Dr. Wonser’s U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters in Amber

Provenance: Richard T. Siri Collection

Our museum is really fortunate to have three examples of Dr. Wonser’s U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters gracing our shelves. One in deep aqua, another in green and this example in amber. All generously loaned from the Richard T. Siri collection in California.This is worth the price of admission alone if you ask any bitters collector.

The Dr. Wonser’s brand is one of the top Western bitters according to most advanced collectors. This unusually shaped round cylinder bottle has sixteen flutes on the shoulder and two rings on the neck and comes in some great colors and character. The interesting name and the strong embossed copy make these bottles stand out in a crowd.

Dr. Wonser’s Indian Root Bitters was the invention of William Hawkins and I. H. Wonser. While they initially operated as partners, Wonser took a position of silence and is not well documented.

Hawkins was born in 1814 in Rhode Island but moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1840 where he established himself as a brilliant machinist. He left his wife and family and moved to San Francisco about 1861 where he worked for the Union Foundry. Hawkins then went to the Reese River region of central Nevada for a while but soon returned to San Francisco and took up the machinist trade again until he partnered with Wonser to sell bitters. By 1875, he had returned to his old profession of machinist until he died in 1884. He was buried in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Advertisements first appeared in November 1870.

Hawkins entered his Wonser’s U. S. A. Indian Root Bitters in the 1871 State Fair and on September 25th, 1871 received a diploma award. Another advertisement appeared in the Wine Dealers Gazette, a monthly publication in the December 1871 issue. The advertisement stated:

“This great remedy strikes at the root of every disease, which lies in the liver and the blood. They are not like the many poisonous compounds with which the country is flooded, under the name of Bitters, which are made of refined poison and gall, and seasoned up to suit the taste. They contain no alcohol, and their effects do not die out, but on the contrary, are lasting and beneficial. For Piles, Constipation, Chronic Coughs, Dyspepsia, Fever and Ague, Kidney, all Billious and Most Chronic Diseases”.


W. M. Hawkins, 1871

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

W 146 DR. WONSER’S ( au ) / U.S.A. / INDIAN ROOT / BITTERS // c //
L … Dr. I. H. Wonser’s U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters, Distributor and Manufacturers, San Francisco

11 1/2 x 3 (5 1/2)
LTC, Applied mouth, Amber (Yellow to Olive amber), Rare; Green, Extremely rare.
10 ½ x 3 (5 ½) CM, Deep kick-up, Aqua, Applied mouth, Rare
Sixteen flutes on shoulder, two rings on neck.
Variation in height could be misleading. Other measurements indicate both bottles could have been blown in the same mold.

Read More: Dr. Wonser’s U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters – Looking at Some Information and Colors

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