The Archive Lady: Preserving the Family Doctor’s Medicine Bottles

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The Archive Lady: Preserving the Family Doctor’s Medicine Bottles

Vera in Texas asks: “My great-grandfather was a doctor in rural Texas. Our family has several of his old medicine bottles that have been handed down over the years. Some of the bottles still have powders and tablets in them with a cork stopper. Can you please tell me the best way to preserve these bottles so that they can continue to be passed down?”

It sounds like Vera has a true treasure in her ancestor’s medicine bottles. To have a doctor in the family can make for some wonderful genealogy research, stories and artifacts. My husband has a doctor in his family, Dr. William Henry Franklin Glasgow (1861-1911) who was a doctor in rural Tennessee. Researching his history and career as a family doctor has been fascinating.

Medicine Bottles, Wikimedia Commons
Medicine Bottles, Wikimedia Commons

Whether you have medicine bottles or other glass bottles that you have inherited, preserving them properly will help to make sure they do not get broken. Instead of medicine bottles maybe you have perfume bottles or some other type of glass bottle that you need to protect and preserve.

The first step and most important step is to empty the bottles of their contents. While it is always important to preserve an artifact as it is, in this case it is very important to remove and discard anything in the bottle. The contents could be poisonous or could cause you damage if it came in contact with your skin or you breathed in the fumes or dust. I would recommend that you wear gloves and a mask when emptying the bottles. Be sure to dispose of the contents properly by taking what you have collected to a local medicine disposal drop off. There are local police departments, health departments and drug stores that offer free and safe medication disposal options.

Old Medicine Bottles, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Old Medicine Bottles, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Once the contents have been disposed of, it is important to wash out the inside of the bottles. Using warm water and fragrance free dish soap to clean the inside of the bottles is perfectly acceptable. If the bottle has the original label on it, do not soak the bottle in the warm water as the label may come off. If the outside of the bottle is dirty, use a soft cotton cloth to gently wash down the bottle. Do not scrub the bottle or use abrasive materials as that could cause damage or tear off the label. Let the bottle dry completely before moving on to the next step. If your bottle has a cork for the stopper, it would be completely acceptable to replace the cork into the bottle before the archiving process.

Lark Chemical Company, Erin, Tennessee, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Lark Chemical Company, Erin, Tennessee, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

To preserve and protect Vera’s glass medicine bottles, all she needs is archival tissue paper and an archival box. Wrap each bottle in archival tissue paper and lay them in an archival box lined with archival tissue paper. Do not let the bottles touch each other because they could get broken in storage if they are touching. Crumple up archival tissue paper and place around the bottles so that they fit snugly in the box and do not move around or touch each other.

Lastly, it is always important to include documentation of what the bottles are, who they belonged to and how they came into the family records collection. Documenting this information will help future generations to continue to tell the story of the doctor in the family!

Archival Material Websites

Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications.

Melissa Barker’s Legacy Family Tree Webinar and QuickGuide

Metal Paper Clips, Rubber Bands and Tape, OH MY!

Metal Paper Clips, Rubber Bands and Tape, OH MY! Legacy QuickGuide

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Melissa Barker - The Archive Lady

Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

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