Potassium Permanganate bottles from the late 1800’s

Potassium permanganate crystals

Potassium permanganate solutionPotassium permanganate, also known as Chameleon Mineral or Condy’s Crystals, is an inorganic chemical with a variety of uses.  The crystals are purple and turn to a pink-purple solution when dissolved in water.  In medicine it was previously used as a topical treatment for bacterial and fungal infections, but because it is irritating to the skin, newer drugs have replaced it.  Today it is commonly used in water and pool treatments, chemistry lab titrations, and sometimes as a treatment for eczema, poison ivy, and canker sores.


Other Interesting Uses for Potassium Permanganate

And here are some uses I found for the chemical that are all from at least 90 years ago…

In 1915, it was used to make cheap vanilla flavor substitutes…

Vanillin - from the Press and Sun Bulletin, New York, 1915

To clean chicken board droppings in 1918…

Chicken board droppings, The Sun, New York, NY 1918

For 2 suicide attempts in 1905 and 1928…

 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1928 Suicide attempt

Suicide attempt - The Sun, New York, NY 1905






As a snake bite remedy in 1927…

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1927 snake bite remedy
To relieve poison ivy in 1927…

Brooklyn Life and Activities of Long Island Society, 1927 poison ivy

And in 1905, Dr. W. D. Bigelow taught readers of the New York Tribune how to use chemistry to determine if there is starch in their store bought jelly…

Starch in jelly article


The Bottles

Potassium permanganate bottles, circa 1880'sAfter going through the SHA bottle dating guide, I believe my bottles are most likely from the 1880’s.  They appear to be “turn-mold” style, which was primarily used between 1880 and 1915.  Turn molding involved rotating the bottle inside of the mold on a cushion of steam, which made it smooth and cylindrical.


It also looks like they have the blob-type air venting marks shown on the link here

And on mine…

Blob-type air vent marks


Schieffelin & Co.

And finally, since one of my bottles is from Schieffelin & Co. in New York, I learned about some of the company’s history…

Schieffelin & Co. label

In 1794, John Lawrence and Jacob Schieffelin bought John’s brother’s drug business from him.  In 1799, Lawrence withdrew from the company and Jacob became the sole owner.  Jacob published the first catalog called “A Catalog of Drugs, Medicines and Chemicals Sold Wholesale and Resale” in 1804, and the company remained in the Schieffelin family for a long time afterward.  In the 1920’s, the company began selling medicinal alcohol, and in 1962 the drug division closed and the company went to selling beverages only.  In 2004, they became Moët Hennessey.


Schieffelin & Co.’s Role in the Arrest of a 19th Century Drug Smuggler

In 1897, Schieffelin & Co. helped to capture a wanted drug smuggler.  According to an article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1897, Schieffelin & Co. were the only drug company at the time who were authorized to sell phenacetin.  Phenacetin is a pain medication and fever reducer (similar to Tylenol) that was introduced by Bayer 1887.  (It was pulled from the market by the FDA in 1983 for being a suspected carcinogen, as well as causing kidney damage.) Schieffelin & Co. received a tip that someone else was selling the drug locally and they contacted the police.  Detectives were able to track down and arrest drug smuggler, Edgar P. Harris thanks to this tip.


Schiefflin & Co. Advertisements from the 19th century

Besides potassium permanganate, here are some other things they sold.  These are both from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Norwegian Cod Liver Oil for your “sorofulous humors” in 1879…

Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, ad from 1879




And Cloverine in 1867… It cleanses kid gloves without leaving disagreeable odors!

Cloverine, ad from 1869