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


Waclav Francis Severa must have beenquite an entrepreneur. Joshua C. Michel and J.T. Higby may havebeen also, but I don't know that much about them. All three leftscarce (76-150 known examples), amber square bottles embossedStomach Bitters // // W.F. Severa, 10 1/2 inches tall, West India/ Stomach Bitters // // St. Louis Mo., 8 3/4 inches tall, andJ.T. Higby // Tonic Bitters // Milford Ct., 9 5/8 inches tall.
Severa was born in Czechoslovakia in 1853, and came to the UnitedStates at age 15, without money or a command of the Englishlanguage. He borrowed money to go to Racine, Wisconsin, where hehad relatives. There he learned the trade of trunk making. In1876, he moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and after a year of trunkmaking, went to work as a drug store clerk in nearby BellePlaine. He opened a drug store of his own in Cedar Rapids in1880. Severa was very successful, and on June 4, 1895, was givena patent for certain medicines and toilet preparations. He putout 32 products including the stomach bitters, a balsam of life,lung balsam, female regulator, corn cure and hair tonic. Thedirections were given in English and Polish.

West IndiaStomach Bitters, St. Louis, Mo.

J.T. Higby TonicBitters, Milford,Ct.

In 1901, the retail part of the business was sold and the companybecame the W.F. Severa Co., manufacturers of proprietarymedicines. Severa conducted a printing office in connection withthe drug business and printed his own circulars and almanacs, thelatter numbering over one-half million copies in 1901. He wasfounder of the Bohemia American Savings Bank and held interestsin and served as director of the Cedar Rapids Light and PowerCo., the Merchants National Bank of Cedar Rapids, the CedarRapids and Iowa City Interurban Railway and the Cedar Rapids LifeInsurance Co. Severa's only son Lumir, became Vice President ofthe Severa Co. in 1911. There were labeled only variants of thestomach bitters in later years.
Joshua C. Michel of St. Louis, Mo., was in the wholesale grocerybusiness for several years with Mathew Moody. Michel put WestIndia Stomach Bitter on the market in 1873 and obtained a patenton February 8, 1876. That year Michel dropped out of the grocerybusiness and became a broker for the bitters and apparently someother West India medicines that I have no information about. WestIndia Stomach Bitters was in drug catalogs from 1882 through1902. There are 1 cent and 4 cent revenue stamps giving Moody,Michel and Co.
Proprietors, St. Louis, Mo., and 4 centrevenue stamps giving West India Manufacturing Co. Proprietors,St. Louis, Mo. There are also 2 extremely rare variants embossedWest India / Stomach Bitters // // Moody Michel & Co / StLouis, 8 1/2 inches tall and West India Stomach / Bitters // //Moody Michel & Co / St Louis, 8 3/4 inches tall. Both areamber and square.

W.F. SeveraStomach Bitters.

I.W. Earnest of San Antonio, Texas, patented several "WestIndia" medicines in the 1880s including a sarsaparilla,balsam of horehound, liver elixir, skin cream and hair tonic, butthere appears to be no relation to the West India StomachBitters.
Higby's Tonic Bitters, Milford Ct., was advertised in the 1883Schieffelin Drug Catalog. The bottles were thought to beextremely rare until Charles B. Gardner of New London, Ct., got150 in one lot from a picker in the early 1960s. That's supplyand demand for you! I still like the pretty light amber of mybottle.






A --The Union Plaza Hotel, site of the2002 Las Vegas Bottle Show

B --The Freemont Street Experience, ahuge light show held every hour after sunset.

C --What's your poison? These collectorsknow. From left to right poison bottle collectors Steve Sacks,Richard Barry and Gary Perigan, seated is fruit jar guru JerryMcCann.

D --Jim Bair with an extremely rareNorthern Pacific Railroad fire grenade.


1. Blasi, B.: A Bit About Balsams, 1974
2. McGuire, E.: Bottled Products and the U.S.
Patent Office, 1991
3. Ring, C. and Ham, W.C.: Bitters Bottles,
4. Watson, R.: Bitters Bottles, 1965.
5. Wilson, B. and B.: Nineteenth Century
Medicine In Glass, 1971.

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