By Sara Caruso
My obsession with antique bottles began in my early teens. My main focus is quackery and medicine bottles manufactured in the 1800s through the early 1900s. My fascination with the history of weird remedies, medicine, and medical treatments is something I grew up with. My mother, Maria, was a nurse and these were topics we enjoyed and discussed frequently. My first job was at Rite Aid Pharmacy where, among other things, I helped in the pharmacy and learned about modern medications. I usually acquired my bottles by digging, antique fairs, thrift stores, and yard sales. Researching and collecting local bottles became one of my passions.
In 2017, I was contacted by a friend to see if I was interested in some old bottles she had. At the time, she was the owner of a small consignment shop, and sometimes received bottles from commercial fisherman who would occasionally bring them up with their catch in trawling nets. When I arrived, she showed me some of their finds: 1880s blob top soda bottles, milk bottles, glass bottle stoppers, and other interesting trinkets. Then, she showed me a small clear glass medicine bottle; I almost fainted. There, embossed on this small antique glass bottle were the words “Durand” and “BEACH HAVEN, NJ.” Realizing the rarity of what I was holding, my hands began to tremble. Knowing that I am an avid collector of old bottles and that I might be able to find out more about this rare treasure, my friend was willing to part with it. I immediately began researching. Similar bottles with the same name had been found in Moorestown, New Jersey. The Moorestown Historical Society states that Durand was a medical product manufacturing company, but from my years of bottle collecting experience, I knew the name on the bottle had to be the pharmacist not the bottle maker.
After years of searching with few to no leads, an antique postcard I found at auction brought a ray of hope. The postcard featured the side of the Hotel Baldwin and on the ground floor I could see a drug store. There it was — Durand’s Pharmacy!
After further research I concluded the pharmacy would have been located on the corner of Beach Avenue and Pearl Street in Beach Haven and was part of the west end of the famous and long-gone Hotel Baldwin. Unfortunately, there was no date associated with the postcard, so, I turned my research back to the origins of the bottle.
Most pharmacy bottles of a similar time period were made by a handful of glass manufacturers. Generally, the name of the pharmacist/proprietor was embossed on the bottle in script above the city where the pharmacy was located. The curved front of the bottle was left blank to allow for a paper label with the patient’s name and doctor’s instructions to be affixed to the surface.
My Durand’s bottle is a standard size clear glass prescription vile, usually intended for syrups/liquid medicines. It is embossed with only the name of the pharmacy. I could tell by the shape of the neck that the bottle was made sometime between 1890 and 1920, as after that the use of corks and stoppers were generally discontinued, and manufacturers switched almost exclusively to twist-off caps. The bottom of the bottle gave another clue, the letter B above a U.S.A. mark. I knew this was one of the trademarks used by the Whitall Tatum Glass Company.
Whitall Tatum was a glass company founded in 1806 in Millville, New Jersey. They manufactured many prescription and laboratory bottles for druggists along the east coast and held several different patent designs for medicine bottles. After researching further, I was able to pinpoint the year my bottle had been manufactured: 1912. This would later coincide with more information about the druggist himself, Arthur J. Durand.
A.J. Durand, as he was known around Beach Haven, was a popular man. Originally from Pennsylvania, he eventually settled in Tuckerton, New Jersey. Along with Beach Haven, Durand would go on to open pharmacies in Tuckerton, and Moorestown, New Jersey. Durand’s pharmacy in Beach Haven was part of the Hotel Baldwin and was in direct competition with the original Engleside Hotel’s pharmacy, Paxson’s, run by L.C. Paxson. As time went on Durand’s pharmacy grew and could be seen in advertisements promoting Beach Haven to Island visitors. Along with prescriptions, customers could purchase ice cream, soda, and other seasonal items in his beachside pharmacy.
A. J. Durand enjoyed Island life. An avid sailor, he joined the newly formed Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club in 1912 and was eventually elected as their first fleet surgeon. Durand was close friends with the original Buckalews and served as best man at their daughter’s wedding in 1906. He also joined them on rabbit and quail hunts. Along with hunting, Durand enjoyed fishing, and often reported on the fish he saw in the waters around Beach Haven. Though no date is available for when Durand stopped operating his businesses, it is known that he eventually retired to a life of fishing and frolicking, leaving his pharmacies to new owners.
In retrospect, it is amazing that a small glass bottle scooped up by chance in trawling nets far from the shores of LBI became the thread that led to the rediscovery of the location of Durand’s Pharmacy in Beach Haven. If the nets had missed this one small bottle this history would remain beneath the waves.
As a collector and researcher, I still have one unanswered question: how did this prescription bottle from Durand’s Pharmacy in Beach Haven get so far out to sea? Perhaps, it was the prescription of a wayward sailor who downed the last swig of cough syrup and cast the empty bottle overboard. These types of secrets remain with the mermaids. And mermaids never tell.