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Poison Impostors


We have all done it.  Looked at something and thought it had to be one thing, but ended up being another. It happens.  And sometimes, such misidentified discoveries can cause a whole culture to believe it, until proven otherwise.  This is what this page is dedicated to. The proper identification and explanation of some commonly misidentified bottles thought to be poisons.  But let me be clear, this is in no way meant to be disrespectful to Terry Kuhn or her late husband, Rudy. They have done excellent work in creating the de facto standard in poison bottle identification. This is just a collection of corrections made over the years.

First, lets cover the characteristics of most poison bottles.

1) Itís embossed with words like: Poison, Poisonous, Not To Be Taken, For External Use Only...etc
2) Itís embossed with a skull and crossbones.
3) The bottle is of an odd shape (Coffin, Triangular, Diamond, 5 to 8 sided or Figural).
4) Itís textured (Ribs, Flutes, Hobnails, Diamonds, Stars, Lattice, Bumps or Scallops) on the face and/or edges.

Poisons can have only 1 or any combination of the above. Item 3 is where some bottles can be mis-IDed if itís the only characteristic it has. Then the proof would have to come from the deciding factor of:

5) It has a label stating itís a poison in some manner.

This is where some bottles fall short. They have the shape, but no label. Also, color has nothing to do with the contents.  Just because itís Cobalt or Amber, does not make it a poison by any means.

Now that we covered the basic rules, lets see the impostors


KH-26 & 27

These have got to be the #1 misidentified bottles today. They are commonly found with ďSharp & DohmeĒ embossed on them, but this mold was used by some other Pharmacies (Red Dragon Seltzer for example). Here is a detailed article on these 2 bottles.

by Philip Soehnlen

Back in August, 1979, I wrote and article on a bottle that was being sold as a poison when it was nothing of the sort.  now once again I find I must repeat that warning.  In the latest poison book to come out, "Kuhns's Poison Workbook" it identifies a Sharp & Dohme bottle (KH-26 &  KH-27), as a poison.

It would seem that poisons were not the  only substance which required an odd shaped bottle to warn people.  This particular bottle contained LAPACTIC PILLS, which were first introduced by Sharp & Dohme in 1882 as a tonic laxative.  Whether or not the bottle was first made in 1882, I can't answer.  It was being produced in 1929 which is the year of the catalog from which this page was taken (I put our images at the bottle of this instead of scanning the page). The unusual shape and color (Amber), warned men, women and children with regular bowel movements of the deadly dehydrating effects of its contents.

No doubt, there will be some unhappy poison  collectors out there when they read this article.  But look at the  bright side of it, how many people in your club have a full set of tonic laxatives by Sharp & Dohme?

I have become aware in the last few years as poisons have gained in popularity, that many novice collectors are picking up many bottles which are not poisons.  Most  poisons have unusual shape, color and texture but because a bottle has  these qualities does not make it a poison.  If you are not sure of an item, get advice from someone more experienced.


The very first example of this bottle mold used to hold a poison was discovered on eBay just recently.  The mold for the KH-26 was used by WM. R. WARNER & CO.  It contained Granulated Morphine Sulfate. I was unable to obtain this gem (just didnít have the funds to compete with others who recognized it for what it is.) Itís a clear bottle with the company name as it states above, with PHILADELPHIA below.  Keep a look out for this bottle.  It is the only known drug maker who shipped poisons in this bottle mold. See the bottle here.

The winner of this bottle was none other than our club prez, Jerry.  I was fortunate enough to get to see it first hand at the Columbia bottle show.  Still waiting for those pictures. :-)



The McCormick Bee

This is another popular poison impostor. It too was mistaken on shape alone and there are no examples with a label stating that itís a poison.  McCormick is a spice company and had no known dealings with poisons. These did, however, contain items that had to be used with caution. One was laudanum (a solution of opium in alcohol). The other was Quinine Sulfate, a treatment for Malaria. The bottle shape was to warn the user that there is some caution to be had with the contents.

I guess you could say the jury is still out on this bottle.  Even with the above information, there is a bottle (KR-93) that also contained Laudanum, which is considered a poison bottle. So this one is a quandry.  Is it or not...and if not, is the KR-93 not as well?  More to come when info becomes available.


Another case of misshapen identity.  This bottle has 2 flat sides at 90 degrees and a rounded back.  Being cobalt and this shape, we think Poison. Wrong! As you can see from the label and itís ingredients, there is no poison.  Nor is there any examples of this bottle with an original label stating such.

Pocket Poison Flask

This one gets people confused quite often. Whether itís the color or the PP embossing, not sure.  But itís far from a poison. A brief summery:

"B.P. Co./[backward PP in circle]

-- For Dyspepsia and Indigestion -- Pepoids --
New Brunswick, N.J. U.S.A.
Successors To The Brunswick Pharmacal Co.
Adv. by Johnson & Johnson, 1889 PVS & S
1929-30, AD: by the Kells Co., NEWBURGH, N.Y., AD.

Cobalt; 2-7/8" x 1-3/4" x 3/4", 3n; oval base, will not stand; pl;, h; also flat bottomed and threaded variants." Richard E. Fike, The Bottle Book, p. 51

KU-15, 26 & 27
The Poison Flasks

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a flask?  Water?  Booze?  Something to drink more than likely. Last thing you would think that would be sold in a flask would be poison. Here are 3 (2 pictured) flasks that were thought to have held poison due to the nature of their textured bodies. These are no longer considered poisons as:

1) Itís not a bottle that typically would hold poison,
2) No examples with a label saying such,
3) There is no area to place a label if there was one.

Regardless of this correction, these still are desirable flasks and command a $200 - $300 price. I wouldnít let this discourage you from getting one if given the chance.

The KU-15 is very close to the look of the KU-26, but has a rounder body and unfinished lip.




Perfumes are usually highly decorative.  Many will have diamonds, ribs and such to give it that Cut Crystal look.  Many charactoristics that mimic those of poisons. Again, careful inspection of other details of the bottle (shape, makers mark) will give you the clues to the bottleís true identity.


There are many other bottles out there that could be easily mistaken for a poison if youíre not careful.  Many bottles are decorative, like booze decanters, which will have a diamond or cut glass texture that resembles the characteristics of poisons.  But usually, certain bottles have a size & shape to them that is typical for their contents.  Case Gins, for example, have a coffin like shape, but are easily identified as no other bottle has that particular look and size. Sauce bottles sometimes have ribs for either decoration or for grip while shaking the bottle to get the contents out. But sauce bottles, too, have a particular shape to them for their period. The more you collect and study bottles, the more you get familiar with thier shapes.  You may never know what exactly came in them, but you can narrow it down to a group. You just have to pay attention and study itís characteristics in a logical way. 

Happy hunting!


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