Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dr. Lepper's Oil of Gladness

The early Dr. Lepper's Oil of Gladness is a fascinating bottle to me for several reasons, not the least of which is the great name. These bottles are usually quite crude and are fairly early by most western medicine standards, later 1860s or so. Another interesting aspect of these medicines is that they are one of the few which are embossed on all four panels leaving no room for a label. I assume then, that the box and wrapper were quite ornate and attractive. Does anyone have a box for one of these?

According to Wilson, Doctor Andrew Lepper was a practicing physician in Sacramento, and traveled out to the mining camps around the Sierra foothills. In 1865 he gave sole agency to his "Oil of Gladness" to Justin Gates who operated a wholesale drug business with his brother James. Dr. Lepper also sent wagonloads of medicines up to the mines as sort of a traveling medicine show. Can you imagine the "dog and pony show" this must have been to the miners at the time who were enduring so much hardship, and likely had more aches and pains than one can imagine?

The bottle comes in two sizes- the large "economy size" at 5 1/2" and the regular 5" size. The larger bottle holds more than twice the capacity of the smaller version. The small size is one of the West's smallest early patent meds. It must have packed quite a whallop!

In my experience the larger size is much more scarce than the small size, although all would be considered very scarce. I would like to hear from some Sacramento diggers, and Gold Country diggers as to your impression of which size is the toughest to find, and the ratio.

Early Western medicines are so colorful in their names, and claims to cure anything that ails you. The Oil of Gladness boldly embossed "Sacramento" is one of the most flamboyant, and interesting of all!


  1. I agree that Lepper's earliest medicines are a fascinating pair. I have dug several and they all have come from pits that also held the first H. Bowman's, the smaller bottle with the "pancake" top, and other pre-1870 glass. The Oil Of Gladness bottles are scarce, but it's the "economy" size that is much more difficult to come by. Thanks for highlighting one of Sacramento's lesser known 1860s meds.

  2. Dale,
    Justin Gates placed an advertisement in 1871 stating that the embossed bottles of the "Oil of Gladness" were first introduced in an embossed bottle two years ago. This would date the bottle to the year 1869 with Pacific Glass Works as the likely manufacturer.
    I have owned several extremely crudely made examples of the small size. Most with the word Sacramento spelled with two o's. I have never seen the larger example before.

  3. The larger family size is definitely the least seen in my earth moving efforts 10-1. Years ago I dug an early 70s pit that produced 2 killers in both sizes, a small yellow green and large cornflower blue. Their pretty darn rare and we've found them to be widely distributed in more than just the mining regions of California. Another nice post M.E.

  4. They are neat and early western "meddies". I have seen the same labels pasted over the same embossed medicines bottles before from the late 1800's. It was more commonly done than thought, as they just wanted to sell the product.

  5. I have been digging and buying-trading bottles since 1964, and have seen one example of the large size Oil of gladness. So I would postulate that they are super rare, maybe even rarer than a 1 to 10 ratio. The example that I saw was dug in old Sacramento during the 1-5 right of way through the boat section of the highway(original ground level of the city of Sacramento) before thay raised the level up to what it is now. So determining when they raised that section of Sacto, would probably help in dating the bottles, I believe it was done sometime close to 1879 or so......Andy

  6. I am a decendant of Dr. Lepper. I would like to purchase any of his bottles for our family. Toni Ann Kent Cook

    Toni Ann Kent Cook

    (in reply to Miles)