Pontiled Turlington Balsam of Life Bottle Back to Main Page

Antique Turlington Bottles


Following info was graciously contributed by Mitch Brown, an expert on Turlington bottles and co-author of an upcoming book on the subject.

-Historical Background-
Robert Turlington, a merchant, was granted a patent by King George II in London, England, in 1744 for his invention of a legendary "specifick [sic] balsam, called The Balsam of Life." According to records of the British Patent Office, Turlington's unique patent medicine consisted of twenty-seven ingredients. The patent conveyed to Turlington gave him the right to "make, use, exercise, and vend the said specific Balsam, called the Balsam of Life..." Such license also inherently granted him the authority to prosecute those who counterfeited, imitated, or otherwise illegally sought to fabricate a product resembling the same. Like some of his competitors, Turlington advertised the miraculous benefits of his product by including a testimonial broadside with each bottle sold. The broadside warned consumers against the ill effects of buying spurious imitations. Thus from the onset, Robert Turlington began a rigorous campaign to protect the integrity of his medicine which he proudly boasted had royal sanction.

-The problem of piracy-
Exported from his medicine warehouse in London, Turlington's Balsam of Life quickly gained fame as a household staple throughout the world, particularly throughout the American colonies. Despite the penalties for violating the terms of a royal patent, the increased popularity of Turlington's Balsam prompted some persons to produce pirated versions. Some resorted to buying up used Turlington bottles and dispensing their own fraudulent concoctions within, while others intentionally ordered the manufacture of embossed bottles replicating Turlington's wares in almost every feature. Although the early containers used to dispense the Balsam of Life were perhaps bottles of a plainer sort, those common utility bottles were easy targets for counterfeiters. Such pirated versions soon motivated Turlington to design a bottle with embossed lettering to counteract such piracy.

-Famous bottle shape-
In 1754, Robert Turlington finally settled on a bottle design which he believed would not only be costly and most difficult to imitate, but whose shape would be easily recognizable as well, thus giving him a marketing advantage. His decision to produce a molded bottle which was highly embossed and dated was rather unique for his period of time. Archaeological evidence suggests that Turlington's Balsam was among the first, if not the first, mold-blown bottles of the modern era of history to contain embossed lettering. Turlington's transitional 1754 bottle has often been referred to by bottle collectors as "geometric pear-shaped," or "violin-shaped." Even after the expiration of Turlington's patent, glass manufacturers, both English and American, continued to market bottles which imitated Turlington's original 1754 model. This practice continued well into the first decade of the twentieth century.

-The Turlington Legacy-
Turlington's Balsam of Life, like so many other popular nostrums, was impacted by the ramifications of the Pure Food and Drug Act passed by Congress on June 30, 1906. As a result, sellers of Turlington's Balsam continued to market the medicine, but were forced to do so by labeling it under the guise of another name --- Compound Tincture of Benzoin (aka Tincture Benzoin Compound).

-King of collectible antique bottles-
This famous English medicine was sold from 1744 to about 1906, a period spanning over 150 years. Because of the tremendous influx of imitators who promoted their own counterfeit versions of Turlington's Balsam of Life over that vast period of time, today's collectors have a host of embossed mold variants upon which to build their collections. Turlington bottles were also manufactured in a variety of colors. With new embossed variants and colored examples continuing to be discovered as the ever popular bottle collecting hobby grows, amassing a collection with over one hundred variants is a possibility :-)


Links to more info about Antique Turlington bottles:
This web page hosted by Antique Bottle Collectors Haven

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