This bottle was found by archeologists while excavating a privy that was used between 1825 and 1851. A privy is an outhouse, or bathroom, which also served as a garbage pit. In 1851, this privy served the needs of those in three nearby commercial and residential structures.
The bottle is a dark olive-amber color with an applied finished lip, a pontil scar, and embossed lettering on four of the eight panels that read:
In 1835, Dr. John Moffat began selling Phoenix Bitters as a “cure-all”. Moffat advertised extensively and his Phoenix Bitters product was usually advertised with Moffat’s Vegetable Life Pills. In Moffat’s United States Almanac for the Year 1844, editor William B. Moffat (John’s son) noted the wide ranging afflictions that Life Pills and Phoenix Bitters could cure, including:
Gout…Dropsies of all kinds…the worst cases of Gravel…Worms…Asthma and Consumption…Scurvy, Ulcers and Invererate Sores…Flatulency, Palpitation of the Heart, Loss of Appetite, Heart-burn, and Headach, Restlessness, Ill-temper, Anxiety, Langour, and Melancholy (New York Times Aug. 8, 1863)
Moffat’s Phoenix Bitters was among the products included in ground-breaking branding and patenting cases during the 19th century (Moffat 1843; Petty 2012: 130). It is likely that someone was using Moffat’s Phoenix Bitters to treat an ailment, finished the contents of the bottle, and then discarded it in the privy. Over 100 years later, National Park Service archeologists found this bottle, still complete, in the ground!
To see this bottle in closer detail, visit the National Park Service Museum Collection Web Catalog:
Aug. 8, 1863 “The Moffat Medicine Controversy.” The New York Times 8 Aug. 1863. www.nytimes.com/1863/08/08/news/the-moffat-medicine-controversy.html
Moffat, William B., ed. Moffat’s United States Almanac for the Year 1844. Published by the editor at the office of Moffat’s Life Medicin on the corner of Broadway and Anthony Streets, New York, 1843. On file at the New York Historical Society Library.
Petty, Ross D. “From Label to Trademark: The Legal Origins of the Concept of Brand Identity in Nineteeth Century America.” Journal of Historical Research in Marketing 4.1 (2012): 129-153. Print.