Two Late 19thC Etched Glass Apothecary Bottles for Nitric & Sulphuric Acid


Origin: English
Period: Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1895
Circumference: 10 inches
Height: 7.5 inches

Elegantly crafted and wonderfully well preserved is this pair of etched apothecary bottles one marked for ACID. NIT. D, the other for ACID. SULPH. D. Having prominent hand etched lettering in gilt with double borders.

The first vessel would have bore nitrous acid: formerly referred to nitric acid, though medieval alchemists called it aqua fortis (strong water). Used as a reactor or test substance and as a very useful remedy in fevers, Nitric acid is, however, more often used as a caustic owing to its great affinity for water. It is employed to destroy warts, condylomata, or unhealthy phagedenic sores. In base form, this would have even given the chemist the ability to dissolve gold & platinum, or instantly age maple or pinewood.

The second carried sulphuric acid, which may have been applied to check slight bleeding, as that of leech-bites, or piles. More importantly, Sulfuric acid was known to medieval European alchemists as oil of vitriol, spirit of vitriol, or simply vitriol, among other names. The word vitriol derives from the Latin vitreus, 'glass', referring to the glassy appearance of the hydrated sulfate salts, which also carried the name vitriol name for a grade of sulfuric acid. Vitriol was widely considered the most important alchemical substance, intended to be used as a philosopher's stone. The importance of vitriol to alchemy is highlighted in the alchemical motto, Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem which is a backronym meaning ('Visit the interior of the earth and rectifying (i.e. purifying) you will find the hidden/secret stone'), found in L'Azoth des Philosophes by the 15th Century alchemist Basilius Valentinus.

Both with their original stoppers, one would be hard pressed to find more attractive examples.