Why can’t we find any information on Burnham’s Jaundice Bitters?


Why can’t we find any information on Burnham’s Jaundice Bitters?

26 April 2014 (Post update with NEW information 09 May 2014 – see bottom of post)



It looks like I saved the toughest for last as I just can not find out who J. Burnham was from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I even called in ace detective, Marianne Dow from the Findlay Bottle Club, and we just crossed paths and hit the same dead ends. Even, trade card authority Joe Gourd, does not have any advertising cards in his collection and we can not find any newspaper advertising for the product.


Label detail for Burnham’s Vegetable Strengthening Jaundice Bitters

What we do know is that we have a picture of an unlisted, aqua, labeled and open pontil, ‘Burnham’s Vegetable Strengthening Jaundice Bitters‘, prepared by J. Burnham & Company, Congress Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The bottle is in the Brandon DeWolfe collection and goes along with the previous ‘New Hampshire’ Tuft’s Tonic Bitters (Plymouth)Annabel’s Mandrake Bitters (Colebrook and Nashua), Russell’s Alterative and Tonic Bitters (Nashua), Dr. Stephen Jewett’s Tonic Bitters (Rindge) New Hampshire and A. F. Perry’s Anti Bilious Bitters (Manchester) posts. This will complete the series, for now.


Preston’s Pharmacy on Congress Street in Portsmouth, NH

Does the ‘J’ stand for ‘Jonathan’, ‘James’, ‘Jeremiah’, ‘Joseph’, ‘Jesse’, ‘Joshua’ or something else? There are quite a few leads with each name but nothing that puts a ‘J. Burnham’ in Portmouth that confirms his name, this bitters and says if he was a grocer, druggist or doctor. Both Marianne and I found a Preston’s Pharmacy (see picture above) on Congress Street and had the hopes of finding that Andrew P. Preston sold out to or partnered with J. Burnham but that did not pan out either.

Marianne had the following comments:

– I’m guessing he might hail from the Milford​ Burnham’s (notes below)

– and there was a Lt. Cnl. J H Burnham in the Civil War, but I can’t find any drug, liquor, store business connection to him.

J Burnham & Co listed in the city directory, but doesn’t say what their biz was, other than the ”s” designating store.

– Tried to find a connection to your Burnham/Timber bottle, but nothing there either.

Col. J. Burnham’s Tavern (Hutchinson Family Homestead) Built 1773 North River Road, Milford, New ​Hampshire. Register of Deeds, Nashua, New Hampshire Volume 5, page 46. This house on North River Road is about two miles from the center of Milford. The land on which it stands ​was sold in 1772 by William Joness to Stephen Burnham. In 1777, Burnham sold a tract to his son Joshua ​Burnham “together with edifices and buildings on the same premises.” From Geneology.com

Joshua Burnham was born in Gloucester, Mass., in 1754 and died in Milford in 1835 having come here ​ “when a young man.” He fought in the Revolutionary War, seeing action at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and was ​ present when George Washington took command of the Army on July 2nd, 1775. He subsequently held various ​ military offices up to Colonel in the state militia. He was a founder of Milford when it became a separate town in ​ 1794, and at the first town meeting in 1795 was authorized to sell “American distilled spirits in the town of ​Milford.”

– From Market Square to Portsmouth Bridge. >  J. Burnham & Co. – 1851 Portsmouth City Directory

– [PRG] Three Burnham’s working together as Cordwainers (shoemaker) in Portsmouth – 1860 Portsmouth City Directory

– [PRG] James Burnham, age 45, manufacturer, Manchester – 1850 Federal Census

Bill Ham has entered the following for the forthcoming Bitters Bottles Supplement 2:

B 273.3 L . . . Burnham’s Bitters, Prepared by J. Burnham & Co., Congress Street, Portsmouth, N.H., price twenty-five cents
7 ¼
Rectangular, Aqua


Do any of you have any information? I deputize you now. Also, this is not the first time that I have written and had trouble with the name Burnham. Read: Burnham’s Timber Bitters or just Timber Bitters?

NEW INFORMATION  | 09 May 2014

I happened on your recent post regarding the mysteries of J. Burnham’s Jaundice Bitters from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I couldn’t resist your mystery, as my mother’s maiden name was Burnham and many of the New England Burnham’s are related to her.


J Burnham listing – New England Merchantile Union Business Directory For, 1849

I’m 99% sure that I have found your culprit in the “New England Merchantile Union Business Directory For, 1849” found online via google’s book search function (see above). Under the category of PHYSICIANS for that year, there is indeed a J. Burnham listed for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and low and behold, in the next category, Physicians – Botanic is the listing “J., Burnham – 20 Congress Street”.

It’s something of a stretch of logic, but in the 1851 Portsmouth City Book and Directory (also via google books), Jeremiah Burnham & Co., clothing and shoe dealers is located as being at “Revere House”, which, just happens to be 20 Congress Street. Jeremiah is the only J. Burnham on the 1850 US Census for Portsmouth as well, where he’s also listed as a tailor.


Dr. Josiah Burnham Jr. has just purchased the stock of “medicines and recipes” from a Dr. Laighton whose store was located at No. 6 Daniel Street – 1844 New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

However, just to complicate the plot, I did also find an advertisement from Jan 16, 1844 in the New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth) (see above) posted by a Dr. Josiah Burnham Jr. has just purchased the stock of “medicines and recipes” from a Dr. Laighton whose store was located at No. 6 Daniel Street. It does mention a “great variety of vegetable medicines”. This seems to not be the J. Burnham of your jaundice bitters. Perhaps Josiah is a brother to Jeremiah? That one would take some digging to prove.


Dr. Josiah Burnham moving because of a fire – Portsmouth 1844

A June 1844 advertisement (see above), mentions he is moving to new location due to a fire at his old shop. There’s another advertisement from 1845 (see below) that indicates he has moved his location and seems to perhaps be alluding to the jaundice bitters.


Josiah Burnham now at 5 Daniel Street dated 14 November 1843 – 1844 New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)


Josiah Burnham, No 9. Exchange Building, Portsmouth – July 8, 1845, New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Hopefully this info will put you closer to the right trail.

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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