antiquebottles THEMEDICINE CHEST --- BY DR. RICHARD CANNON old bottles


Eye baths were used in England in the 16thcentury. The financial account of theLestrange family of Hunstanton contains the following entry for1578: “Silver piece for mistress's Eye --- 5shillings.”

Eye cups in (left toright) black, milk and cobalt glass.

Glass eye cups or eye baths in a variety ofcolors date back into the 19th century in the UnitedStates, and aluminum examples appeared early in the 20thcentury. I have the following colors in glass: cobalt, milk,black, pink, amber, emerald green, lime, milk lime, clear,cornflower blue, and orange. There's also an aluminum example,which was used in the 1920s by my family. My cornflower blue andorange may have been fairly recently produced, but the othersappear to be older. There is a clear eyecup, not in mycollection, embossed on the base TradeMark John Bull, Pat. Aug.14, 1917. I've not been able to determine if this was Louisville'sJohn Bull of Sarsaparilla fame. My clear and milk glass exampleshave a G on the base, my pink a B within a triangle, my emeraldgreen, W circled by Made in England. The amber one is somewhatasymmetrical and crude, but has mold marks. Amber free-blowntypes are less common.

Eye cups(left to right) in aluminum, emerald green, and amber glass.

Through the years there have been severaldevices used to install liquid eye medicines into the eyes forirrigation or treatment, but for use by the patient, the eye cupor eye bath were most popular until eye drops were developedusing a screw-capped top provided with a plastic collar and arubber unit carrying a glass dropper and a rubber teat. To usethe eye cup, the patient applied it to the eye with the headbowed forward, threw the head back with the eye open, ensuredlavage of the eye by blinking several times and then removed thecup with the head once more bowed forward.

The term collyrium was used by the Romans todenote a number of medications molded together in gum to form asolid cake, a small piece of which was dissolved in water or oiland applied to powders and ointments, but today its use isgenerally confined to watery solutions used for instillation intothe eye.

Sometime in the early 1900s, Wyeth Laboratoriesof Philadelphia began to put out a product they called Collyrium.It came in a cobalt machine made, round bottle that is 5 3/4inches tall and includes a matching eye cup and stoppercombination embossed Wyeth on one side and Collyrium on theother. John Wyeth, 1834-1907, graduated from the PhiladelphiaCollege of Pharmacy in 1854 and began working for Henry C. Blair;Wyeth became a full partner in 1858. He sold his interests, andin 1860 with Brother Frank, opened a drugstore at 1410 Walnut.The firm of John Wyeth & Bro. Prospered and Edward T. Dobbinsbecame a full partner. Fire destroyed the store in 1889 and thebusiness was moved to 11th and Washington. The retailstore was sold to Frank Morgan. John Wyeth's only son Stuartbecame president of the firm in 1907. When Stuart died in 1929,Harvard University inherited the firm, and in 1931, American HomeProducts, Inc., became owners. The company as Wyeth-Ayerst isstill in business today.

Wyeth's Collyrium, early, cobalt glass. Ibath, Mckesson & Robbins.

John Wyeth & Bro., registered six productswith the U.S. Patent Office between 1876 and 1897, but Collyriumwas not registered until 1937. This was done because othercompanies were coming out with similar products and using theterm collyrium. One of these was Ibath by McKesson and Robbins.It came in a cobalt oval screw top bottle with ribbed sides, 51/2 inches tall, label only, and a white plastic cap that wasalso an eye cup. This is in my collection; along with the Ibathexample is a later Collyrium bottle, labeled only, screw top,cobalt, square, 4 1/2 inches tall, with a cobalt plastic cap andeyecup with Wyeth embossed on each side. The currently marketedCollyrium for Fresh Eyes by Wyeth-Ayerst comes in clear, roundplastic squeeze bottle 5 inches tall, with a clear plastic capand eye cup that has collyrium embossed on each side.

Just to be sure that your eye bath doesn'tbecome a body bath, I suggest that you first place a towelentirely around your neck.


  1. Duke-Elder, S: The Foundations Of Ophthalmology, 1962
  2. Putnam, H.E: Bottle Identification, 1965
  3. Devner, K: At The Sign Of The Mortar, 1970
  4. Richardson, C.G. and L.C.: The Pill Rollers, 1992
  5. Donovan, J.M.: Personal Correspondence, Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, 1995

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