Apothecary and Medicine Bottle History

Apothecary jars

Most of the medicine bottles in my collection are apothecary bottles and jars so I decided to research some general history on them.

Apothecary bottles used to be called “Shop Furniture” or “Shelfware” and were used for display, as well as for storage of herbs, powders, and liquids in small pharmacies.  The use of these bottles started in the late 1700’s and lasted into the 1940’s.  Until the mid 1800’s, all glass jars and bottles were imported from England.  Around the 1850’s-60’s, they started to be manufactured in the U.S.

Most apothecary bottles are clear, but some are tinted darker colors (usually amber, blue, or green) and were used for medicines that were sensitive to light.  Bottles with wider openings are called “saltmouth” bottles and were used for storing solids.  “Tincture” bottles have narrow mouths and were used for storing liquids.  Lids were often referred to as “mushroom stoppers” and were sanded to form a tight seal.


Gold foil label example

Early bottle labels were usually made from paper that was varnished onto the glass.  Later into the 1800’s, bottle makers began using recessed glass or “recess ware”. These bottles had an indentation in the glass for the label.  The labels were made primarily from a very durable gold foil and then covered with a thin layer of glass over the label.