OLD DR. TOWNSEND’S CELEBRATED STOMACH BITTERS
11 April 2013 (R•052914)
“The wife said they had gotten it out of a rural school in Alabama, where it was being used as a flower vase”
Ferdinand: About a month and a half ago, a person contacted me and told me she had a very valuable Dr. Townsend’s bottle, like one that sold for $10,000 at auction about 10 years ago. I told her that a Dr. Townsend’s sarsaparilla is a good bottle but not exceptionally valuable. She said it wasn’t a sarsaparilla but rather, a bitters bottle. I asked if it was amber with a glass handle, and she said yes.
We made arrangements for her to bring the bottle to my office. She was a no show and didn’t call to cancel. This wasn’t surprising to me, since I wasn’t convinced she had this extremely rare bottle. She called back a couple of weeks later and told me she had had car trouble and had lost my number. She made a new appointment to come the next day.
“She also told me she had washed it in the dishwasher”
When she arrived at my office, her husband brought in a box of bottles and unwrapped them for me to examine. The first four or five were junkers, but then he unwrapped the prize: a left handled Old Dr. Townsend’s Stomach Bitters. I couldn’t believe they really had one. I looked it over carefully and discovered a small crack at the base of the neck on the back side and a tiny lip flake. Other than that, the bottle was in excellent condition. The wife said they had gotten it out of a rural school in Alabama, where it was being used as a flower vase. She also told me she had washed it in the dishwasher. I pointed out the damage and made them my offer. They thanked me and said they would get back to me with their decision.
A couple of weeks went by, and then I got a call from the wife. She asked me if I could raise my price. I said no, that was the most I could pay. She and her husband accepted my offer and brought the bottle to me that afternoon.
Tom (Phillips) FOHBC Conventions Director
Handle on Right side – Very rare
Handle on Left side – Extremely rare
What I find fascinating with Tom’s e-mail is that the bottle was being used as a flower vase. It even sat on a thin shelf apparently. Now here is the fun part, my example too was used to hold flowers, or so the story goes. It was not cleaned in a dishwasher, I hope. Folks, the Old Dr. Townsend’s has to be one of the most fragile and fragile looking bitters bottles out there with the chestnut form and decorative handle.
The Old Dr. Townsend’s are exceptional bottles. The left handled versions are double pontiled and have remnants of a slug plate and graphics beneath the word ‘Bitters’. I am unsure if this applies to the right handled versions.
Enjoy the pictures. It’s springtime, so if you have an example, fill it with lukewarm water, drop in a teaspoon of Dr. Townsend’s Magic Gro and put some fresh cut flowers in it. Preferably daisy’s. Put it on the mantle and have a talk with you kids, grand-kids and cat. Also if you put it in the dishwasher, use old Dr. Townsend’s Magic Essence of Spring dishwasher soap. Put it on gentle cycle. No don’t!
The Carlyn Ring and W.C. Ham listing in Bitters Bottles is as follows. At some later point I will develop a special post on this bottle and some of the related brands and artifacts.