Sarsaparilla & Tomato Bitters – Boston
20 November 2014 (R•112314) (R•083019)
Here is a bitters bottle that could be the most underrated and undervalued bottle in our hobby. The Sarsaparilla & Tomato Bitters from Boston rarely sell for more than a few hundred dollars which is surprising. First of all, look at the form and beauty of the bottle. It sums up what bottle collecting is all about. Crude, aqua, applied top, rough pontil, ample embossing and in this case, the words “Bitters” and “Sarsaparilla” on the same bottle. It also dates from 1844 to 1855. Shut the door!
What prompted this post was seeing these graphics above for the Sarsaparilla and Tomato Bitters that Chip Cable posted on Facebook. Chip said that this was found on the inside of a box made in 1842. Pretty cool! This doesn’t guarantee it is the same brand, but there is, what looks like “Devereaux & Brown” wording beneath the tomato. A label noted by Ring and Ham say, “Two red tomatoes and stem with four green leaves covers the entire bottle”. Bingo. All this is odd because Frederick Brown put out the bitters in Boston. As you can see, F. Brown is embossed on the bottle. The “1842” date might explain why Brown was at first, an agent for the bitters. Where did it come from?
The Carlyn Ring and W.C. Ham listing in Bitters Bottles is as follows:
S 36 SARSAPARILLA & TOMATO BITTERS
F. BROWN BOSTON / SARSAPARILLA / & TOMATO / BITTERS // c //
9 1/2 x 3 3/8 x 2 1/2 (6)
Oval, Aqua, LTCR, Applied mouth, Rough and Metallic pontil mark, Common
Label: Two red tomatoes and stem with four green leaves covers the entire bottle.
Advertised in 1856 – for the blood
Frederick Brown was a druggist and apothecary and was located prominently at the corner of Washington and State Streets in Boston, Massachusetts. The first reference I could find puts him at that address in 1840. The first advertisement I could find (see below) said that Frederick Brown was an agent in New England for Sarsaparilla and Tomato Bitters located at 68 Washington Street, corner of State Street in Boston. This was in the Boston Post, on Thursday, October 14, 1841.
This means the listing in Ring in Ham is correct under “S” for “Sarsaparilla” though it could, I suppose, have been listed under “B” for “Brown”. Brown changed his advertising in 1843 and put “F. Brown” before “Sarsaparilla & Tomato Bitters”. These advertisement were usually placed in New England newspapers (though I did find one in New Orleans) and ran through early 1847. Brown also advertised that the product did not contain any alcohol and was based on “Spanish Sarsaparilla” and “Extract of Tomato”.
I believe Brown stayed at the Washington Street address until the late 1860s when he died. I did find this passage in from the “Boston Herald,” on 31 October 1895 about Capt. John P. T. Percival. “In 1867 he returned to Cohasset, where he resided during several years, and on the death of Frederick Brown, who was at that time in the druggist business at the corner of Washington and State streets, he bought out that business in connection with Mr. J. O. French. Later, Mr. French sold out his interest to Capt. Percival about the spring of 1869, leaving the latter in sole possession, with Dr. A.K. Tilden as manager. Not long after this … removal was made to the present store of Percival & Tilden.”
Here is a trade card from Joe Gourd noting that Capt. John P. T. Percival had taken over the brand.
S 36.5 SARSAPARILLA AND TOMATO BITTERS, Paintings of water fowl. Reverse: Sarsaparilla and Tomato Bitters (A Purely Vegetable Compound) Prepared by J. P. T. Percival, 35 School Street, Boston
In 1867, Capt. John P. T. Percival, on the death of Frederick Brown, who was at that time in the druggist business at the corner of Washington and State streets, bought out that business which included Brown’s Sarsaparilla and Tomato Bitters. See S 36 in Bitters Bitters.
As far as information on “Devereaux” if that does say “Devereaux and Brown” on the crate sticker, I can only find a later listing in Boston in the 1860s.
As an aside, there was also a F. Brown, Druggist (see bottle above) in Philadelphia who parallels the F. Brown in Boston. Lots of info on this guy. I can not tie them together.
Look at this really neat illustration of the east side of Washington Street in Boston showing F. Brown at the corner of Washington and State Streets. I have included the entire illustration and a few detail enlargements. Look at the soldiers parading and the dog on a leash. Lots more if you really look close. See original print.
F. Brown Druggist and Apothecary, 68 Washington Street, Currency and Receipt
The New Orleans Connection – Dr. Stillman
After thinking about this further and looking at New Orleans newspapers around 1840, I now believe that the birth of Sarsaparilla and Tomato Bitters started here with Dr. Truman Stillman at his Southern Chemical Laboratory at 96 Customhouse Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. Note that the advertisement below says he is the “proprietor and discoverer” of Sarsaparilla and Tomato Bitters. The advertisement format is very similar as they use an abundance of product testimonials. Frederick Brown must have been the New England agent as I said before. Then he took over the brand. I would bet two tomatoes. Dr. Stillman, who was from New York, must have drank too much of his bitters, or not enough as he was admitted to a Lunatic Asylum in New Orleans in 1847 at the young age of 34.
The new listing by Bill Ham for the forthcoming Bitters Bottles Supplement 2: