Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Dr. Swayne's Medicine Bottle

Q: I found this bottle when I was digging and I can't find any information about it. It is square, 6 inches high, and the embossing on the sides reads "Dr. H Swayne's Compound Syrup of Wild Cherry." It is an unusual color. Can you tell me anything?

A: Dr. H. Swayne's Compound Syrup of Wild Cherry was made by Huston Swayne, M.D., of Philadelphia. It was a "patent medicine" advertised as early as 1840 as a "sovereign remedy" for consumption, coughs, colds, asthma, difficulty breathing, pain in the side and breast, palpitation of the heart, influenza, croup, sore throat, nervous debility, and diseases of the throat and lungs. It claimed to purify the blood and restore the liver and kidneys to healthy action by invigorating the nervous system. Dr. Swayne's son, William Phillips Swayne, ran the business for 40 years after his father died. William died in 1906 at 81 years old.

The iridescence on your bottle is caused by deterioration. Buried glass is subject to slow corrosion by moisture. The colors are a reflection as light rays are broken passing through the corroded layers. This generally lowers the price of a bottle for serious collectors, though common bottles that have iridescence are bought for their decorative value. Near-mint bottles marked Dr. H. Swayne sell for $75 to $150.


Mark Hawkins said...

A couple of issues about your response. First of all, the iridescence is not caused entirely by "sick" glass. When a bottle is buried, minerals from the soil leach out and adhere to the silicon molecules. The "opalescence" varies depending on the chemical content of the soil.
If the opalescence does not flake off or wash off with water, a solution ( one bottle to 5 gallons of water ) of a commercial laundry rust remover called Whink will work. Whink has hydrofluoric acid which reacts with the second tetrahedra of the silicon molecule. Wear gloves, as hydrofluoric acid is nasty stuff. You can also have the bottle professionally cleaned, but this can be expensive, which brings me to my second point.
The only way you are going to get $75 to $100 for a Dr. Swaynes is if it is pontilled. Otherwise, you are looking at $5 to $10 since it is pretty common.

Anonymous said...

I have a clear glass liquor decanter with the gold writing of "Gibsons Whisky "- It in good condition. Can't seem to find info on it.

Kovels on Antiques & Collectibles said...

If you use hydrofluoric acid on the bottle you will remove the iridescence but also etch the bottle. It sort of peels the outer layer off. The resulting bottle is not what we would call mint. But thanks for the price comment. We had pictures of the whole bottle including the bottom so we knew it had a pontil.