Swift’s Syphilitic Specific – “Hey, I’ve got Syphilis”


“Hey, I’ve got Syphilis. Do you have any medicine for me?”

Early Syphilis treatment. Color enhanced illustration of the use of the tobacco plant as a treatment for syphilis, 1558. – New York Public Library

“Sure, try some Swift’s Syphilitic Specific”


“Thanks, just what I need”

I like it when Dr. Charles Aprill (New Orleans) stirs things up with a post of some of his great bottles. In this case, surprise, two blue examples (pictured below) of SWIFT’S SYPHILITIC SPECIFIC. This is an American bottle, ca. 1860-1870, usually around 8 1/2″ tall, in deep cobalt blue. Strap sided and in a tombstone shape, it comes with an applied mouth and has a smooth base.

Before the Food and Drug Act, there were cures for everything from Cancer to Diabetes, or so they led one to believe. Apparently SSS was a cure for sexually transmitted diseases.

SWIFT’S SYPHILITIC SPECIFIC in natural light. The dark one is 8 1/2″ tall. The lighter one has a longer neck, 9″ tall. Close inspection suggests these two bottles were from the same mold. Fairly dramatic difference in the blue – c.a. (Charles Aprill)

SWIFT’S SYPHILITIC SPECIFIC in natural habitat. Different lip finishes. Bases bear a slightly eccentric “thumb” sized impression, ? a pontil mark. Who knows more about these bottles and this product? c.a.

Imagine this conversation, Customer, “Hey I’ve got Syphilis. Do you have any medicine for me?” Druggist, “Sure try some SWIFT’S SYPHILITIC SPECIFIC”. Customer: “Thanks, just what I need”.  c.a.

SWIFT’S SYPHILITIC SPECIFIC. There’s variety in color and mouth finish. These are likely from the same mold, but: the rolled lip variant has longer neck by 1/2 inch. I’d like to have more. Can’t tell when a friend might need some. c.a.

Excerpt from For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, By Mark Pendergrast

Part of a “sympton blank” sent out in November 1916 , by the S.S.S. concern to a person who wanted medical advice in the treatment of syphilis.

About Ferdinand Meyer V

Ferdinand Meyer V is a native of Baltimore, Maryland and has a BFA in Fine Art and Graphic Design from the Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design. Ferdinand is the founding Principal of FMG Design, a nationally recognized design consultation firm. Ferdinand is a passionate collector of American historical glass specializing in bitters bottles, color runs and related classic figural bottles. He is married to Elizabeth Jane Meyer and lives in Houston, Texas with their daughter and three wonderful grandchildren. The Meyers are also very involved in Quarter Horses, antiques and early United States postage stamps. Ferdinand is the past 6-year President of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors and is one of the founding members of the FOHBC Virtual Museum.
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One Response to Swift’s Syphilitic Specific – “Hey, I’ve got Syphilis”

  1. Charles Aprill says:

    Thanks for the information and ephemera about SWIFT”S. As usual a very nice piece.
    Nice picture of the WYNKOOP”S, SOLOMON’S AND SWIFT’S. How about pairs of variants of each of these bottles? c.a.

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