medicine at Brown University from 1981-1992 and professor emeritus in the Community Health Department in the Division of Biology and Medicine, assembled a collection of 242 patent medicine bottles and 11 objects dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. The entire collection was donated to Brown University with 212 bottles and 8 objects stored in Special Collections at the John Hay Library (described here) and the remaining 30 bottles and 3 objects retained by the Alcohol and Addiction Studies Center and the Alpert Medical School for use as teaching aids. This collection consists of a binder of slides documenting all the bottles and the original bottles retained by the Library.

Most of the bottles do not have the original labels but are imprinted to reveal the name of the medicine it contained. Medicines include Humphrey's Marvel of Healing; Paine's Celery Compound; Lydia E. Pinkham's Medicine, Fever, and Ague Cure; Dr. Pierce's Favorite Prescription; Howard's Vegetable Cancer and Canker Syrup; Old Sachem Bitters; J. W. Poland Headache Killer; Three Crow Pine and Elm Brand Cough Syrup; Mother Winslow's Soothing Syrup; Dr. Wistar's Balsam of Wild Cherry; Dr. D. Jayne's Tonic; Thyroid Glands Dessicated; Piso's Cure; Hamlin's Wizard Oil; Sylphonathol; Kendall's Spavin Cure for Human Flesh; Spleen Dessicated; Perry Davis' Vegetable Pain Killer; Dr. Beeman's Mohawk Liniment; and Tubercolozyne.

The collection also includes 8 objects related to patent medicine production and sales.

A binder containing color slides of each bottle is available upon request. Researchers must review these slides before requesting to view specific bottles.


  • Adams, Samuel Hopkins. The Great American. P.F. Collier & Son, 1905
  • Baldwin, Joseph K. Patent and Proprietary Medicine Bottles. Thomas Nelson Inc. New York, 1973
  • Blasi, Betty. A Bit About Balsams. Louisville KY, 1974
  • Carson, Gerald. One for a Man Two for a Horse. Double Day & Co. Inc, New York, 1961
  • Cook, James. Remedies and Rackets. W. W. Norton & Co.
  • Cramp, Arthur J.M.D. Nostrums and Quackery. American Medical Association
  • Degrafft, John. American Sarsaparilla Bottles. North Attleboro, MA, 1980
  • Fike, Richard. The Battle Book: A Guide to Historic Medicine Bottles. Salt Lake City, 1987
  • Holbrook, Stewart. The Golden Age of Quackery. The Macmillan Co., New York, 1959
  • Hoist, Jim. Pontiled Medicines. 1994 & 1999
  • Nielsen, Fredrick. Great American Pontiled Medicines. Medford, NJ, 1978
  • Odell, John. Digger Odell Antique Bottle & Glass Collector Magazine Price Guide: Medicines. 1995
  • Odell, John. Indian Bottles & Brands. Lebanon, OH, 1997
  • Odell, John. Pontil Medicine Encyclopedia. Mason, OH, 2000
  • Shimko, Phyllis. Sarsaparilla Bottle Encyclopedia. Aurora, OR, 1969
  • Ring, Carlyn & Ham William. Bitters Bottles. Boyertown Publishing, Boyertown, PA, 1998
  • Wilson, Bill & Betty. 19th Century Medicine in Glass. Amador City CA, 1971
  • Young, James Harvey. The Toadstool Millionaires. Princeton University Press, 1961

Druggist Catalogs:

  • American Druggist Price Book 1935
  • Druggist Circular & Chemical Gazette, 1912-1917
  • Meyer Brother Wholesale Drug Catalog, St. Louis. 1879
  • Pharmaceutical Era, 1904-1912
  • Robert Stevenson Whole Druggist Catalog, Chicago. 1888