Containers used in the nursing of infants are among the oldest of vessels; pottery nursers have been found that were used as early as 1500 B.C. Such feeding devices have also come from the excavation of Greek and Roman graves. Until the 1800s baby-feeding devices were made of a variety of materials including stone, metal, wood, and pottery (the Indians of Arizona are known to have used vessels made of red clay). In eighteenth-century England pewter was popular. Not all baby-feeding devices were made to accommodate milk. Throughout the years a soft gruel-like substance called pap was fed to small babies. Pap was made of a number of things including ground cornmeal and water with crushed walnuts added. Containers from which pap was dispensed include hollow spoons and boat-shaped vessels with hollow handles through which the pap was blown into the baby's mouth. Other pap feeders were made in a modified teapot shape of metal or ceramic. In America it was Charles M. Windship, of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who patented the first glass nursing bottle in 1841. Windship's bottle was unusual in that it was to be superimposed on the mother's breast so that the nursing infant would be deceived into thinking the milk was coming directly from the mother. In 1864 the idea of a glass tube stuck through a cork that fit into the neck of a glass bottle was brought to America from England. The glass tube was connected to a long rubber tube at the end of which was a nipple-shaped mouthpiece made of metal or organic materials. The tube-type-nursing bottle enjoyed popularity for a few years until it was realized the hard-to-clean tube was a potential germ carrier. Beverage bottles were frequently used in conjunction with the tube-type devices. Although the first rubber nipple was patented by Elijah Pratt of New York in 1845, it was not until the early 1900s that a truly practical rubber nipple for nursing bottles was developed. The pre-1900 rubber nipples not only had a strong odor but were easily destroyed in hot water. As a result, a variety of mouthpieces were used before the improvement in rubber nipples. Rags, chamois, or sponges stuffed into the neck of glass bottles were used; whittled wooden nipples were not uncommon. In the late 1800s a large variety of glass nursing bottles were produced in the United States. While some were of the type that could stand up straight on end, most of the turn of the century nursing bottles were designed to lie flat on their sides. A few in this latter group had openings on their side for the milk or pap and sometimes had permanently attached nipples.
By the end of World War II the U.S. Patent Office had issued over 230 patents for nursing bottles. Most of these are of interest to the collector who concentrates on baby-feeding bottles.
Unusual shapes and embossments are the predominant characteristics of glass nursing bottles. Some of the most interesting include specimens shaped like a baby's head, a papoose strapped to the back of its Indian mother, and a baby's shoe. But non-figural shapes are just as interesting and unusual. Nursing bottles can be found in a variety of bladder shapes with curved necks; others are oval, cylindrical, bulbous, and rectangular. Embossments include lettered brand names and slogans such as "FEED THE BABY" and "BABY'S DELIGHT." Other embossments feature brand designs or pictures of crying babies, animals, fairy-tale characters, and toys.
Nursing bottles were rarely produced in sizes larger than sixteen ounces, and the majority held eight ounces of liquid. The larger bottles were used mostly around 1900 or before; the smaller ones became standard after the turn of the century.
Most of these containers were made in clear glass or the common aqua or light green glass. Some, however, may be located in varying shades of purple, caused by exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun.
Closures on nursing bottles commonly are the standard cork type or feature a ring of glass over which a rubber nipple is stretched. The closing devices themselves are very interesting. If only the cork and tube types are considered there is quite a variety. Nipples, too, were and still are produced in a variety of shapes.
Co-related items in a nursing bottle collection could include the bottle closing devices and nipples mentioned above. A selection of breast pumps would certainly fit into a nursing bottle collection. The pumps enabled mothers to obtain and store for later use the needed amounts of milk. Nipple shields, also, could be considered an integral part of the nursing bottle collection; these shields were also popular just before the turn of the 20th century. Nipple shields were usually a glass cuplike device, which fit on the mother's breast. From the cup a tube led to a rubber nipple. Though not in direct physical contact with the mother, the baby was able to obtain milk directly from the breast through the nipple shield; such shields were helpful in nursing the teething babies. Of course, sterilizers, teething rings, rattles, toys, and other baby items could also be included in the nursing bottle collection.
