2004 Issue

Compiled by
Mike McLeod

 This month Mike McLeod takes a look at milk bottles, medical instruments, miniature books, and cigar labels. Mike, who lives with his family near Atlanta, has written about a broad range of antiques and collectibles – from Sumida pottery to Gutenburg Bible pages. Readers who would like to share interesting websites with Mike may contact him via email at mikemcl@mindspring.com.

Example from the golden age of cigar label art from 1882 to 1920 when labels were created with stone lithography and embossed with gold.

Cigar Label Collectors


             Cigar labels (not cigar bands) are found on the inside lid of a cigar box and are often works of art. Stone lithography, invented in 1798 by Aloys Senfelder, was used in the printing of some of the earliest and most beautiful cigar labels from 1860 to 1920. Tedious and expensive, stone lithography required a separate slab of limestone for each color, and most cigar boxes required 11 colors. So you can see the effort invested and expense incurred in making cigar boxes attractive.

            The website gives great insight on how to tell stone lithographs from mechanically printed cigar labels: “Most cigar art labels are heavily embossed with real 24K gold leaf or bronze. Most modern printing is not embossed or gilded. All cigar-art labels produced from 1880 to 1920 have distinct stipple dots [which are irregular in pattern]. Early 1870s cigar art labels have crayon marks rather than stippling, and these labels are not embossed.” Also, mechanically produced, full color labels are printed with just four colors. Use a magnifying glass to look for four-color dots that are uniform in size and spacing to distinguish mechanical from lithography.

            Label art themes cross a wide spectrum: patriotism, women, children, birds, animals, science, sports, Christmas, buildings, gambling, medieval, money, and many more.

            The website features a history of cigar labels, news, meetings, chats, and articles from as early as July 1995. It also has many wonderful photos of cigar label art.


Example of toothkey for extracting teeth before the days of novocaine.

Medical Instruments


           Here is something you do not see every day: a two-handled vase inscribed “Leeches.” But that is not the only intriguing antique on this webpage that bills itself as “the internet resource for collecting medical, surgical, apothecary, dental, and bloodletting antiques.”

            Douglas Arbittier, MD, an anesthesiologist, exhibits his collection on this fascinating webpage. It is one of the most in-depth medical antique websites on the net. It literally features hundreds of photos on the most interesting medical devices. It also offers historical and pricing information. The website has been featured on CNN and by the AMA’s American Medical News.

            Among the ophthalmic surgery sets, antique enemas, amputation saws, and other such things on the site, you will also find tooth keys. As you can see from the photo, tooth keys were tools for extracting teeth. Nice.

            After visiting the site and imagining those tools in action, Dr. Arbittier’s final words are particularly pointed: “…be thankful you live in today’s medical world.”


Miniature copy of the New Testament, bound in metal and published in England, 1 by 1.5 inches.

Miniature Books


            Not the proverbial Bible printed on a grain of rice, miniature books are defined as volumes of no more than three inches in length or width. Miniature books have been around from at least the 13th century, when monks and artists created these small wonders by hand. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s eventually put the monks out of business. But even so, small books proliferated.

            Small books were great for passing the time on those long coach trips or sea voyages. On the Miniature Book Sellers’ website, you can also learn about Hitler’s printing of miniature books for the battlefield. You can also learn about girdle books. A girdle book has a double cover of leather. This allowed it to be attached to a strap or girdle and carried dangling from the waist. Clergy often carried girdle books, which allowed them the free use of their hands. The book was swung up to be read.

            The website has several interesting articles about all kinds of miniature books, a list of dealers, and links to other websites.


Collecting painted milk bottles brings back the nostalgia of home delivery and simpler times.

Milk Bottle Collectors


Annette’s North Carolina Milk Bottles


Debbie’s Milk Bottle Page


            Painted, or “pyro-glazed,” milk bottles, are appealing collectibles with scenes of farms, cows, and the like, usually in red, black, green, or blue ink. Bottles can be found in pint, quart, and gallon sizes, some with self-sealing caps.  While they hail from everywhere, collectors often search for bottles from local and long-gone dairies. 

            Collectors also expand their treasure hunting to include jars, milk company clocks, restaurant creamers, and bottle caps, as you can see on Annette’s website. (Note: you have to click on the small white door in the barn beyond the pasture of cows to enter the website.) On Debbie’s site, there are several good links to other collectors’ webpages, including a Hawaiian bottle cap collector’s webpage. You can also read an article on the evolution of Elsie the Cow.

            Unique milk bottles are attractive to collectors. For instance, Debbie has a Hopalong Cassidy bottle and several bottles with the tops molded in the shapes of babies’ faces.

            While most milk bottles are inexpensive, a green-painted, quart pyro-glazed milk bottle from Meadow View Farm of Lynchburg, Va., sold on eBay not long ago for $201. That will make you think twice the next time you see a painted milk bottle.


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