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Glass bottle, worn with age, with embossed lettering of D. A. Rosenthal

Artifact of the Month: Local Apothecary Medicine Bottle

Late Nineteenth-Century Knoxville, Tennessee
by Garrett Wamack – Graduate Research Assistant at the McClung Museum

Glass bottle, worn with age, with embossed lettering of D. A. Rosenthal

Figure 1. Glass medicine bottle excavated from site 40KN223 in the Old City (right behind Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria). Text:” D. A. ROSENTHAL / APOTHECARY / KNOXVILLE, TENN.”

The pictured bottle originates from a local apothecary once owned and operated by a Knoxville druggist named David A. Rosenthal. Born in Pennsylvania in January of 1856, Rosenthal moved to Knoxville in 1886 when, as city directories indicate, he began working as a clerk for a druggist named J. A. McCampbell. As he began his career in Knoxville, he lived as a boarder at the Hattie House (now the Hyatt Place at 530 Gay St.).

While working as a clerk for McCampbell, Rosenthal learned the druggist trade. By 1891, Rosenthal had gained enough experience and knowledge to open his own store at 301 North Gay Street near Depot Street (Figure 2).

Map of Rosenthal shop locations in Knoxville

Figure 2. Rosenthal’s drug store locations from Sanborn Fire Insurance maps circa 1903 and 1917 overlayed onto a contemporary USGS map.

He provided medicinal goods and cure-alls for local and regional shops. Rosenthal’s business operated from this location from 1891 to 1903. By 1904, he moved shop to South Gay Street at 531 and moved again to its final location at 521 South Gay by 1914.

After 1922, Knoxville city directories no longer list Rosenthal’s store in the druggist sections. Rosenthal closed up shop and retired with his family, moving to 1605 Laurel Avenue, where he lived until his death in 1933.

Advertisement for Rosenthal shops in Knoxville that reads, "Rosenthal, the reliable druggist, Cor. Gay & Clinch Ave opposite imperial hotel, we are not undersold."

Figure 3. A 1909 advertisement for Rosenthal’s apothecary in the city directories.

While the embossed lettering on the bottle opened the door for this short history of Rosenthal’s life, other diagnostic characteristics can help provide a range of years when this bottle was produced and sold. On the base of the bottle is a commercial mark, sometimes a symbol, logo, patent, or production date. In this instance, the embossed lettering on the base of this bottle provides a patent date of June 17, 1888. This indicates a production date on or after July 17, 1888, and most likely sold at one of Rosenthal’s stores on Gay Street.