Wisconsin Pontiled Bottles. by: Steven Libbey
Wisconsin Pontiled Bottles by: Steven Libbey
Virtually all Wisconsin pontiled bottles are among the rarest antique bottles from the state. There were only an approximate 300,000 people in Wisconsin at the time American pontiled bottle manufacturing came to an end. With Wisconsin being frontier wilderness in the 1820's and only being ratified as a state in 1848, the beginning of real commerce for Wisconsin arrived at the end of an established 100 year American glass blowing tradition. For Wisconsin druggists, brewers and bottlers precious few years existed in which the population and the infrastructure to support commerce allowed for the order, production and delivery of bottles before advancements in American glass making techniques sounded the end of American pontiled bottle manufacturing.
In 1847, when the first Wisconsin railroad was chartered, the southern half of the Wisconsin territory was a primitive agricultural area connected by a tenuous system of dirt roads and waterways; the northern half was wilderness. By 1860 Wisconsin had 905 miles of track. The railroads were critical for the reliable delivery of glass containers from East Coast and Ohio River Valley glass works.
The earliest known pontiled Wisconsin bottles push the very logistical limits of possibility for a Wisconsin business to have placed the order then received their proprietary mold bottles for use. The Blossoms Badger Ale is singularly the only pontiled beer bottle from the state. Is the Blossoms Badger Ale Wisconsin's oldest embossed bottle? With bottles like the mysterious Uncle Sam's Cough Syrup from Oconomowoc that showed up in posterity only a few years ago and the Fess Druggist bottles from Milwaukie, it is virtually impossible to say. While one company was certainly in business before the others, it seems extremely unlikely bulk orders for bottles were being placed and fulfilled before the arrival of the railroad in 1847.
Two Milwaukee businesses stand as Wisconsin's most prolific pontiled era bottlers. Saying they seem to have used more bottles because more have been rediscovered than other Wisconsin pontil bottles does not diminish the rarity of Hopkins or Fess bottles. Henry Fess was bottling bitters in various sizes of both open and iron pontil bottle as early as 1845. The Hopkins Mineral water factory surely pushed the bottom line limit of earliest Wisconsin bottle.
Right now, counting mold varieties, notable color variations and verifiable size variations we are at approximately 25 different pontiled Wisconsin bottles known. Counting only bottles with whole example known there are 18. Counting all whole examples of each known Wisconsin pontil bottle rediscovered so far, the tally is less than 150 with most being heavy duty soda bottles. There can be no doubt more Wisconsin pontil era bottles are out there waiting to be rediscovered.
Beer and soda bottles were built to withstand the pre pasteurization pressures of fermentation. Built to withstand pressure seems to have helped more early soda bottles survive in greater numbers than much more fragile bitters and medicine bottles. Bliss in Racine, Hickey in Milwaukee, Hopkins in Milwaukee, Lindestram in Madison, Eaton in Whitewater, Zwietusch in Milwaukee and Taylor Brothers in Milwaukee bottled water and soda water during Wisconsin's brief pontiled era. Why the Blossom Ale bottles didn't survive or at least don't show up at the same rate pains many Wisconsin antique bottle collectors. (Like this one)
Bitters, rumored to be a great way to bring medicinal alcohol into the house during temperance, provide some of our largest and most unique Wisconsin pontil bottles. Toser Monopol bitters Milwaukee, Bourbon's Aromatic Forest Bitters Madison, Botanical Herb Bitters Lacrosse and the legendary Henry Fess Jaundice Bitters Milwaukie. So few of these early bitters have been rediscovered, the number of examples known for the most common variety can be counted on one hand.
There are even precious fewer pontiled Wisconsin druggist or medicine bottles than bitters. In the fledgling years of Wisconsin, most medicine bottles were very likely paper labeled. So many pontiled puff bottles turn up label free. Paper labels simply have an extremely limited chance to survive more than 150 years attached to a disposable item. Maybe the few embossed pontiled medicine bottles were not produced in numbers sufficient to survive their fragile nature, hopefully it is we just haven't found them yet that makes them so rare. Only one example of an undamaged embossed pontiled Wisconsin druggist bottle, Fess Druggist Milwaukie, is known from the entire state. Only one other embossed Wisconsin pontil medicine bottle is known to exist. The Uncle Sam's Cough Syrup from Oconomowoc features a beautiful open pontil. Sadly Uncle Sam is missing the neck and blob.
No matter the categories of Wisconsin bottles you collect or how you ascribe desirability there are hundreds of very desirable bottles to choose from in every Wisconsin antique bottle collecting category. You might love color, embossing, verbiage, product, use or??? Pontiled bottles tend to be more primitive and less uniform adding general visual appeal. A pontiled Wisconsin beer would be a nice centerpiece or side light to any Wisconsin antique bottle collection. Pontiled Wisconsin bottles in their own right make up an interesting collecting category. Wisconsin pontils are some of the most difficult bottles to find making the hunt even more challenging.
The following is a list of known Wisconsin pontiled bottles. You can find information about most of them right here on mrbottles.com. Simply search for the word pontil. If you know of others not listed please let me know. Steve@mrbottles.com
BLOSSOMS BADGER ALE Milwaukee Black glass - broken examples known in other colors. Iron pontil
C.F. Bliss Racine Mineral water cobalt Iron Pontil, Racine, Wiss
Hickey, Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Aqua iron pontil
Hopkins Milwaukee Wisconsin Pontiled cobalt Blue 6 different mold varieties
J. & A. Lindestram Madison green aqua iron pontil.
J. & A. Lindestram Madison green aqua iron pontil - coiled spring stopper - Not verified
I.A. Lindestram Madison Wis Misspelled cobalt blue - iron pontil
James E. Eaton Whitewater Wis iron pontil Aqua
O. Zwietusch Milwaukee Iron Pontil Coiled Spring Stopper - Broken only
Taylor & Brothers Milwaukee Wis - Cobalt Iron Pontil - Only Sided Wisconsin pontiled bottle
Dr. Bourbon's Aromatic Forest Bitters Madison, Wis. Aqua iron pontil
Botanic Herb Bitters - LaCrosse open pontil - Rare paper label
F. Dohman Company open pontil
Uncle Sam's Cough Cure Oconomowoc open pontil Aqua - Broken only
H. Fess Jr. Jaundice Bitters Milwaukie - Two sizes both iron and open pontil
Henry Fess Jr. Druggist Milwaukie Small aqua open pontil
CHAS. H. BRITTON DRUGGIST ELKHORN, WISCONSIN - Paper label
Monopole Bitters - Herman Toser Milwaukee - amber massive iron pontil
Wm. Gehrke Druggist Watertown - Paper label open pontil
Nanschwen & White Waukesha Wi OIL LEMON OP puff label only