Monday, February 21, 2011

Pratt's New Life

Another of the western medicines with a great name is the Pratt's New Life, A. McBoyle, San Francisco. These early medicines have a unique shape with an unusually long neck, and crudely applied top. In the late 1970s I saw my first example in aqua, and was not even aware at the time that they were made in colors. In 1998, about 25 were found in one cache in colors from aqua, to yellow amber, and even a puce amber! Prior to these examples being dug, I know of few collectors who had even seen a colored specimen.

James Pratt was a San Francisco druggist starting in the 1850s. After retiring in the later 1860s he apparently gave the business, and some of his "secret" formulas to his son Perry. He must not have taken to the medicine business as Perry gave sole agency to Alexander McBoyle. McBoyle must have figured out the biz because 3 years later Perry made him a full partner and retired as well. The Pratt's brand was very successful and different varieties of medicines were manufactured including the popular Abolition Oil which is fairly commonly found in the West. The Pratts formulas were sold until about 1900.

Since the grouping of New Life's were discovered in 1998, a completely new version of this medicine was found...a large cobalt blue specimen which remains the only example known to my knowledge. I have also seen an aqua example in the larger 8" size. The New Life pictured here was found in Nevada and was not part of the original grouping found in San Francisco. For an early bottle, these are seldome crude but this example is extremely whittled, and full of black striations, and overall character. I would be curious to know if any other colored examples have been dug in any locations other than San Francisco. For some reason the vast majority of these have damage, mostly in the form of flashes in the top.

The name "New Life" was yet another attempt to depict the promise of health and vitality. As rare as these bottles are, it must not have caught on.


  1. Dale,
    The only additional information I can provide to this topic is that the Pratt's New Life medicinal product was introduced in 1869 and was marketed along with the already existing Pratt's Abolition Oil medicine of a year earlier or so. Both products overlapped in their claims of healing abilities. Pratt's New Life tended to be used as a rejuvenator while the Abolition Oil was touted to be a restorative.
    The marketing for the Pratt's New Life was strong during a portion of 1869 through the early 1870's time frame and I would guestimate that P.G.W. was the manufacturer of the product bottle.

  2. I thought I saw an ad many years ago when I was reading an old 1870s Marysville newspaper at the Marysville library, showing Pratt as being the manufacturer/originator of the "Bitter Witch" product. Has anyone else seen something similar showing Pratt being involve with that product?

  3. Tom,
    Interesting that you would bring that up. At the Anderson bottle show recently, I was talking to Tom Jacobs who mentioned a Bitter Witch with a full label was shown at the annual Ken Schwartz open house a few years ago.He mentioned that the manufacturer was indeed a well known medicine manufacturer in S.F. but could not recall exactly which one it was. he was going to send me a photo he had taken of the label. When and if I receive it, I will post it.
    From what he could recall, Bitter Witch was not a bitters or tonic, but a general remedy and cure all.
    Dale M.

  4. We dug an example this color in downtown Oakland around 2004 and I'm sure it's one of the few non-BigDig examples out there. How many broken examples have been found ?