Bromo-Seltzer~Cobalt Blue Bottles~Brief History

Bromo-Seltzer / Emerson Drug  Co. / Baltimore, MD.  

Bromo-Seltzer was an extremely popular drug, in the form of a powder, introduced circa 1891.  This concoction was heavily promoted as a remedy for “sick headache”, upset stomach,  headache, hangover, and other maladies. The exact formula varied somewhat in the earlier years, with the main ingredient (originally) being sodium bromide.  The bottles are usually found in cobalt blue glass (they are also rarely seen in aqua glass), in a variety of sizes. The earlier bottles are hand-blown with a tooled lip, and the later examples are machine-made. The last machine-made types have a screw-threaded lip.

WARNING: (this paragraph posted February 23, 2014).  It has come to my attention that unscrupulous ebay auction sellers have recently listed old Bromo-Seltzer bottles in a peculiar dull greenish color (I would give the color a term such as swampy moss green, olive green amber, pukey sick green, burnt olive green, dirty oily mustard green). THESE BOTTLES ARE ACTUALLY COBALT BLUE BOTTLES WHICH HAVE UNDERGONE “NUKING” (irradiation)  to change their color to a “rare” color shade, increasing the “perceived” value to bottle collectors.  Be aware that the color is not “original” or “authentic”.  Also, please see my webpage on this site about Artificially purpled bottles.   Artificial irradiation can change glass from an original aqua or blue color to other shades besides purple, depending on the exact content of the glass batch “recipe”.

(Note: Hand-blown (mouthblown) bottles will have two vertical mold seams along the sides of the bottle that gradually “fade out” or appear to be “erased” as the seam reaches closer to the top rim.  In contrast, machine-made bottles have mold seams that are usually visible clear up to the top of the bottle, often extending up onto the very top rim).

The product is still being sold, as an antacid, and comes in small individual packets as opposed to bottles.

The largest size bottles are somewhat scarcer, and harder to find than the typical small size (most common) which measures, in general, about 2 and 5/8″ in height.

Many, many millions of these bottles were made, and the embossed lettering varies somewhat with slight variations in the exact placement, size and shape of the letters.  Some bottles exhibit the results of mold-cutting errors, for instance sometimes the “Z” in “Seltzer” is embossed backwards (as in the case of the small bottle on the right in the accompanying photo).    Cobalt Blue Bromo-Seltzer bottles

It is likely that hundreds of different molds were utilized in the long stretch of time that these bottles were made. An examination of bottles shows many with mold numbers on the base. These mold numbers (one or two-digit numbers) do not convey any information as to when the bottle was made, or by whom.

The first bottles were believed to have been produced by Cumberland Glass Manufacturing Company, Bridgeton, New Jersey in the early 1890s.     Maryland Glass Corporation (starting glass production in 1907) was a glass manufacturer originally owned by Emerson Drug Company and built to be operated as a vehicle for producing the vast quantities of Bromo-Seltzer bottles necessary.  (As time went on, Maryland concentrated most heavily on the manufacture of many types of cobalt blue bottles and jars and other blue glassware).  Maryland Glass, no doubt, produced more of the B-S bottles than any other manufacturer.   The most common mark used by Maryland Glass Corporation is the “M inside a circle“. See more info on the mark on this page.

All of the earlier Bromo-Seltzer bottles were handmade, presumably including all of the Cumberland Glass production, and the first few years of Maryland Glass production.  It is not possible to pin down a specific year that Bromo-Seltzer bottles were first made by automatic bottle machine methods, but by 1915 Maryland Glass Corporation had automatic machinery in operation, and presumably most, if not all, of the Bromo-Seltzers made after that year were machine-made.

Illinois Glass Company, of Alton, Illinois, evidently made quantities of this bottle, some marked with an “I inside a diamond” on the bottom, or just a “dot inside a diamond”. Those examples would date from the late 1910s and 1920s.

Some Bromo Seltzer bottles were produced by Hazel Atlas Glass Company (or it’s predecessor, Hazel Glass Company).   Another confirmed maker of Bromo-Seltzer bottles would be George Jonas Glass Company, Minotola, New Jersey (1896-1908), as this is specifically mentioned on page 271, The Glass Gaffers of New Jersey, by Adeline Pepper (1971).

Exactly when the last glass Bromo-Seltzer bottles were made is uncertain, but probably in the 1950s or 1960s. (If you have evidence to assign a specific date for the last Bromo-Seltzers made in cobalt blue glass, please contact me!!).  UPDATE: Please see a letter sent to me by Ron, inserted farther down in this page. He states that the glass bottles might have been discontinued not too long after 1956.

Bromo-Seltzer bottles are so plentiful that they do not have a high intrinsic value, but because of their highly attractive cobalt blue color, they are very popular with glass and bottle collectors and non-collectors alike, and can even add color and interest to interior room design.  Many of them are sold on internet auction sites such as ebay, and other antique and collectible sites.

For a little more background information on Bromo-Seltzer, check  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromo-Seltzer .

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24 Responses to Bromo-Seltzer~Cobalt Blue Bottles~Brief History

  1. Mark says:

    My Dad and I dug many of these bottles when he was around. They have a very special attachment for me. I’d like to make a collection of them again. Thank you very much for your article.

    Mark in Boston.

  2. cowseatmaize says:

    I’m glad you posted that Dave. I met a seller at a bottle show several years ago that had two Bromo’s for $10 each. I wish I bought them as examples. One was that fugly moss color and the other was more a teal green. I mentioned the “nuking he was upfront that they had both been irradiated.The tealish was probably “under cooked”. Some Teals have been dug though so that further clouds the issue.

