J. R. Watkins Company

The J. R. Watkins Company

The J. R. Watkins Company began in 1868 as a small home-based business in Plainview, Minnesota, founded by entrepreneur Joseph Ray Watkins.

Watkins distributed many different types of household products including cleaning products, food extracts and  flavorings, cosmetics,  home remedies, and other products.  (They did not actually make the bottles in which these products were contained.)

As business increased, in 1885 operations were moved from Plainview  to Winona, Minnesota.

The very first bottles sold are assumed to date as far back as 1868, but I doubt that the very earliest containers were actually embossed with the “Watkins” name, but would have likely been “generic” handblown bottles with just a paper label to indicate contents. (If anyone has more information on this, please contact me!)

By the very early 1870s, as business continued to expand,  it is likely that bottles were being embossed with Watkins or “J. R. Watkins Co.”   The earliest versions would be in aqua glass, handmade (tooled lip) and have the lip fashioned for a cork closure.

Later versions (I don’t know the exact date, but probably by the 1920s or the early 1930s) have a threaded-style lip for a screw lid.   There are probably hundreds of slightly different Watkins bottle variants in existence that have been used over the last 140 years, with a variety of differences in font style, exact wording arrangement, size and shape of the bottle, and I imagine it would be a monumental task to find just one example of every single one of them.

Many of the bottles from the 1920s-1940s are quite common, and are usually in clear glass. Sometimes the embossed name is in a cursive font, and sometimes in a plain “block style lettering”. White milkglass salve or “ointment jars” were also sold.

The J.R.Watkins company is still in business (as of 2013) .  Their current website address is:  http://www.jrwatkins.com/ .

Most bottles now sold have just a paper label showing the contents, without an embossed marking in the glass itself (if the bottle is even made of glass).  Apparently, Watkins has been gradually switching over to plastic containers for most of their products.

No doubt a  number of different glass companies have produced bottles for Watkins over the years, but Illinois Glass Company (“I inside a diamond” mark) and Owens-Illinois Glass Company  have produced large quantities of them.    Rawleigh’s (see entry, page three) was a competing firm that sold many similar products by mail-order and whose bottles are also found in large numbers.

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24 Responses to J. R. Watkins Company

  1. Debra A Shaffer says:

    Hello my name is Debra and I have a picture that my great great great grandmother who sold Watkins products and she received a picture for her sales, and it’s a picture called THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY??? IF THATS THE NAME. IF ANYONE has any info. please contact me at debshaffer7@gmail.com Thank you

  2. Does anyone have an old extra bottle they could upload an image of somewhere of cherry nut extract.
    I SWEAR my grandmother had a Watkins 2oz bottle of cherry nut extract, the little dark bottle with the small handle, but I can’t find a reference to that particular flavor ANYWHERE.
    I swear I’m not crazy…….

    • David says:

      Hi Anthony,
      I did a search on google (which quickly scans several billion webpages) and found just a couple obscure webpages with the three words “cherry nut extract” embedded in the text. (I made sure I placed quotation marks around the phrase to make sure I got hits only on the EXACT PHRASE you were looking for). They had nothing to do with Watkins. I am guessing the actual LABEL on the bottle did not read “cherry nut extract” but instead was probably lettered just “cherry extract”. Perhaps your grandmother (and/or other family members) used the expression “cherry nut extract” in ordinary conversation but that exact phrase wasn’t listed on their bottles??? I am not sure what you mean by “dark bottle”…….. did you mean amber (beer bottle brown) glass?? I can’t find any examples of small handled amber glass bottles with Watkins labels, but here are two shown on this webpage that are clear glass:
      Please keep in mind that most bottles of flavorings and extracts (like most common household items kept in the kitchen cupboards, pantries, etc) were thrown away after they were emptied. So, if Watkins sold a bottle with a label with that exact phrase on it, there may be very few still around that were not thrown away. (If not for the habit of some people of saving lots of items that were normally pitched, (call it “packrat” or whatever), there would be few examples of old labeled bottles and other containers still around that now show up in such places as flea markets, antique malls and on online auctions and sales sites.
      Hope this helps! In the meantime, perhaps sometime in the future someone will land on the site with more definite info on the Watkins bottle you are asking about. Good luck and take care!

  3. Kevin Mc says:

    I found a Watkins face cream bottle from the JR Watkins company in Winona Minn. The bottom symbol is a diamond with a 281 inside.

  4. Che weller says:

    I have just found a screw top bottle.which has the name lengthwise and readable whe the bottle is turned sideways. They are raised letters on glass, or embossed? The bottom is embossed? With a 2 and what looks like the planet Saturn with rings and then a 1 on the other side of the Saturn image. I understand the value is minimal, just wondering a date and maybe what it was for? Its about 4 1/2 inches tall and 1 1/2

    • David says:

      Che, your bottle is one of many, MANY bottles made by Owens-Illinois Glass Company for Watkins. The “Saturn” logo was used by Owens-Illinois as their trademark for many years. Please check out my webpage on that company. I cannot tell you the exact year the bottle was made, but the number on the RIGHT side is a date code, and the number on the left side is the plant location code.

