Dark olive green with a blob top and only remnants of a color paper label, this historic glass bottle was once a common household product in the US. The remains of the label and the boldly embossed base identify the bottle as a Hunyadi Janos brand Bitterquelle (aperient water), produced by the Andreas Saxlehner Mineral Spring Water Company out of Budapest, Hungary. Saxlehner used the name of the storied 15th century Hungarian general Hunyadi Janos to market his all-curing water, advertised as “unsurpassed” when it comes to “constipation, dyspepsia, biliousness, and headache arising from overloading the stomach.”
Base and Label details for Artifact 45K1765/P17-1 from Burke Museum’s collections.
Though this type of soda bottle also resembles what the Illinois Glass Company referred to as a druggist’s packing bottle, the trademarked Hunyadi Janos product was so popular that the bottle shape became synonymous with the brand. The Illinois Glass Company actually offered the “Hunyadi Janos” style bottle for sale in its catalog in 1906. Primarily imported from Hungary to the US from about the 1870s to 1920s, the Bitterquelle’s success inspired a variety of copycat products. At a time when copyright and intellectual property were flagrantly ignored, the Saxlehner Company took its trademark infringement lawsuits all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1900 and won.
Saxlehner’s Hunyadi Janos Bitterquelle advertisement
(image from Society for Historical Archaeology’s Historic Glass Bottle Guide)
Though ubiquitous in American homes at the turn of the century, Saxlehner’s Hunyadi Janos Bitterquelle faded from popular consumption by the time the the Great Depression took hold. Back in Hungary where the product had been manufactured, growing political unrest before WWII compelled the Saxlehner family to emigrate in 1938. Documentary evidence like advertisements, manufacturer catalogs, and legal records shed light on the historical contexts surrounding the material record.
More than just an old green bottle, this artifact reflects cultural, social, economic, and international political scenes of the early 1900s.
Society for Historical Archaeology’s Guide to Bottle Typing