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John Moffat & Co's Phoenix Bitters Bottle

First introduced in the mid-1830s, Moffat’s Phoenix Bitters were among the many bitters brands flooding the 19th-century market, claiming a host of medicinal virtues for the thousands of customers seeking relief. No doubt their high alcohol content made these products especially appealing to the public.

The invention of New York City’s John Moffat, his remedy was advertised extensively and soon became a success. Touted the “Universal Cure,” when taken at night Moffat’s formula was said to “promote insensitive respiration and relieve the system of febrile action and feculent obstructions as to produce delightful convalescence in the morning.”

John’s son William B. Moffat assumed the business in 1838, and had the product patented in 1862. However, John's name continued to be embossed on the bottles. By 1845, the company had introduced at least one other remedy, Moffats's Vegetable Life Pills, along with Moffat's Almanac, a popular advertising medium to promote patent medicines, including bitters. Moffat’s Agricultural Almanac for 1845 featured “certificates of remarkable cures performed by Moffat’s remedies.”

Three $1 bottles of Moffat’s Phoenix bitters, now empty, were salvaged from the wreck of the SS Republic. Perhaps these few samples are the surviving specimens of a larger cargo – or the favorite brand of a bitters drinker on board the ship as passenger or crew. As noted in a newspaper advertisements of the era, “no traveler by land or sea” should be without John Moffat’s & Cos medicines, “essential to the system undergoing changes from a variation of climate” and “also in allying sea-sickness.”

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