Antiques: Figural bottles were used for alcohol, medicine

and Kim Kovel

Figural bottles were often used to package medicines as well as alcoholic beverages in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A cabin-shaped bottle with the embossed name “E.G. Booz Whiskey” led customers to use the word booze for drink, a term still in use. But how did a pig-shaped bottle become one of the most popular bottles to encourage buyers of medicine?

There are early 1800s pig-shaped bottles made of both glass and ceramics. The tail is the spout, and the bottle was displayed on its four short legs. Suffolk Bitters, a medicine with a high percentage of alcohol, used the bottle about 1870. If you drank a lot, it made you happier and pain free like any alcoholic beverage. Bitters were considered a medicinal drink, not alcohol. The original amber Suffolk pig bottle had its name in raised letters on one side with “Philbrook & Tucker, Boston” on the other. There have been reproductions made in other colors and similar pigs with other names.

At a Glass Works Auction online there were 14 bids before the new owner paid $1,170. But why pigs for a product that doesn’t contain any parts of a pig? It is probably to encourage sales because there was a belief in the 1870-1890s that pigs bring prosperity and the drink in a pig bottle would bring wealth.

Question: What’s the value of four Windsor sack-back knuckle armchairs? The name “Nichols & Stone Co., Gardner, Ma.” is carved on the bottom. The chairs are in fairly good shape. Should I have them refinished?

Answer: Charles and Marcus Nichols started Nichols Brothers Chair Manufactory in Westminster, Mass., in 1762. Charles bought out his brother in 1894, and the company moved to Gardner, Mass., around the turn of the 20th century.

The name of the company became Nichols & Stone in 1907, after Charles went into partnership with Reuben S. Stone. The company specialized in making Windsor chairs beginning in the 1930s. The factory closed in 2008, and the designs, intellectual property and other assets were sold to L. & J.G. Stickley Co. of Manlius, N.Y. Nichols & Stone is now a line of furniture offered by Stickley.

Take one or more of the chairs to a furniture refinisher to get an estimate of the cost of refinishing them. It can be expensive, but if you enjoy using them, it may be worth it. If you plan to auction the chairs, don’t refinish them first. Ask the auction company what they expect the chair set to sell for.

Q: I inherited a collection of Fostoria Chintz etched glass from my parents years ago and am thinking of selling it. A service for 12 includes luncheons plates, goblets, sherbets, cups and saucers, and several serving pieces. We’ll be retiring and downsizing shortly so will need to part with this loved crystal. I would love to get your advice on how to proceed.

A: Fostoria glass was made in Fostoria, Ohio, beginning in 1887. The factory moved to Moundsville, W.Va., in 1891. The company was sold to Lancaster Colony Corporation in 1983 and closed in 1986. Fostoria made Chintz (etch) pattern from 1940 to 1973. Online websites that sell Fostoria Chintz also buy it, but glass is fragile and hard to pack and ship. It’s easier to try to sell the collection locally at a consignment shop. Prices seen recently are goblets for $26 to $33 and luncheon plates for $20 when sold by replacement companies. Goblets can sell for as little as $10 and luncheon plates for $5 to $8.

Q: I’m trying to find some information on one of P.J. Mene’s bronze sculptures of a dog. It looks like a whippet and has the right leg and paw on a ball. It’s on a bronze platform mounted onto a piece of marble and is signed by the sculptor. I’ve done a lot of research and can’t find this specific piece anywhere, although I’ve seen several that are quite similar. I’m interested in putting this sculpture up for sale or auction. Can you give me any idea of its value?

A: Pierre-Jules Mene (1810-1879) was a French sculptor who began casting bronze at his studio in 1837. He did many sculptures of dogs and horses. Twentieth-century reproductions and fakes have been made and sell today for a fraction of the price of an authentic bronze sculpture. Value depends on its authenticity, size, details and patina. The bronze should be seen by an expert to determine if it is authentic and to determine its value. If you’re thinking of selling it at auction, the auction house will be able to authenticate it and set an auction estimate.

Q: Do you know of a school that teaches about antiques, etc.? I’ve collected and loved older items since I was 14, when I got my first computer. Since then, I’ve researched and talked to many people trying to learn about antiques. Is there a place that can help me learn where to find information about identifying real items, signatures, marks, etc.?

A: Check schools and colleges near you to see if they offer adult education courses on antiques. Go to antiques shows so you can learn to recognize important makers. Talk to the dealers. They are often very helpful. Keep asking questions. You’ll find lots of helpful information on identifying antiques, makers’ marks, factory history and prices on our website, There is also a forum on our site where readers can post questions and get answers from other readers.

Tip: The best way to dust books is with a vacuum cleaner brush attachment, while running the vacuum.

There have been copies of the antique Suffolk pig bottles in other colors of glass. The original bottle is 10 inches long and has a smooth base.