Wednesday, January 6, 2021


There is a story behind every bottle, which even includes the rather large classification of what is commonly called prescription, or drug store, bottles. It seems that just like the local saloon, many corner drug stores also created identifiable bottles associated with their business. The pictured item is just one example. I chose to put it on this blog because of where the story led me, which is somewhat unusual.

 Documenting the history of the people who had certain bottles created is the essence of discovering the meaning of the objects within the greater web of history. But it is not unusual to find little or nothing on the lives of some individuals. Such is the case with William Mansfield, the originator of the pictured drug store bottle. His bottle was made to compound, bottle, and sell at least some of his liquid prescriptions to the public.



The Mansfield bottle is round, 6.5 inches in height, with a tooled flared out lip, and composed of clear glass, with smooth base. All embossing is located within what appears to be a circular slug plate on the side of the bottle, embossed, M. MANSFIELD / CHEMIST & DRUGGIST / 320 SANTA CLARA ST / SAN JOSE CAL.

 Based on newspaper ads, it is well established that Mansfield had previously been living in Petaluma, California, and it is highly likely that he was plying the trade of a pharmacist in that town. Unfortunately, he could not be located in the 1870 decennial  U.S. census, which could have given us significant clues about his age, location of birth and possible family connections. It appears, therefore, that he was not living in Petaluma in 1870.

 John R.Williams and Henry H. Moore formed a partnership in the pharmacy trade at Stockton, CA, in May1865, purchasing the existing drug store of Robert Porterfield, who died just a month later on June 28, 1865, in Sonora, CA. Williams & Moore also traded heavily in the patent medicine business, which appeared to be quite lucrative for them. In 1872 they struck a deal with David Dodge Tomlinson, of San Jose, whereby they purchased the rights to manufacture and sell Tomlinson’s HHH Horse Medicine in the Western states, which soon became highly successful.  At the same time Williams & Moore had established a branch drug store in San Jose by at least April 1872, at 320 Santa Clara St.

 Williams & Moore decided to focus more of their time on the sale of the highly successful HHH Horse Medicine and put their San Jose store up for sale. William Mansfield purchased the drug store of Williams & Moore, in San Jose, in December 1872. He likely had his bottles blown shortly thereafter. His business appears to have been run successfully during 1873, and he even purchased a coveted, and expensive, front cover advertising spot for the upcoming 1874 San Jose business directory.

 William Mansfield's residence in Petaluma has yet to be documented, however, it does appear that he worked there before coming to San Jose. (San Jose Mercury-News, 21 December 1872)

 Then something bizarre occurred when Mansfield disappeared about the first week of April 1874, failing to return from a trip to San Francisco. To this day, no further information has been uncovered that would explain his absence.

Mansfield's disappearance was noted in newspapers only once, then the story went cold. 
San Jose Mercury-News, 11 April 1874)


As is the case for many businesses, Mansfield carried at least some debt, especially to the wholesale San Francisco drug firm of Abrams & Carroll – for the amount of  $4,000. They immediately filed foreclosure on Mansfield’s store and hired the well known San Jose druggist John B. Hewson to temporarily manage the store, which was also renamed the Garden City Drug Store. By September of that year the store was purchased by Henry Piessnecker, who had moved his drug business from Inyo County. Piessnecker operated the store until he died on 24 April 1880.

 Because of the unusual disappearance of Wm. Mansfield, it is possible to very tightly establish the manufacturing date of his drugstore bottle from about December 1872 to April 1874, a period of about 16 months. While it is an accomplishment to document the age of a bottle there is a lingering sense of angst in not being able to uncover more about the man who created it.


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