Poison Bottles




Poison Bottles

A Brief History

For centuries chemist dispensed toxic substances in bottles with corks. They were used in very small quantities as ingredients in medicine to serve as stimulants or relaxants.

In Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries they were used for very different purposes. There was a great demand for poisons from people who wanted to do away with enemies, rid themselves of an unwanted spouse, or collect an inheritance. Underground scientist worked to perfect special poisons. These were odorless, tasteless, and difficult to detect by autopsy. The favorite poisons for murder were “slow poisons”. This would be given daily in small doses and over a long period of time would cause the death of the unsuspected victim.

Because of the abuse of the substances their sale was restricted or prohibited in the 18th and 19th centuries. There was also much concern that the product would fall into children’s hands.

Society had a need for these preparations such as in cleaning fluids and to prohibit the availability of at this time was unfair to the public. Ways of drawing attention to the container then took preference to prevent accidental consumption.

(Picture of Bottles from Private Collection)

In 1853 the American Pharmaceutical Association recommended national laws to identify poison bottles. In 1872 a suggestion was made that the containers be identified by a rough surface on one side the word “poison” on the other. At this time no law was passed and it was left up to manufactures to identify their products.

The skull and crossbones became the traditional symbol of poisonous substances. Sometimes a coffin and long bones also was a used as a symbol. Containers would also have ribbed surfaces to further distinguish them from other products. The ribbed surfaces also served as a warning in poor light rooms or for the blind.

As early as 1886 John Howell designed the first safety closures. At this time the shape of the poison bottle was sufficient and the need for such a device was not needed.
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