People collect antiques for many different reasons. I treasure old stuff like many folks, yet appreciate it more for history sake than the material object itself. Knowing who owned an item makes it talk to me, especially after I’ve performed sufficient background research.
One of my favorite antiques to collect are medicine bottles. While it’s near impossible to say who the original owner of an old bottle is, the person formerly owning the drug store can be identified. Before 1920, most medicine bottles were embossed with the druggist’s name.
An example of such being a bottle I came across with W.A. D’Alemberte – Druggist – Pensacola, Florida embossed on the front panel. Most folks would assume Mr. D’Alemberte was a Florida native. Research showed that not to be the case.
Willoughby Augustus D’Alemberte was born in Mobile, Alabama on August 26, 1854. Willoughby’s father, William, was in railroad construction. The well-to-do businessman had a contract to build a railroad from Whiting, Alabama (now Flomaton) to Pensacola, Florida. Mr. D’Alemberte and family moved to Whiting from Mobile because of such.
William D’Alemberte’s project was finished before the Civil War began. The family then moved to Pollard, AL. After the war ended, D’Alemberte was given a new contract to rebuild railroad lines destroyed by Union soldiers.
One of these contracts entailed laying new track from Mobile to Decatur for the L&N Railroad. When this work began, the family traveled to Greenville, Alabama where young Willoughby first attended school.
When Willoughby’s mom became seriously ill the family pulled up stakes once again relocating to Pensacola, Florida. His mom was under the care of Dr. Wonderise, a renowned surgeon in the area. William D’Alemberte remained behind in Pollard tending to his business. Unfortunately he passed away from a heart attack not long after the family left.
Willoughby remained in Pensacola with his mother, brother, and sister. He studied medicine eventually opening his own drug store. Willoughby D’Alemberte lived in Pensacola for 50 plus years. He died January 3, 1920, at the age of 65. The successful druggist is buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery.
I found Willoughby’s early life interesting because I was born in the Pensacola area. My family relocated to Alabama six months later. There’s an Alabama-Florida connection in both our lives.
Finding medicine bottles from your home town or city is possible. In most cases they can be inexpensive to own. Ebay’s a good place to start looking. The Pensacola bottle I talk about in this article set me back $10.00 including shipping.
Over the years I‘ve come across medicine bottles from all areas of Alabama, yet none from Lamar County. The closest I’ve found is one from Fayette. That’s where my brother was born so it’s special to him.
When I hold an antique medicine bottle in hand I can’t help but wonder,
“What drug was inside and who was it for?”
Only the doctor, druggist, and customer can answer that question. Unfortunately for my inquisitive brain all have left the room!