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Drake's Plantation Bitters Bottle

$1,000.00 (excluding tax)

Product Description

Set includes:

  • Certificate of Authenticity
  • National Geographic's Civil War Gold DVD
  • Museum style display case with acrylic cover
  • Copy of Bottles from the Deep book

Bottle Height: 10 inches

Sold as medicine rather than as liquor, bitters were not subject to tax and were immensely popular in the second half of the 19th century. Their curative attributes permitted the respectable man to satiate his desire for strong drink without incurring condemnation from the temperance union – or from his neighbor. The bitters trade reached new heights from 1860–1880 as thousands of brands were introduced on the market, competing for a share of the multi-million-dollar business.

Drake’s Plantation Bitters was one of those brands. Sold in a distinctive bottle with logcabin sides and three-tiered roof thatching, its design was patented in 1862. Drakes’s was one of the first of more than 40 cabin-shaped bitters bottles produced by various makers during the patent-medicine era. The formula was first manufactured and marketed by Patrick Henry Drake in partnership with fellow New Yorker, Demas Barnes. In 1867, Drake established the P.H. Drake Company with himself as sole proprieter. The famous recipe, “a wonderful vegetable restorative,” contained a mixture of herbs, laced with St. Croix rum from the Caribbean. The potent formula – over 38% alcohol – claimed to cure every disease known to mankind. “Why is it that Plantation Bitters outsells all others?” began one announcement in Drake’s popular yearly almanac, followed by a long list of medicinal claims: “it promotes digestion,” “purifies the blood,” “puts new life into a lazy liver,” and “corrects all the defects in the gastric functions,” including “nervous constipation,” to mention but a few.

Competition in the bitters market was intense. Drake and his competitors issued large amounts of promotional literature attesting to the curative powers of their products. Testimonials were fabricated from “cured” users, including President Grover Cleveland’s wife. Like so many patent-medicine men, Drake could not resist the urge to spread his therapeutic message across America’s open spaces. An entire mountainside forest was chopped down by Drake’s agents so that 400-foot-high letters forming the words “Plantation Bitters” could be read by passengers on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

By the 1880s, however, the bitters industry was under attack by the medical community. Reform campaigns strove to abolish the blatantly false claims of the proprietary formulas. With the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the government cracked down on the sale of all questionable medicinal products, and the bitters trade was mortally wounded. The excavation of the SS Republic yielded a huge cargo of bottles embossed with Drake’s Plantation Bitters. Over 150 samples were recovered, most in varying shades of amber.

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