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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