Constitution Bitters

Provenance: David Sidelinger Collection

Here is an extraordinary Constitution Bitters bottle in a medium pink amethyst or puce glass coloration. The are some profuse darker striations in the glass. These bottles are typically found in shades of amber though there are some extremely rare examples in a yellow-green glass.

The shape of the bottle is rectangular with four sunken chamfered panels. The broad tall panels on two sides have six debossed verbal ribs on the bottom of the panels. The space above is where the paper label would have been placed. Embossed above the two panels, on the shoulder of the side, is ‘A.M.S.2.’ On the base of both sides is embossed ‘1864.’

On one side panel is embossed ‘CONSTITUTION BITTERS’ in two lines. On the second side is embossed ‘SEWARD & BENTLEY, BUFFALO, N.Y. in two lines. The mouth is applied and is a long tapered collar. Only one bottle replicates this shape and that is Mexican Bitters put out by Henry C. Weaver in Lancaster, Ohio.

The label reads, “A.M. 1864 S.2. Prepared from a formula of an eminent physician and used for many years with wonderful success as a tonic, for the strengthening of the system, giving tone to the stomach and creating a healthy appetite. It has no equal.”

“A.M.S.2.” stands for “All must surrender to Constitution Bitters” as noted in an advertisement in The Indiana Herald on Wednesday, August 19, 1868. It was not unusual for bitters proprietors to use cryptic alpha-numeric lettering on their bottles and in their marketing for their bitters product. Mystery increased sales.

Seward & Bentley

This Constitution Bitters brand (there is another figural bottle with the same name), was put out by Stephen B. Seward and Burr S. Bentley of Seward & Bentley in Buffalo, New York. They also advertised their Seward’s Cough Cure and Alisma, a hair tonic. There are also listings for Seward, Bentley & Cheney, Ward & Bentley, and Daniel Seward & Co., that show obvious changes in partnership and ownership later in the 1860s. Stephen Seward even got his start earlier than that as his name occurs as S. B. Seward in the late 1850s on bottles and advertising etc. When this bottle mold was produced, Cheney had not yet joined the firm. With the 1864 date, this is a true Civil War-era bottle.

Stephen B. Seward was born in Franklinville, New York in 1831. At the age of 21, he engaged in the drug business at Elliotsville, N.Y., and eight years later became the senior member of the wholesale drug house of Seward, Bentley & Cheney, Buffalo, N.Y. Later in the 1870s, Seward came west and worked for a time for S. F. Goodman Drug Company of Omaha, Nebraska which was succeeded by Richardson Drug Co. Seward later came to St. Louis, Missouri and for a while was working in the laboratory of Meyer Bros. Drug Co. and for several years traveled again for the Richardson Drug Co., St. Louis, in Arkansas until their retirement from business in 1889, when he went with the Moffitt-West Drug Co. covering the same territory. Afterward, he went into the manufacturing business making flavoring extracts and patent medicines continuing until ill health compelled him to retire. Stephen B. Seward died on April 19, 1899.

The Carlyn Ring and W.C. Ham listing in Bitters Bottles is as follows:

C 222 & C 223 CONSTITUTION BITTERS A.M.S.2. ( au ) / 1864 // CONSTITUTION / BITTERS // A.M.S.2. ( au ) / 1864 // SEWARD & BENTLEY / BUFFALO, N.Y. //
9 ¼ x 2 7/8 x 2 ¼ (7 ¼) ¼
Rectangular, Amber, LTC, Applied mouth, 4 sp, Rare, Yellow-green, and Medium pink amethyst or Puce, Extremely rare
Label: A.M. 1864 S.2. (means All Must Surrender To Constitution Bitters)
Prepared from a formula of an eminent physician and used for many years with wonderful success as a tonic, for strengthening of the system, giving tone to the stomach and creating a healthy appetite. It has no equal.
1864 and 1866 Thomas’ Buffalo Business Directory: Seward & Bentley Druggist, 189 Main, Stephen B. Seward, and Burr S. Bentley
1868 City Directory for Buffalo: Seward, Bentley & Cheney Druggist, 241 Main.
1877 Billhead: Edward J. Liebetrut, Druggist (formerly Seward & Liebetrut, formerly Seward & Co.)

Primary Image: Constitution Bitters bottle imaged by the FOHBC Virtual Museum midwest studio by Alan DeMaison.

Support Image: Auction Lot 14: “A.M. S. 2 / 1864 – CONSTITUTION / BITTERS – SEWARD & BENTLEY / BUFFALO, N.Y.”, (Ring/Ham, C-223), New York, ca. 1865 – 1875, medium pink amethyst color, 9 1/4”h, smooth base, applied tapered collar mouth. Perfect condition. One of only two or three known to exist in amethyst, with the others being so dark a strong light is needed to see the color. That is not the case here, the color in this one explodes in normal lighting and is consistent throughout. This is the bottle that many bitters collectors have been waiting for to come to auction, some calling it the ‘holy grail’ of the Ballentine collection. Mary turned down many offers to buy it, some substantial, but to no avail. Identical in color to the gemstone it’s named after and the ’gem’ of the Ballentine collection. Mary Ballentine Collection. – Jim Hagenbuch, Glass Works Auctions | Auction #143

Support Images: Constitution Bitters in dark amber – John Pastor, American Glass Gallery, Auction #14. Example in yellow-olive courtesy Jim Hagenbuch, Glass Works Auctions. Medium amber example from the Ferdinand Meyer V collection (photograph Cathy Gray).

Support: Reference to Bitters Bottles by Carlyn Ring and W. C. Ham. Use of Constitution Bitters illustration courtesy Bill Ham.

Read More: The Constitution Bitters from Buffalo, NY

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