Back in 1947, Samuel Callet, who had produced a line of furniture and metal polish in the Pittsburgh area, began a line of nursery baby bottles. His contract with the Knox Glass Company in Parker, PA was to produce pyro glazed nursery rhyme and designs, to sell to dairies and other businesses including furniture, jewelry, and children’s clothing. The Canonsburg, PA plant received from the Oil City division of Knox Glass a series of narrow neck bottles. They were pyro glazed, some with their company name or logo, onto six different designs. These were Peter Rabbit in light blue, Goosey Gander in yellow, Robbie Yum-Yum in brown, Da-Da the Clown in dark blue, Circus Train in orange, and Scotty Dogs in black. These six designs were produced by Knox Glass and were used on their own advertising bottles in addition to those sent to Callet.
In the 1950s, the wide mouth screw-neck bottles designed exclusively for Callet by Knox Glass were the beginning of the popular line of Callet bottles which carried the exclusive pyro glazing seen today. The bottle had five raised ridges on the two curved sides, with the other two remaining flat for the pyro glazing. This design made for the ease of handling and elimination of the chance of rolling. The backs and bottoms were made in three designs as the production proceeded. The first one is about fifty raised concentric dots on the bottom and SAMUEL CALLET CO. PGH. PA., embossed vertically along the right side of the back. The “ounce” scales run in alternating horizontal lines divided by a vertical line though the center. In the second design, the SAMUEL CALLET CO. PGH. PA., was moved to the bottom, along with a mold number, at the expense of the dots. By the third design, the vertical line though the center was dropped. These are given to be Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 backs. Recently, a fourth type of bottle was discovered. This bottle was completely redesigned with a series of twelve raised ridges on the two curved sides, and a thicker depth than the others. The SAMUEL CALLET CO., PGH. PA., embossed on the bottom, was in a circular pattern. The back of the bottle had an embossed double scale, 8 ounces and 240 cubic-centimeters. Only two types of these bottles are known to exist.
You could have your own personalized logo, or even your own special designs, on the bottle. Five of the six original characters, and many of the other nursery rhyme designs by Samuel Callet were given to Hunter Silves of the Knox’s Parker plant to be silk screened on the bottles. Silves created twelve designs himself, all with a figure inside a cloud. (below) The Searer Rubber Co. provided the black cap, disc, and nipples for the bottles. Later, blue and pink caps and discs were made available. There are over 250 different designs listed and unlisted in the Samuel Callet nursing bottle category. The colors of the design can be as many as nine, (blue, light blue, black, red, green, yellow, orange, pink, and aqua) and the type of backs are unknown, it depended on when the bottles were made. Some bottles had as many as three types, others only the last one, Type 3. Of the two with Type 4 backs, one had Type 2, the other had Type 3 backs. (above)
For the packaging and distribution, Callet’s Canonsburg plant was used. It was equipped to do the advertising literature, which included the Congratulatory card, or the Best Wishes card that the local Callet’s customer gave to the new parents, telling them of the complimentary bottles they could receive. Callet purchased “give-away” boxes of one, three, or five bottles. At first the boxes were plain heavy brown pasteboard for the single bottle, white heavy pasteboard for the three bottles, to corrugated boxes in yellow and blue for boys, and yellow and red for girls which held three or five nursing bottles. The five bottle box later became solid colors or colorful nursery designs. Some had a central bottle with a slotted metal cap, sealed onto the bottle by a plastic heat-shrink band, which became a bank.
The Samuel Callet Company was doing well until the 1960s when the regulation by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Milk Control Commission made dairy’s limit the promotional give-away to $0.35 per item. This listed the special boxed set of five bottles with the dairy’s name on them. This item had cost the dairy $1.30. Which made the dairies in Pennsylvania to stop the use of these items, leaving only the non-dairy producers to continue with them. This lead the Callet Company to decreasing sales, which made the Knox Glass Company unwilling to handle its smaller orders. In addition to this, the smaller dairies were being sold to larger complexes which sold mainly to the grocery stores. Leading to the closure of the Samuel Callet Company in the early 1970s.
In my own collection, I have 240 different types of Callet bottles. I still need several bottles to make my collection complete. Some are shown below.
Bibliography1) Samuel Callet Story, Don Grifford, Keeping Abreast 14:2, 47-792) Callet Nursing Bottles, Unique, but in Many Varieties, Charlie Harris, Keeping Abreast 33:4, 25- 27