I received three emails about a forum post at Antique Bottles.net. (Once, the most vigorous conglomerate of excited active American bottle collectors) I looked at the post and assumed it isn’t likely the same manufacturer. The bottles I knew said Bourbon and then apostrophe S. The bottle in the forum said Bourbon. So a guy in the 1850s with a proprietary cure decided not to use the possessive on his Pulmonic Balsam bottle like he did on both of his Forest Bitters bottles? Sure, the only thing that didn’t seem ‘right on’ was that the bottle was not colored and figural. AND the guy who posted it “Adhdigger” didn’t bother to post pictures of the side or sides embossed Pulmonic Balsam. Kind of key to the bottle description he wrote, I thought, and a pretty huge omission. I figured Adhdigger saw my bitters bottles, assumed it was the same Bourbon, added the S to his posting because his picture didn’t have one and that he had seen a very similar bottle with pulmonic balsam embossed and assumed it was the same-kind-of-bottle even though it didn’t say pulmonic balsam on THIS bottle. Still, extremely interesting, worthy of a detailed look. (My suppressed ‘optimist collector self’ surfacing)
The internet worked as it should.
There were links to my bottles on Ferdinand Meyer’s site Peach Ridge Glass in the forum. And that links back to me so that was cool.
I posted most of what I know about Dr Bourbon’s Aromatic Forest Bitters to Antique Bottles.net. Madison, Wisconsin is perfectly clearly embossed on both the iron pontiled quart and pint bitters bottles. I dug in to see what I could find. First emailing a collector with a cracked example of the bitters asking if the pulmonic might be Madison, Wisconsin. I also emailed a famous Wisconsin bottle researcher and author who lives in Madison. Both gentlemen have done a lot to document city-less and state-less bottles accurately. I tried googling Dr. Bourbon Pulmonic Balsam AND again with the ‘S that wasn’t in the forum picture. I got the forum and my mrbottles.com. Searching generically for “Bourbon” I realized Bourbon is more than a name of a Dr who made bitters, (and potentially Pulmonic Balsam) in Madison in the 1850s by the nearly sixty five million results. Adding Dr to Bourbon brought it down to manageable twelve million results, PROVING bottles without cities are from a city is harder than you might guess considering how often it is done. I added the possessive apostrophe S achieving another hundred thousand results bringing it up to twelve million nine hundred thousand.
A bottle found in a city and state is from that city or state.
The protagonist of this story is and will always be from where it was found. Regardless of where it is from. All bottles circumstantially documented rely on reported origin of find. A bottle found within two hundred miles of optimistic point of origin may as well have been pried from the hands of the proprietor as they filled it in the circumstantially documented business location.
The bottle is Civil War-era and it turned up in Civil War-ravaged Louisiana so I searched for Madison regiments serving in Baton Rouge, (where Ande reported finding the Pulmonic Balsam) during the Civil War. Establishing a line of travel may be enough pedigree to make an offer to purchase on speculation. Google immediately yielded; The Wisconsin Sixteenth and Seventeenth Volunteer Infantry Regiments were all over Louisiana and as close as 90 miles from Baton Rouge. My bottom line; In the last couple of years, I’ve repatriated to Wisconsin; a Wisconsin Territory jug FROM Nevada, an 1870’s figural pig bottle FROM Washington State another figural Pig FROM California and two strap sided Milwaukee Flasks FROM Florida among others. Anything FROM anywhere ended up everywhere in the nineteenth century.
Next, I searched the internet for every derivation of “Dr. Bourbon’s” and “Pulmonic” and “Balsam” and “antique” and “bottle” I could think of. The results, when they existed, were my mrbottles.com, Ferdinand Meyer’s Peach Ridge Glass and the Antique Bottle.net post Ande created.
It had been seven months since the second and third Hermann pig came home, I was eager for more repatriating. Not being able to prove or disprove the bottle was Madison my inner optimist decided to see if Ande would sell. I made a generous offer. Ande said it was the best bottle of his short yet now famous bottle hunting career. I told Ande, “If you love it, you are as good an owner as anyone, don’t sell.” “If you do sell, I would love the opportunity to ‘reunite’ it with the two whole Dr. Bourbon bottles known.” Ande said he would contact me if he did sell.
The investigation to prove this bottle is NOT Madison, Wisconsin was ON. While there may be thirty or more antique American Pulmonic Balsam bottles there are no other antique Dr. Bourbon bottles from anywhere documented. Talking to Jon Steiner I asked, “Do you think, it could be Madison?” Jon pointed out, “The chances of two doctors with the name, Bourbon, making quack remedies in separate parts of the country at the narrow time period of embossed American pontiled bottles seems pretty slight. It more likely than not is Madison, Wisconsin.” My inner optimist took complete control, I contacted Ande and doubled my offer contingent on meeting that weekend. I wanted to see a bottle that the pictures didn’t show well. I was paying Ande a premium for unquestioned purchase authority.
In the car emailing from my cell with Draga (my wife) driving I was thinking Kentucky NOT Louisiana. I blame the subconscious confusion on the FOHBC 2014 show! If we met half way it would be fourteen hours of driving apiece. By the time I went to bed Ande guaranteed the bottle was perfect. We agreed to expedite shipping instead of a meeting. I sent the check, Ande sent the bottle. Fastest turnaround ever!
Optimism always prevails
The bottle arrived the next day. Be it The-Fever collectors with no city marked pontil bottles get or intuition inspired by seeing it, I was certain this Bourbon bottle IS the same Dr. Bourbon. There IS an apostrophe S after Bourbon! The possessive was as good of circumstantial evidence documenting a city-less bottle’s city of origin as I’d seen in at least a few months…
The possessive and the quack cure IS the Doctor Bourbon I KNOW.
Now to prove it. Tick---------- tock, days and no response from the two people who might have an opinion. Ande was going to send his story of finding the bottle for me to eventually incorporate into a story that would ‘prove’ the bottle was Madison. ;) While waiting I did more “research.” Where to look? Grasping at straws I found the Madison Historical Society and sent a question. My question;
Message: Hello, I have two Dr. Bourbon’s Aromatic Forest Bitters bottles from Madison Wisconsin. Dating to the late 1850s early 1860s. There is almost no information available on the company. Is there any resource I can access that is likely to have any information on the company? There are the two bottles and one ad with limited information. Being pointed in the right direction or any help would be very much appreciated. Thanks, Steven (I expected to have to create and overwhelming body of conjecture and circumstance to “prove” inconclusively the bottle had a relationship to Dr. Bourbon’s Aromatic Forest Bitters or Madison or Wisconsin.)
The response; Hi Steve: Thank you for getting in touch with the Wisconsin Historical Society.
I checked Newspaper Archive, a subscription digital database, using the phrase “Aromatic Forest Bitters” and found 130 entries. I checked through them and they appear to have all been placed in a local Madison paper between 1856 and 1857. I’m attaching one of the advertisements for your information. They may change, but do appear to have been placed frequently in the newspaper.
As a Wisconsin resident, you also have access to Newspaper Archive. It is available through the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s Badger link website. You might want to speak with a local librarian to get you started with it, although it is available to you at home through your computer. A bit of initial instruction may help though.