Phelps’s Arcanum Worcester Mass.

Provenance: Richard S. Ciralli Collection

Our museum “Dr. Phelps Arcanum Genuine” represents an outstanding and pristine example of this rare early bottle that is a favorite with New England Medicine bottle collectors. The outstanding glass color is representative of a Stoddard, New Hampshire glasshouse. Typically, the bottles are found in more of an olive-amber glass color. There is a Glass Works Auctions sticker on the base.

The bottle is cylindrical with eight indented and chamfered vertical panels and has a crudely applied and appealing double tapered sloping collar on a beefy neck. The bottle is 8-3/8″ tall and has a pontil scar. Within four of the indented panels is distinct serifed copy reading from shoulder to base. The includes ‘PHELPS’S (panel 1), ‘ARCANUM’ (panel 3), ‘WORCESTER’ (panel 5), and ‘MASS.’ (panel 7). Panels, 2, 4, 6, and 8 are blank and could have been where a thin vertical label may have been placed.

The bottle was an entrant in the “Best Massachusetts Bottle” in the 2017 FOHBC Springfield National Bottle Competition. It sat along the Dr. Phelps Arcanum Genuine bottle was won 1st place in the category.

Azor Rounday Phelps

Azor Rounday Phelps was born on April 30, 1798, in Worcester County, Massachusetts. His father was Capt. Azor Phelps (1761-1837), the third son of Henry and Sarah Rounday Phelps born in Sutton, Massachusetts, on October 13, 1761. He was a revolutionary soldier who was discharged on October 10, 1780, and noted as marching 190 miles home. Capt. Phelps was a farmer and blacksmith, and in the latter employment made scythes and other farming implements. He settled first in Millbury, moving next to Worcester, and about in 1816 to Shrewsbury. He died in Shrewsbury on April 2, 1837, due to a hernia caused by the kick of a horse. Azor’s mother was Dolly Makepeace.

Dr. Azor R. Phelps started saying he was a doctor in the early 1820s though we see no record of his medical education. Often, “doctor types” would come across a magic healing elixir and somehow become an “M.D.” and proprietor in their advertising and historical listings. At any rate, Azor Phelps started selling his Phelps’ Arcanum somewhere around 1824, according to newspaper testimonials. He operated out of Worcester, Mass from about 1830 until his death in 1843.

In 1828, Phelps would publish his “Remarks, Preliminary to the Exhibition of Dr. Phelps’ Practically Established Arcanum,” which was twelve pages of Phelps’ Arcanum wisdom, accolades, testimonials, and directions. By 1830, he established his Phelps Laboratory in Worcester, Mass. A few testimonial examples follow and were used to “express purpose of proving, to the satisfaction of every candid and impartial mind, and, especially, those in pursuit of health and a scientific preparation of medicine, the superior powers, efficacy, and cheapness of the Arcanum, to any medicine ever offered for sale in America.” One was from Dr. R. Clayton of North Carolina dated Wilkesboro’, Oct. 9, 1824. Another was from J. V. Moran, M. D. of New Orleans, Louisiana dated July 7, 1828, another from S. C. Hay, M. D. of Charleston, South, Carolina dated Aug. 3, 1828, and yet another from R. M. S. Tompkins, M. D. in Baltimore, Maryland dated June 10, 1828.

Dr. Azor R Phelps would marry Anna Janette Warl on November 18, 1833, in Worcester (Shrewsberry), Massachusetts. Their children were Virginia Isabel, Sarah Janett, Robert Archer, Harriet Jemima, and Martha Maria Phelps.

By the mid-1830s, Dr. Phelps’ Arcanum had become a very popular medicine selling for $2 a bottle, represented and sold by agents in regional towns and cities primarily in New England. The medicine was said to cure just about anything under the sun and was a competitor of Swaim’s Panacea. Dr. Phelps offered refunds if his medicine would not cure your disease. Testimonials continued to fill newspaper ads from prominent doctors and clergymen who said the Arcanum was the best. In 1839, advertising said, “Phelps’s Arcanum patronized by the Navy of the United States.” By 1841 advertising said, “Warranted to relieve or cure in every case, for which it is designed. Sold extensively in the U. States, British Provinces, West Indies, Texas, &c.” Oddly, advertising would stop that year. Azor R. Phelps died shortly thereafter on October 14, 1843.

Primary Image: Phelps’s Arcanum Worcester Mass bottle imaged on location by Alan DeMaison, FOHBC Virtual Museum Midwest Studio

Support Image: Auction Lot 175: “Phelps’s / Arcanum / Worcester / Mass.” Medicine Bottle, a Stoddard glasshouse, Stoddard, New Hampshire, 1846-1860. Cylindrical with eight indented panels, medium olive amber, applied sloping collared mouth with ring – pontil scar, ht. 8 3/8 inches; (1/2 inch area has been buffed on edge of base). AAM pg. 409 Crudely applied and appealing sloping collar and ring. An early and desirable New England medicine bottle. Generally fine condition. – Norman Heckler Jr. & Sr., Norman C. Heckler & Company, Auction #146

Support Image: Auction Lot 9: “Phelps’s / Arcanum / Worcester / Mass.” Medicine Bottle, a Stoddard glasshouse, Stoddard, New Hampshire, 1846-1860. Cylindrical with eight indented panels, brilliant light to medium yellow olive, applied sloping collared mouth with ring – pontil scar, ht. 8 3/4 inches. AAM pg. 409 A rare and beautiful bottle. Fine condition. – Norman Heckler Jr. & Sr., Norman C. Heckler & Company, Auction #106

Support Image: “Phelps Arcanum For Sale Here” lithograph with its rows of bottles supporting a dome or canopy, over which floated a winged figure with a scroll bearing the words: “Phelps’s Arcanum.” and about the base boxes of the medicine directed to all parts of the world, derives special interest from the fact that it was designed and drawn on the stone by George L. Brown, before spoken of, and now an eminent American landscape artist – passage from Proceedings of the Worcester Society of Antiquity, Volume 6 by Worcester Historical Society, Worcester, Mass · 1885

Support: Reference to Remarks, Preliminary to the Exhibition of Dr. Phelps’ Practically Established Arcanum – National Library of Medicine. Est. 1828

Support: Reference to Pontiled Medicine Price Guide by Jim Holst, Eleventh Edition, 2012

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