Dr. Townsend’s Sarsaparilla Albany NY
Dr. Townsend’s Sarsaparilla
Samuel P. Townsend, Albany, New York
Blue Green Quart
Provenance: Richard S. Ciralli Collection
Our “best possible” example of a blue-green quart Dr. Townsend’s Sarsaparilla is embossed prominently on four faces of the square bottle in a serifed typestyle from shoulder to base. Each panel is arched and beveled. The first panel reads ‘DR. TOWNSEND’S’ (the “R” is smaller, raised, and underlined). The second panel reads ‘SARSAPARILLA’ and the third panel ‘ALBANY N. Y.’ in two lines (“N. Y.” is flush right.) The fourth panel has four uneven stacked short bars that are embossed in the center area of the panel. There is a short neck and an applied sloping collar mouth. The 9 3/4″ tall bottle has an iron pontil. These bottles can be found with one, two, three, and four bars. The mold maker bars’ exact reason is unknown, but it could have been used as a product strength indicator or a production line mark.
Dr. Townsend’s Sarsaparilla was one of the most popular and successful medicines of the 19th century. The number of examples, glass colors, and variants is remarkable.
William C. Townsend retired from the drug business in a small town in New York State and moved to Albany in 1839 to promote his son’s Sarsaparilla. Samuel P. Townsend was an apothecary and physician selling his concoction locally when his father contacted a local distiller named Robert Bach and obtained what he needed to start the business, such as bottles, labels, corks, etc.
William summoned his other son Tappen to assist in the operations while returning home. In 1841, the brand was showing good promise. The demand continued to increase, and by 1843, they acted as their own agents. Samuel’s other brother, Stephan, entered the business, and by 1845, he was traveling and picking general agents around the country. Samuel then went to New York City, and in 1846, patented his brand. Another brother, John P. Townsend, opened a drug store in Albany, and all three lived together for a while.
By the end of the 1840s, Samuel P. Townsend was at the pinnacle of success with his Dr. Townsend’s Compound Extract of Sarsaparilla. The company was operating out of a six-story building used for their principal office at 126 Fulton Street in Albany while using a separate Manufactory to produce the product. They had a second office in New York City within the newly renovated South Baptist Church on Nassau Street.
S. P. Townsend, in his advertising, stated that his Extract was “The Wonder and Blessing of the Age” and “The Most Extraordinary Medicine in the World!” His Sarsaparilla put up in quart bottles was “six times cheaper, pleasanter, and warranted superior to any sold.” Ads further stated that the Sarsaparilla “cured without vomiting, purging, sickening or debilitating the Patient.” Advertising also proudly pronounced that they manufactured 1,500,000 bottles in 1848 and that they had increased capacity and were putting out 5,000 bottles per day in 1849.
Dr. Townsend’s Sarsaparilla was reported to have cured 150,000 cases of severe disease where at least 20,000 were considered incurable. The medicine was said to have saved the lives of more than 15,000 children during three seasons in the late 1840s.
The success of this product grew immensely, and the brothers advertised nationally and internationally and developed relationships with wholesale concerns to distribute the brand further. In 1855, Townsend sold the rights to Foster Nostrand and other interests, and they continued the company’s success.
The competition was fierce as another sarsaparilla called Old Dr. Jacob Townsend’s Sarsaparilla was being marketed and sold in similar bottles. The public must have been perplexed as the two brands typically battled it out on the same newspaper page, each proclaiming that their Sarsaparilla was the original and better product.
Large ads were taken out in newspapers proclaiming “Look Out For Imitations and Counterfeits. None are Genuine unless they are Signed by S. P. Townsend and are put up in wrappers printed with a Splendid Steel Plate Engraved Label.”
Primary Image: Dr. Townsend’s Sarsaparilla Albany N.Y. bottle imaged on location by Alan DeMaison, FOHBC Virtual Museum Midwest Studio.
Support Image: Auction Lot 153: “DR TOWNSENDS – SARSAPARILLA – ALBANY / N. Y.”, probably a NY State glasshouse, 1846 – 1855. Rich, yellowish tobacco amber below the shoulders shading to a dense tobacco color near the base, rectangular with beveled corners, applied sloping collar – domed base with sand type pontil scar, ht. 9 ½”; (just a slight trace of minor wear, otherwise perfect). Rare color, bold embossing, and outstanding character with crude, seedy, glass. A top example! Provenance: Joe Widman collection. Note; this example also has a crude “T”, or cross, embossed on the side label panel. – John Pastor, American Glass Gallery, Auction #31
Support Image: Auction Lot 158: “DR TOWNSENDS – SARSAPARILLA – NEW. YORK.”, 1855 – 1865. Rich, deep emerald coloration with a slight bluish tone, square, beveled corners, applied sloping collar – domed smooth base, ht. 9 ½”, near mint; (a little scattered light wear, otherwise perfect). Gorgeous color, heavily whittled, crude glass, another great example with plenty of eye-appeal! Note; this is certainly a rare color for the “NEW. YORK.” variant, most being in shades of light blue-green. Provenance: Joe Widman collection. – John Pastor, American Glass Gallery, Auction #31
Support Image: “DR TOWNSEND’S – SARSAPARILLA – ALBANY / N.Y.”, 1845 – 1855. Gorgeous, medium-to-deep apricot coloration with some lighter peach tones, square with beveled corners, applied sloping collar – domed base with blowpipe pontil scar, ht. 9 ¼”, virtually perfect; (slight trace of very faint wear). An outstanding colored pontiled medicine, and an exceptional example in every way – perhaps the pinnacle, or ‘holy grail’, for the Townsend collector. Provenance: Fred Swiechowicz collection. Rare and outstanding color, a crude heavy example with fantastic character, bold embossing, and virtually pristine condition. – John Pastor, American Glass Gallery, Auction #34
Support Image: Dr. S. P. Townsend’s Compound Extract of Sarsaparilla Annual Circular, New York: [publisher not transcribed], c1849, Library of Congress
Join the FOHBC: The Virtual Museum is a project of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC). To become a member.