The 7.75in (19cm) tapering rectangular bottle in aqua glass is a great rarity and this example is graded 9.5 out of ten.
Blown in a mould and finished with a pontil mark, to one side are pictorial motifs - the image of a radiant sun above a heraldic shield with the words Mortetam Vita. To the other side is the inscription in capitals By His Majesty’s Royal Letters Patent Dr Sibley’s Solar Tincture.
It was formerly part of the collection of Alan McEwen, author in 1977 of the snappily-titled Collecting Quack Cures: A compendium of Victorian medicine bottles embossed with the word ‘cure’ or variations thereof to be found in Great Britain. McEwen had purchased it in the late 1970s for £100 – turning down at the time the chance to own earlier version at £120.
Estimated at £1200-1500 at the auction on October 2, competition came from several sources, but ultimately two collectors in the room battled from around £5000.
BBR’s Alan Blakeman told ATG that – as the collecting market matures – there are currently as many as 20 people chasing material of this calibre with prices spiking up to ten-fold across the past six years. Twenty years ago he had sold a more desirable version of this bottle – in green glass with a rolled lip – for £2400.
Dr Ebeneezer Sibly’s famously claimed great things for his ‘reanimating’ tincture. According to an advert that appeared in The Times in March, 1793 “In all circumstances of suicide, or sudden death, whether by blows, fits, falls, suffocation, strangulation, drowning, apoplexy, thunder and lightning, assassination, duelling, &c., immediate recourse should be had to this medicine, which will not fail to restore life, provided the organs and juices are in a fit disposition for it, which they undoubtedly are much oftener than is imagined.”
After Sibly’s death around 1800 (clearly he hadn’t taken his own medicine), his successor, JR Saffell, made fewer claims for the tincture but said it had “restored multitudes, who were on the verge of the grave, to health.”
The medicine was still on sale in the 1870s with this bottle dating from the middle years of the 19th century.
Interesting in the light of such a price, back in February 2015 Rayleigh, Essex auctioneers Stacey’s sold another version of this bottle. Although many times the £30-50, at £1100 it does look something of a bargain.
The buyer’s premium at BBR Auctions was 15%.