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A brief history of Apothecary bottles

Updated: Feb 6

Apothecary actually comes from the Latin “apotheca” or storehouse and in medieval times an apothecary could purvey any luxury item.

From the 16th century, the apothecary started to resemble the modern idea of a pharmacist or someone who formulates and dispense medicines. The early apothecary jars were for storage but also for display of expensive and valuable items so were decorated to impress. The bottles and jar bear latin inscriptions of their contents. The pharmacist would need to know the meaning of these and use their handbooks of “materia medica” to keep up to speed with contents.

Up until the late 19th century, apothecary containers were functional products made by skilled glassblowers along with other products such as windows and drinking vessels. These hand blown glass would normally have a “pontil scar” where the pontil was broken from the blown glass.

In these cases the bottles would have been made by skilled glassblowers using techniques that would have been in use from the 18th Century and decorated using cold-painted application where motifs are applied to the glass with paint and protected by a thin layer of varnish. This laborious technique was not suitable for larger scale production that came in to effect in the late 19th/ early 20th Century.

In the latter part of the 19th century through the industrial revolution, larger companies such as the York Glass Company would have used more modern techniques to make larger volumes for use in the larger pharmacies associated with larger populations. These would have been in use right through the early part of the 20th Century until post the 2nd world war when modern technologies with plastic and modern dispensaries would have made these apothecary jars and bottles with their beautiful labels redundant.

LUG (Label under glass) examples in Ceramic and Glass are late 19th century or early 20th Century. Label under glass was a later technique used so that an elaborate and decorative label would be protected by covering in a thin layer of glass. These examples were typically made in factories rather than hand blown and would carry the mark of the factory maker for example the York Glass Company who operated in the latter 19th century/ early 20th century and would have made these bottles on a large scale as demand grew through the industrial revolution).

We source many different types of apothecary bottles and it is ever changing. Do take a look at our latest collection.

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alex diggines
alex diggines
Jan 05, 2021

this is very inciteful ty


Great article

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