What are all these Wormwood Bitters?


WORMWOOD – Artemisia absinthium

28 May 2013

Apple-Touch-IconAI was tracking down some Turner Brothers information when I was directed to a full page Turner Brothers advertisement in the 1856 San Francisco City Directory and the half-page, blue, McMillan & Kester advertisement in a later 1871 San Francisco City Directory. If you look closely below where the ads are posted, you will read “Successors to Turner Bros.” beneath McMillan & Kester. Interesting.

QuestionMarkWhat are all these Wormwood Bitters?

What really surprised this bitters collector was the three separate listings for Pure Wormwood BittersWormwood Bitters and Spice and Wormwood Bitters in the same McMillan & Kester advertisement. I have never seen any of these products and certainly do not have examples in my collection. To me, this looks like three different wormwood products. Note that Turner Brothers is only selling Wormwood Bitters and Wormwood Cordial, aka Vermouth.

Pure Wormwood Bitters

Wormwood Bitters

Spice and Wormwood Bitters


Full page Turner Brothers advertisement in Colville’s San Francisco Directory 1856 -1857 – San Francisco Public Library. Notice the listing for Wormwood Bitters and Wormwood Cordial.


Pure Wormwood Bitters, Wormwood Bitters and Spice and Wormwood Bitters listing for McMillan & Kester, Successors to Turner Bros, San Francisco – 1871 San Francisco City Directory

First of all, Wormwood (known to botanists as Artemisia absinthium) is the key ingredient of the controversial aperitif known as absinthe. A combination of herbs and herbal extracts is required for the delicate balance of the absinthe recipe, and of these herbs, wormwood is the most essential and also the most controversial. Wormwood gives absinthe many of its distinct qualities, and it is used in many other wines and spirits, including bitters and vermouth. Read: Absinthe101.com

Looking in the Carlyn Ring and Bill Ham’s Bitters Bottles and Bitters Bottle Supplement, I see a listing for Spice and Wormwood Bitters and no listings for Wormwood Bitters or Pure Wormwood Bitters. Was there only one product with spin-offs or were there three different makers of Wormwood Bitters in San Francisco?

Manufactured by Samuel P. Phillips, San Francisco, California
Marysville Daily Herald (Marysville, Calif) July 15, 1856
The Druggist Circular & Chemical Gazette 1884, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1888

OK, so now we have a Samuel P. Phillips, or should it be a Samuel S. as noted as the manufacturer in Ring & Ham (see ad below). Also, who was I. D. Richards & Sons, Boston? This is also at the bottom of the ad.

I do see a listing for a Isaiah D. Richards & Sons in the 1862 Boston City Directory. Read: Two examples of a C.A. Richards 99 Washington St. Boston. I see that Isaiah is the father of Calvin A. Richards. Hmmmm. Boston and San Francisco link?

Just some questions about Wormwood Bitters. I wonder if any of the western collectors can clear this up?


Isaiah D. Richards & Sons listing in the 1857 Boston City Directory. His sons are Calvin A. Richards, Walter D. Richards and F.C. Richards


Full page S. S. Phillips advertisement in Colville’s San Francisco Directory 1856 -1857 – San Francisco Public Library. Notice the listing for Spice and Wormwood Bitters and Wormwood Cordial. Phillips is listed as a Sole Agent.


Full page Barry & Patten advertisement in Colville’s San Francisco Directory 1856 -1857 – San Francisco Public Library. Notice the listing for Spice and Wormwood Bitters.

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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