Friday, October 24, 2014

Oregon Chittum Bitters

A Rare Square
   Updated 10/24
 On a cold, wet and dreary day 20 plus years ago, two diggers located a privy in the back of a lot once belonging to a drug store occupied by a Dr. G.W. Brown in the early 1870s. The hole was a shallow one by this town's standards...about 7 feet deep. Along the way down, there was little sign that this particular pit would have anything interesting. There were pieces of 1870s bottles, and a few feet down, an embossed half pint amber union oval flask among the bricks, rocks and debris typically found in an outhouse. On the bottom of the hole, a square appeared and the digger in the hole mentioned that he had a square bottle in amber showing, and mentioned it was likely a Hostetters Bitters, or something similar. Upon clearing away the dirt, he was blown away at what was revealing itself...this was not an ordinary square. The bottle was still full of it's contents and was securely corked as if it had been discarded prior to anyone consuming the contents. The digger sat there for a minute in shock as he was holding a bitters bottle, but not a Hostetters. The bold embossing read " Dr. G.W. Brown's Oregon Chittum Bitters". The glass was extremely crude and the condition was pristine perfect. This bottle remains as one of the most significant discoveries in the western bitters world.

   For decades, I have studied ( and worn out) Wilson's book "Western Bitters". In the back section of this book is a chapter outlining the few known label only western bitters which did not come in an embossed version at that time. Since 1968 when the book was written, several of these "label only" bitters have surfaced in actual embossed bottles! The Blue Gum Bitters, Old Man's , Asher Taylor, and now the Oregon Chittum Bitters.

  Dr. G.W. Brown was a prominent figure in Portland's history being active in politics and running an eye infirmary in the 1860s. In 1871 he opened a drug store and "created" a bitters using the bark of the chittum tree which was found in abundance on the Oregon coast. On August 13th, 1872, he patented this concoction and challenged everyone to try this amazing product. Unfortunately for the good doctor, he died less than a year later. On January 10th, 1873, a group of Portland's important city leaders gathered at the Harmony Encampment No. 6 of the Red Cross of Portland, to hold a service. They unanimously adopted resolutions relating to George brown's death and divided political duties among the group due to Dr.Brown's passing.

  The bottle is a smaller square ( a bit larger than a pint) with a crude applied top, and those famous curved western "R"s. It is embossed on two sides, and was likely blown in 1871 or 1872. While I am sure there were more produced, this example remains as the sole example known to a very few collectors. To my knowledge, not even a shard of another specimen has been documented. This example has been in one collection ever since it was dug, and kept under wraps all these years. I have received "gentle pressure" by those who have seen it to share this great bottle with others, thus am doing so.

Recently found ad for Chittum Bitters with Chas. Langley as Agent
 Who knows what great new finds will occur in the future, and where they will be found? This is one aspect of our hobby which keeps us ever on the hunt for the next new discovery! I wish to thank Lou Lambert for supplying valuable information, and of course the two diggers who's identity will remain anonymous.
Thanks to Dale Mlasko for the photo's and information - rs -


  1. Incredibly unique square! The only bottles that can claim they are more "rare" are the ones that haven't been found (yet), like the Old Signet....

  2. it sure was exciting digging the chittem bitters...since I like whiskeys more the signet would be a better find for me..

  3. sure was a exciting dig,and the old signet would be great to dig if only I could dig two of them so I could keep one and sell the other....

  4. Interesting in that the label for this brand as well as the ad referred to the "U.S." in the title. There is also a slugged out patch on the bottle where "U.S." was eliminated from the embossing. I wonder if this was removed due to the Wonser's U.S.A ? The time of production is the same ie; 1871-2. It would also be possible that there is a version with the pre-slugged embossing similar to the N.grange flask. In the early Wilson bitters book there is a labeled Chittum although it is on an unembossed medicine style bottle. The "U.S." is on the label. DM