Bitter Witch (Horseshoe) Trade Mark
Perry Pratt, San Francisco, California
Oval Amber Flask
Provenance: Lou Pellegrini Collection
“Bitter Witch” with the embossed “Trade Mark” horseshoe is found primarily in Western and Bitters bottle collections even though it was not marketed as a bitters. Perry Pratt of San Francisco, California, was the proprietor, and Fred Buttelmann & Co. were the sole agents for Marysville, California. From Marysville, the Bitter Witch was shipped via freight wagon over the Sierras and into the mining districts of Nevada, where numerous, mainly broken, examples have been recovered over the years. The rarity of the bottle is due to the short lifespan of the product, which began in late 1873 and ended near the end of 1874.
The 8-inch amber Bitter Witch bottle is shaped like a flask and has a double-roll applied collar and smooth base. An embossed downturned pictorial horseshoe is featured on the face of the bottle set within a debossed tombstone shape. Although the origins are not exactly known, it is believed that the horseshoe became the symbol of luck when the eighth-century Chaldeans thought its crescent shape represented various moon goddesses, thus protecting against the curse of the evil eye.
Above the horseshoe is straightline horizontal sans serif copy reading ‘BITTER.’ The letter “R” has a kick-up leg typical of many Western bottles. ‘WITCH’ is embossed beneath the horseshoe. Smaller embossed copy reading ‘TRADE MARK,’ in two lines, is set within the horseshoe. The reverse side of the oval bottle also has an inset area and is where a paper label would have been placed. The bottle can be found in shades of amber and is considered scarce to rare.
See a second museum example of a Bitter Witch from the McGuire collection.
Advertising in San Francisco and Marysville said Bitter Witch was for “The Stomach, The Bowels, The Kidneys, The Liver,” and since it was regulated, “Health would be Restored.” Bitter Witch is “prepared in the most careful manner from the best Roots, Barks and Herbs the world produces, and is guaranteed entirely free from mineral or injurious matter. By the blending of their several medicinal virtues, a compound is obtained that produces when taken by the weak and debilitated a complete and magical change. It is speedily taken up and diffused throughout the blood, and with it visits every organ, blood vessel and pore, stimulating each respectively to its own peculiar action, at the same time carrying with it a tonic power which imparts vigor to the organs excited.” Bitter Witch was sold for one dollar a bottle by “all druggists and grocers” by P. Pratt, 417 Sansome Street, Cor. Commercial, San Francisco.
Perry Pratt was the son of James N. Pratt, thought to be from Vermont. Like many before them, they moved west to San Francisco, where James Pratt was listed as a druggist in the 1850s. After retiring in the late 1860s, James’ son Perry, also a druggist, took over the business. The first mention of any of Pratt’s products was by Alexander M. McBoyle & Co. Druggists & Chemists, located across the street from the What Cheer House at 534 Sacramento Street in San Francisco. He represented and sold Pratt’s Abolition Oil in the October 2, 1866, edition of the Daily Alta California. Later, the product appeared in the April 1, 1867, edition of the Sacramento Daily Union. By August of that year, they had expanded their push into the Gold Country and were advertising in Marysville. Abolition Oil was followed by Pratt’s New Life and eventually Bitter Witch. During this time, Perry Pratt and Alexander McBoyle were partners. McBoyle would move on, and Pratt would continue as a druggist and patent medicine manufacturer for many years. Others would manufacture and sell the popular Pratt brands up until the turn of the century.
Primary Images: Bitter Witch bottle imaged by Gina Pellegrini at the FOHBC Virtual Museum west coast studio.
Support Image: Red-amber Bitter Witch bottle imaged by Eric McGuire, FOHBC Virtual Museum West Coast Studio.
Support Image: Bitter Witch label from the Eric McGuire collection.
Support Image: Bitter Witch, medium amber, smooth base, applied double-collar mouth, Glass Works Auctions, Lot 9, Auction #64, Ferdinand Meyer V collection.
Support Image: Auction Lot #93: BITTER WITCH. Double roll applied collar. Here we have a Western bottle that leaves some people scratching their heads. Although it has the name “Bitter”, it also has a horseshoe and is frankly a little odd. An old wives tale notes that witches were at one time afraid of horses and one could nail a horseshoe (open end down) onto their front door to prevent witches from entering their home. We’re not sure if this works, but it couldn’t hurt to try. Whatever the story, there’s nothing odd about the curved “R’s” and this beautiful yellow olive. In addition, it has some nice overall crudity with a double roll collar. A terrific San Francisco bottle, this is as good as they get. Grades a 9.8. – Jeff Wichmann, American Bottle Auctions, April 2012.
Support: Reference to Bitter Witch – What a great name! Posted on PeachridgeGlass.com on April 21, 2012, by Ferdinand Meyer V.
Support: Reference to Mystery of the “Bitter Witch” finally solved. Western Bottle News, April 29, 2016, by Bruce Silva
Support: Reference to Western Bottle News, April 29, 2016, Dale Mlasko and Warren Friedrich.
Support: Reference to Bitters Bottles Supplement 2 by Ring, Ham & Meyer.
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