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Subject: Pharmaceutical bottles

Pharmaceutical bottles

From: Barry Knight <barry.knight>
Date: Wednesday, August 30, 2000
In Conservation DistList Instance: 14:15 Thursday, August 24, 2000,
Heather Place asks for advice on dealing with cracked pharmaceutical
bottles with seized stoppers.  It is quite common for ground glass
stoppers to seize up in this way, but I would be surprised if
sufficient pressure could build up inside to crack the bottle
without it shattering completely.  Even if the bottles contained
alcohol, they would have to get very hot for this to happen, and
this seems unlikely in Winnipeg.

If the bottles weren't cracked I would suggest the usual tricks of
tapping the stopper gently to try to loosen it, or pouring boiling
water onto the neck to try to make it expand, but in this case these
approaches could be hazardous.  I think I would try placing the
bottles stopper-downwards in a beaker of warm alcohol to see whether
this would dissolve the material round the stopper, combined with
gentle twisting.

Heather doesn't mention whether there is still liquid in the bottles
or whether they have dried out completely.  The bottles labelled
"Tr." would have contained tinctures, that is to say alcoholic
extracts, as follows:

    Tr. Arnica--Tincture of Arnica (for bruises)
    Tr. Nuc. Vom.--Tincture of Nux Vomica (an emetic)
    Tr. Iodi--Tincture of Iodine (an antiseptic)
    Pv. Jalapa--Jalapa Powder (a purgative)

*Note that Nux Vomica contains strychnine and is extremely toxic by

The contents of this bottle, and any alcoholic washings from the
stopper, should be handled with great care and disposed of in
accordance with local poisons regulations.

Barry Knight
Senior Conservation Scientist
English Heritage

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:16
                 Distributed: Sunday, September 3, 2000
                       Message Id: cdl-14-16-005
Received on Wednesday, 30 August, 2000

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