  3. Betsy Stone says:

    The Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower is Open for Tours. Check out our website bromoseltzertartstower.com. We have 15 floor s of artists and do tours into our historic clock

  4. D N says:

    Great info — I was able to validate my 6.5 ” bottle, hand blown version. Bubble over Emerson , seam disappears on the top. Would this date bottle to pre 1907 ?

    • David says:

      DN,
      Unfortunately, there is no way to be sure just when any particular Bromo-Seltzer bottle was manufactured, only a very general date range. Methods of bottle manufacture changed over GRADUALLY (from hand-blown to machine-made), over a period of quite a few years, generally between 1904 and circa 1920. Some glass manufacturers changed over rather early, some later. Some made both handblown AND machine-made bottles concurrently for a period of time. Some factories produced hand-blown bottles even much later than 1920.

      According to Julian Toulouse in Bottle Makers and their Marks (1971), on page 339, he writes that Maryland Glass Corporation did not start fully automatic bottle production until 1915. Of course, this is 8 years after Maryland had been in business, churning out tremendous numbers of cobalt blue bottles and jars of many types including the Bromo-Seltzers which was their principal product. So, there is no way to state positively that your bottle dates either before, or after, 1907. It could be a product of Cumberland Glass Manufacturing Company, Bridgeton, New Jersey (maker of Bromo-Seltzer bottles before Maryland started production of them c. 1907) but there is no way to be absolutely certain. Cumberland is believed to have been the first maker of these bottles, and might have blown the first Bromo-Seltzer bottles (presumably as early as circa 1891-1892), but there is conflicting information on exactly when the first of these bottles were produced. It is possible that some of the very earliest bottles containing Bromo-Seltzer were unembossed. Best regards,
      David

  5. Cathy Kelly says:

    Great information! I am a seaglasser and found a piece of a Bromo Seltzer bottle on the beach near Baltimore yesterday. I was able to identify the piece as from a 5″ bottle. There is a lot of great info here and I have shared this link on my facebook page – Sea Glass Visions. Thanks! Cathy

  6. keith says:

    Does anyone know if the embossed bottles also had paper labels? I have the earlier dispenser and have a nice large almost 8 inch bottle that is embossed Bromo-Seltzer Emerson Drug Co. Baltimore MD. Wondering if it had a paper label also. I can’t find any examples online that have the paper label and have the embossing as well. Say when you went to the drugstore in 1925 what did the actual product look like?

    • David says:

      Hello Keith,
      I’ve always assumed that all of these bottles originally carried paper labels. I can’t vouch for that 100 percent. However, perhaps a close watch on ebay auctions will bring up an example, sooner or later, showing the label on this size Bromo-Seltzer bottle from that time period.
      Best regards,
      David

  7. Catherine Moskovis, Salem, MA says:

    Recently, the house next door was torn down, and the workers gave me some old bottles. We have several, but I noticed the bottle I have on this page. It is cobalt blue, about 2 1/2 inches tall, and has “Bromoseltzer Emerson, Drug. Co. , Baltimore. Is it fair to say the bottle itself is circa 1891? It is in flawless condition, but tiny. Have never seen one before, and was just inquistitive. Thanks so much for any info you may have to share with me.

    • David says:

      Hi Catherine,
      Your bottle could theoretically date from the early 1890s up into the early 20th century. These bottles were made over a period of MANY years. The chances are high that any particular example is NOT from 1891.
      Can you email me a photo of the bottle? (to davidrussell59@att.net). (The style of lip changed somewhat over the years). Earlier versions were hand-blown (with the vertical mold seams “fading out” before reaching the top) and later versions are machine-made. Typically, the mold seams on a machine-made example will extend all the way up to the very top of the bottle. Hope this helps~
      David

  8. bren says:

    I have a bromo-seltzer bottle less than an inch tall with the cap and the bottom markings are a triangle inside a triangle can you give me any information on that?

    • David says:

      Sorry, I have no specific info on it. The cobalt blue jars I have seen with 2 triangles on the base are Vicks-Vaporub jars, but I don’t know about any bottles marked Bromo-Seltzer with that marking on the bottom.
      David

  9. Connie says:

    I have a 4 inch Alka-Seltzer glass bottle what year were they last made?

  10. Ron says:

    In 1956, Emerson’s Bromo Seltzer was sold to Warner Lambert. I don’t know the exact date this
    transpired. I have two bottles from this year. Both are 4 inch with the screw top. One paper label
    reads “The Emerson Drug Co.” while the other reads “Warner Lambert Company”. It was the Warner Lambert Co. that switched the cobalt glass bottle to blue PLASTIC bottles.I believe they made that transformation with one or two years keeping the cobalt blue glass bottle in the 1950′s.

  11. Joyce says:

    Thank you for your helpful article. Just got one of the 4″ ones at the local flea market. It is a later one, with visible seams the whole length. Can you tell me the significance of the number 3 stamped on the bottom?

    • David says:

      Hello Joyce,
      It really has no significance to the modern-day bottle collector. It is just a mold number, which merely identified the specific mold that bottle was made from. At the time your bottle was made, there may have been a number of identical molds being used to produce that particular size of bottle, with all under production simultaneously, thousands of bottles being churn out by Maryland every day. Each mold was engraved with a number (for instance, from 1 to 12), or even extending to higher numbers. For more info, check out my page on numbers on the base of glass bottles here..
      Thanks for writing!
      David

  12. Christine Ward says:

    I have your article very interesting as I have just found a bottle under our patio Our cottage was built in 1878 and was originally used for the workman. I will clean up and use as a pretty small vase. many thanks

    Christine Ward

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