Three Late 19thC Brown Glass Apothecary Bottles for Anesthetic Ether & Ambergris


Origin: British
Period: Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1876 - 1909
Large bottle
Circumference: 8.5 inches
Height: 8 inches
Small Bottles
Circumference: 8.5 inches
Height: 8 inches

The first and largest produced by Duncan Flockhart & Co. Ltd. John Duncan was born in 1780 and after a brief stay in London in 1804 he returned to his native Edinburgh where he formed Duncan Flockhart & Co. with apprentice William Flockhart.  The firm was the first British company to manufacture Chloroform in 1847 as a more effective anesthetic than ether, with which this bottle would have once, have held.The label reads: 'Anaesthetic Ether, prepared specially for anaesthesia, conforming to the British pharmacopceia manufactured by Duncan Flockhart & Co. Ltd, Edinburgh & London. To be stored in a cool place and protected form light – highly flammable' – and REVERSE: 'Package charged 1L credited on return to Duncan Flockhart & Co. Ltd, Edinburgh & London. Registered office 104 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh'. Duncan and Flockhart died within weeks of each other in 1871 and it was 5 years later in 1876 when the factory aforementioned in Holyrood, Edinburgh was acquired. The stopper on this bottle is currently jammed but could be released if desired using warm water.

The label on the second bottle denotes this vessel once carried Ambergris, which is a relatively solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish color produced in the digestive system of sperm whales.  It reads: 'ESS. AMBRAE GRISEAE FORT.. 'The British Drug houses, Ltd. Manufacturing Chemists London. This bottle or package is charged 3d'.Historically, the primary commercial use of ambergris was in fragrance chemistry, although it has also been used for medicinal and flavoring purposes. Ambergris has historically been an important perfume odorant and is highly sought. The ancient Chinese called the substance "dragon's spittle fragrance." and during the Black Death in Europe, people believed that carrying a ball of Ambergris could help prevent them from getting the plague. This was because the fragrance covered the smell of the air; which was believed to be the cause of plague.The British Drug House Ltd (est. 1909) would have bottled this ambergris as a medication for headaches, colds, epilepsy, and other ailments. The original stopper is present and the label though tarnished is in tact both front and back.

The last bottle, though structurally sound and correct, is blank and would have been used for various practices such as testing new concoctions or simply as a spare.

In summary, a wonderfully well-preserved trio of medical history.