Dr. W. B. Caldwell’s, Monticello, Illinois ~ bottles

Dr. W. B. Caldwell’s, Monticello, Illinois

Dr. W. B. Caldwell’s was a very popular brand of laxative, introduced by William B. Caldwell approximately 1888.  The active ingredient consisted of senna (extract made from the dried leaves of the cassia senna plant, used commonly for constipation) .

These antique glass medicine bottles are found in many variants, with differences in the exact wording or arrangement of lettering. Very large quantities of these bottles were sold over a period of many decades.  There are several different sizes known, including small “sample” type bottles.

The typical bottle is embossed with “Dr. W. B. CALDWELL’S / MONTICELLO, ILLINOIS” across the face, in a sunken panel.  There may or may not be a glass manufacturer’s mark on the bottom.

Some variants (which may be earlier versions of these bottles)  include the wording “CALDWELL’S SYRUP PEPSIN/ MFD. BY /PEPSIN SYRUP COMPANY / MONTICELLO ILLINOIS”. An example is pictured on this page.

Caldwell's Syrup Pepsin bottle

Most bottles are found in clear, off-clear, aqua, very pale aqua or light green, or very light purple (sun-colored amethyst).   Note: Any bottles in dark purple (“royal purple”) have been artificially irradiated!!. Please see my page on irradiated glassware.

Many slightly different molds were used over the years.  A number of glass manufacturers made the Caldwell’s  bottles.  Besides those made by unidentified bottle makers (i.e. with no mark to indicate manufacturer), it is certain that large quantities were produced by Illinois Glass Company, Alton, Illinois (see “I within a Diamond“) ;  Whitall Tatum Company , Millville, New Jersey (W T inside a triangle)  and Pierce Glass Company, Port Allegany, Pennsylvania (P inside a circle).

Some of the variants of this bottle carry what appears to be “Dr. YY. B. Caldwell’s“.  Contrary to what some bottle collectors believe, this is NOT a  mold-cutting error, but an intentional way of forming the “W”, considered to be a more “artistic” or “elaborate” form of “W”. (Remember, this is from the very late Victorian age………. such liberties were taken, and only appear to be “errors” when seen through the eyes of 21st-century collectors!)  The lettering variant is found on a number of different molds. It is inconceivable that the company would have permitted tremendous quantities of bottles, made in many different molds, to carry the letter “W” in that style unless it was completely intentional.

The most commonly found variants (with a cork-style closure) date, in general, from the 1890s into the early 1940s.    According to an article published in “BOTTLE NEWS” magazine (October 1973 issue, pages 8-9) written by June Whitaker, the screw-threaded style closure Caldwell’s bottles were introduced in 1942 (i.e. the cork-closure being phased out), and raised embossing on these bottles was discontinued entirely in 1962 (the bottles thereafter carrying only a paper label for identification). I don’t know where she obtained that information, but I am assuming it is correct, or very close to accurate.

William Burr Caldwell of Monticello, Illinois, started bottling his “pepsin syrup”  in small quantities as early as approximately 1888, but not until a few years later (mid 1890s) that sales really started to take off, and afterward the company expanded quite rapidly. The company was later known as the “Pepsin Syrup Company” which continued to sell the concoction for many years.

The Pepsin Syrup Company was sold in 1925 to Household Products Company (a division of Sterling Drugs Products), afterward going through a series of confusing owner/company and name changes.  (However, the bottles still had “Dr Caldwell’s” name embossed on them into the early 1940s).  For an overview article on this company, check out a webpage from the City of Monticello, Illinois: http://www.cityofmonticello.net/cms/publish/pepsinsyrup.shtml  .

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7 Responses to Dr. W. B. Caldwell’s, Monticello, Illinois ~ bottles

  1. Dakota Bordeaux says:

    I was walking on the lake when I saw something one the ground it is a glass piece the words can be seen “Dr W B Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin” I have no clue what to do with this because as I know sea glass sells for much these days. What should I do with this piece?

    • David says:

      Hi Dakota,
      Well, if I were you, I would start a beach glass collection. You could start looking for other pieces of beach glass, especially those with any letters or numbers still visible, and after you have a few, display them in an attractive clear glass bowl, dish, vase, brandy snifter, or something like that, perhaps on a coffee table or shelf.

  2. Monica Haas says:

    I have a syrup pepsin bottle. Very light green tint. On the bottom it has the number 5 and a small P in a circle. In mint condition. How can I tell if it’s worth anything. Thank you.

    • David says:

      Monica, those bottles are very common so their “market value” is not high. Yours was made by Pierce Glass Company (P in a circle). They are more of interest as an authentic “Made In The USA” vintage 20th century glass bottle, rather than having alot of monetary value. Maybe one to three dollars at most, although some flea markets, antique stores, or online auctions might have similar bottles priced MUCH, MUCH higher. My site is not intended as an appraisal site, so please take my opinion with a large grain of salt!

  3. ashley says:

    I have two broken bottom pieces of this bottle and part of the top piece didn’t know what it was til I googled the name on the bottle very cool history kinda awesome to have a piece of it 🙂

  4. Glennon Mayer says:

    Wife and I were talking about old time med and I remember this product, sort of was thinking that it actually had some bad stuff in it. Maybe turpentine, or something worst. Can you tell me the ingredients of the original med?

    • David says:

      Hi Glennon,
      I really don’t know exactly what was in it. Perhaps a search on the internet will bring up something……. I am sure someone out there knows, but I don’t. Thanks for writing!