Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dr. Wonser's Indian Root Bitters - Revisited

In the last few months a few of the Dr. Wonser's Indian Root Bitters bottles have changed hands and there are rumors that a recent dig has produced another example of the amber Wonser's.

 Maybe its time to take another look at one of the most desired and beautiful western bitters.
Dr. Wonser’s U. S. A. Indian Root Bitters was first advertised in The Gilroy Advocate newspaper on June 25th, 1870, the advertisement ran for 3 mos in this paper. The manufactory and depot for this product was located at 645 Third St., San Francisco.Wm. Hawkins displays seven dozen of his U. S. A. Indian Root Bitters at the San Francisco Fair on September 1st, 1870.

Hawkins placed a second advertisement (in a different style format) in the San Francisco Daily Examiner newspaper on December 17th, 1870, this ad ran for 1 month. The location of his manufactory and depot was now located at 418 Sacramento St., San Francisco.
W. M. Hawkins applied for the trademark name of his bitters on June 3rd, 1871, this was reported in the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper on June 5th. [see post of June 21, 2009 by Old Cutters for photocopies of the trademarked application].
Again Hawkins entered his Wonser's U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters in the 1871 State Fair and on September 25th, 1871 received a diploma award. Another advertisement appeared in the Wine Dealers Gazette, a monthly publication in the December 1871 issue.......The advertisement stated: 

“This great remedy strikes at the root of every disease, which lies in the liver and the blood. They are not like the many poisonous compounds with which the country is flooded, under the name of Bitters, which are made of refined poison and gall, and seasoned up to suit the taste. They contain no alcohol, and their effects do not die out, but on the contrary are lasting and beneficial. For Piles, Constitpation, Chronic Coughs, Dyspepsia, Fever and Ague, Kidney, all Billious and Most Chronic Diseases”.

From Warren Friedrich
"The time frame that his product is being marketed is interesting as San Francisco Glass Works had not begun operations at their rebuilt facility until September 12th, 1870. The lettering style is the same as the earlier large lettered Renz’s bitters bottle, both bottles probably made by the same pattern maker.
The bottle itself is interesting in that it has been made in two variations. Both are the amber colored examples. One variant has a configured base with sharp edge and a stepped ledge going into a concave circle with small center dot. The more often seen variant has a rounded edge base with a semi-shallow kick up with center dot, the aqua examples also share this mould feature. I do not consider the different style tops to be a variant, this is just a difference of lipping tools used for the completion of the mouth".


  1. I just can't take my eyes off of that deep green example, WOW! So, I know we've discussed the possibility of coming up with an estimated headcount of the many rare Western bottles out there, especially the bitters. Some feel it would be an impossible chore, but let's see where we might go with estimates on the Wonser's Indian Roots? I'll start with the aqua examples, since I've already asked around about their numbers: 18-22 seems to be the average estimate. Further thoughts on the aquas and others?

  2. The green ones are easy to count

  3. Correct Richard...I believe two are green as pictured at the top of this post. There are two green/olive as in the center of the photo of three.
    Then it gets more fuzzy...maybe 20 in aqua and 30 in amber shades. I know of two in the pure light yellow as well. You really could not create a more beautiful and attractively embossed western bitters today as a "fantasy piece" if you tried. Just all around super bottles! DM.

  4. Great info on the numbers, Dale, really appreciate it!