Antiques & Collectibles

A Small Bottle That Packed A Strong Punch

Smelling salt holders such as this became a fashionable accesory in the 18th century.
Terry Kovel, January 2018

Smelling salts have been used to revive someone who is feeling faint or has lost consciousness since the days of the Romans. But it was not until the 18th century that smelling-salt holders became fashionable. Smelling salts (ammonium carbonate and water) release an ammonia gas that irritates the inside of the nose and causes rapid breathing. This means more oxygen is inhaled. Ammonia was made from shaved deer horns in ancient times and often was called “spirit of hartshorn.” Victorians often used perfume with the smelling salts.

The smelling-salt holder was opened and waved near the nose of the troubled patient. Many of the bottles were curved. Some were made of decorated metal and worn as part of a necklace. Some just looked like small saltshakers. A 2 5/8-inch marble glass “shaker” made of light blue and milk glass with a threaded cap sold for $293 at a Norman Heckler sale in Connecticut. It was most likely made in Boston about 1850.

Q: Our church owns an 1892 German Bible signed by Kaiser Wilhelm. It’s been stored for many years in a safety deposit box. It’s now on unprotected display in our church. I believe it has some value and should be protected, if only for the historic value of the Kaiser personally giving it to the church. I would appreciate any information you can give me about the Bible.

A: Most old Bibles aren’t worth a lot of money, but Kaiser Wilhelm’s signature could make it very valuable. It would have to be seen by an expert to authenticate the signature. Wilhelm II (1859-1941) was Germany’s last Kaiser. He reigned from 1881 to 1918, when he abdicated and left Germany.

If the church is going to display the Bible publicly, you may want to get an idea of its value for insurance purposes. If the book has a leather cover, it should not be displayed on a wood surface unless the surface is covered by acid-free paper. Wood is acidic and can damage leather. The pages should not be left open and exposed to light or they will discolor. Special archival display cases are available that allow the book to remain open, but they are very pricey.

Terry Kovel writes about the latest news of the antiques market. Her website is


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