  5. Rosalyn Bullock says:

    I have a smaller bottle. Brown colored glass and made for a cork. I found it in the yard of a house I was renting. It was buried about 2 ft deep. I am just curious as to what it may have contained. Most of the J.R. Watkins bottles I have found online are clear glass.

    • David says:

      Hi Rosalyn,
      Watkins used amber glass for some of their products. Some possibilities might include flavorings such as maple or vanilla extract, and various cleaning products as well as medicines. You might try searching ebay over a period of time for bottles with the label still intact.

  6. Timothy Frantz says:

    My bottle has Watkins printed on the front and above the Watkins name it says Trial Mark. On the bottom it has the number 10 and says Container Made in USA. Any value for this? Thanks in advance.

    • Timothy Frantz says:

      Oops, it was also made for a cork stopper and not a metal cap.

    • David says:

      Hi Timothy,
      Millions of Watkins bottles have been made over many years, and most of them have only slight value to bottle collectors. I don’t know about the exact bottle you are describing, but I would guess the value is slight, perhaps one to 4 dollars. As I have tried to state in various places on my website, I try to keep the emphasis here on background information on the glass companies and marks they used, and I do not mean to turn this into an appraisal site answering lots of questions like “what is this worth?”. I find myself doing that, but it is not my real intention. There are no easy answers to such questions. Ebay is the best way to find out the “average” or “typical” value of an item, by searching ACTUAL auction ENDING PRICE results (for similar items) over a long period of time.
      Best regards,

  7. Dick boosted says:

    I have a bottle, has a handmade tooled lip watkin’s tooth power the j.r. watkins med.co. winona.minn. is embossed in a in a circular pattern around edge of bottle. It is in the shape of a watch fob,with a pedestal base. 3″ dia. across circle 4″ high 1″ thick.

  8. BECKY says:

    We have a J R Watkins bottle #281 that says WATKINS FACE CREAM JR WATKINS COMPANY WINONA MINN. It is a cork bottle not a screw top. Do you know the value?

  9. Todd says:

    The bottle i ha e is a clear glass cork top. Watkins sideways on front. And a number 5 on the upper left corner of thr bottom. With container and made in Usa on bottom

  10. Becky says:

    The bottle that I have has a screw top clear glass the number six on the bottom and The J.R. Watkins name on the front does it have any Value?

    • David says:

      Becky, most of the Watkins bottles are very common (since they were made in huge numbers over many years) and don’t have alot of ‘monetary value’ to antique bottle collectors. Please search ebay over a period of time and see what various types sell for.
      Best regards, David

      • albert m.jacquez says:

        I just found a Jr.Watkins facecream Cork bottle does it have any value to it

        • David says:

          Albert, many different kinds of Watkins bottles have been made over the years. Most of them have minimal value to collectors at the present time, simply because they were made in such large quantities, and there is not a strong collector base for Watkins bottles. That may not be true for certain old or scarce varieties, but in any case I don’t have value information on the earliest Watkin’s bottles that were made.

          My advice to you (and to all the many other people who write to me asking about Watkins bottles) is to search ebay periodically and see what other similar bottles actually sell for. (NOT the minimum bid or “Buy-it-Now” price, but check the ACTUAL SELLING PRICE via an ebay COMPLETED AUCTIONS search). Hope this helps,

  11. chaz wilgers says:

    I have a old bottle wondering what it is worth

  12. Marty Iwen says:

    I found a bottle with the front saying Watkins, Trial Mark. On one side it says Winona, Minn. U.SA., on the other side it says, The J.R.Watkins Med.Co. And on the bottom it is either a number 7 or an L.

    • Samuel says:

      I have one very similar only it has #3 on the bottom an a line through the words Trail Mark .. I found it by a old abandon building in some woods just next to my house made of concrete trees growing through an out of it.

  13. Jason says:

    I’ve got a Watkins Liniment bottle which I found about 1 foot underground behind the foundation of a cabin that had been on the Old Mormon Emigrant Trail. It is molded with the words, “J.R. WATKINS MED. CO.” on one side and “WINONA, MINN. U.S.A.” on the other side. The front says, “WATKINS LINIMENT”. It has a cork top (no surviving cork), and no marks of any letters or symbols of any kind on the bottom. The glass is extremely clear, with a very slightly aqua tint to the thickest parts. It looks like a brand new bottle. Any information you might have would be wonderful.

  14. Cherry says:

    I have a Watkins bottle with the contents still inside. It is 8.5 inches. Clear bottle with cork. Number 5 on bottom of bottle. I’m trying to determine the cost.

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