Bottles, Embossing, and (Unidentified) Base Marks– Oh My!

In light of our more recent readings and discussions, wherein the topic of 19th century women and their use of pharmaceuticals arose, I felt it was appropriate to shine the spotlight on this particular item:

cataloged as 45K1765/M-54

cataloged as 45K1765/M-54

Pictured above is a medicinal bottle. The embossed label marks it as a prescription/druggist’s container, and reads: LANG DRUG CO. COLMAN BUILDING, 807 FIRST AVENUE- -SEATTLE WASH. According to the Society for Historical Archaeology, other samples of the same bottle type date to the mid-1880s.


Of particular interest are two embossed marks, one on the shoulder and the other on the base. The first consists of a stylized number “3”, followed by the numerals “vi”. This mark is an indicator of measurement belonging to a system known as the apothecaries’ system. In this case, the stylized “3” stands for ounces, and the “vi” stands for the number six, meaning this particular bottle contained six ounces, or the equivalent of forty-six teaspoons, of some sort of fluid remedy.

m in a diamond base mark

The second mark features the letter “M” situated within a diamond shape. Though other marks similar to this one (often a different letter located within the diamond) are recognizable as makers’ marks, this particular letter/shape configuration has yet to be attributed to any manufacturer, though one source dates it at around 1890. Though information about the Lang Drug Company is scarce, one source highlights the company’s move to 807 First Ave. in 1905; this later date might indicate that the bottle was reused since its manufacturing.

Given the bottle’s type and place of origin, it’s not unreasonable to expect that this artifact was once belonged in the medicine cabinet of a household in Seattle, perhaps near what is today Pike Place Market (with 807 First Ave. located roughly eight blocks southeast). Further analysis of the assemblage as a whole will provide a better picture of the deposition context, and will likely contradict such expectations. In any case, it’s far removed from the context of the lives of women in Five Points, New York, though it might raise similar questions as to the lives and livelihoods of those on the opposite coast.


1. For an in-depth guide to medicinal bottles, try the SHA:

2. For a shorthand of apothecaries’ style, see

3. A brief note about Lang Drug Company:

4. For more on letter-in-diamond and other maker’s marks:

2 thoughts on “Bottles, Embossing, and (Unidentified) Base Marks– Oh My!

  1. Great article! I recently picked up a very small bottle/vial that reads “The Lang Drug Co. Seattle, Wash.”. It also has some marking on it, such as 1-2-3 along the side with 8 embossed graduations (for 1/2, 1, 1/2, 2 etc). These are not ounces as the bottle itself probably doesn’t hold a full ounce anyways.

  2. Impressive sleuthing on this druggist bottle, Tiauna! Following up on the link you provided it’s interesting to ntoe the variety of sources where the Lang Drug Co. is mentioned, though I wonder what happened to them after their move in 1905.

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