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Monday, August 17, 2009

Thank Goodness for Pills!

It's 5:32 pm here (no matter what my computer clock says) and things are winding down. It's that time of day when many guys will be lifting a bottle - a cold one - to drink; but me, I'd rather be lifting a bottle - an old one - just to admire and research. Kind of funny that a guy so interested in bottles doesn't drink alcohol; probably 99% of the bottles in my collection contained alcohol, either as a refreshment or a medicine; in fact, some of them still have contents. The alcohol in medicines were used as a bracer and a sedative, but also as antifreeze and a preservative.

Until the late nineteenth century, most homes did not have heat beyond that produced by the fireplace or the stove. This left much of the house very cold on a cold winter day or night. I have read several journal entries of ink frozen in the bottle and medicine bottles that had exploded due to frozen contents. I once lived in a house in central Massachusetts built in 1794 that still had no heat on the second floor, where our bedrooms were. In the morning on the coldest days we would awaken to the sight of ice covering the bedroom window panes - on the inside! We kept anything liquid on the first floor.

That last reason for alcohol in medicine - as a preservative - is also hard to understand today. Many of the medicines had lots of plant matter in them and the alcohol was used to preserve them - in effect, to "pickle" the contents. But after 140 years or so, the plant matter, water and alcohol move around in the bottles like murky greenish-gray clouds oozing over swamp muck that had sucked down wooly mammoths. One look at the bottles in my collection with full or partial contents is enough to keep me a non-drinker for the rest of my life - and to always make sure they don't freeze - I never want those bad boys exploding their swamp-muck contents into my study!

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