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Vapo Cresolene Bottle Vapo-Cresolene bottle, clear with paper label.

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Schering's Lamp Advert Schering's Formalin Lamp in Original Box. Photo eBay auction.

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Vapo-cresolene variant Vapo-Cresolene lamp with a clear, upright form chimney.

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Schering's Lamp Advert Advertisement for Schering's Formalin Lamp

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Vapo-Cresolene bottle Vapo-Cresolene bottle, embossed, amber.

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Schering's Lamp Box Top of Schering's Lamp Box.
Photo: eBay auction.

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    a few words about...     
Lamps Designed for Medicinal Purposes -
    Vapo-Cresolene & Schering's Formalin Lamps
   
Vapo-cresolene Lamp and Packages
A Vapo-cresolene Lamp and two original boxes for same.

Small lamps manufactured and marketed for medicinal purposes are commonly found in antique shops and on the Internet. The most common variety found is the Vapo-Cresolene "lamp." These items are not technically lamps, but rather employ a small lamp or flame as a heat source. It is possible to find complete examples, but these lamps are often missing some of the parts, such as the tin dish or Olmstead-type milk glass chimneys. Occasionally these lamps are found in their original box, complete with instructional sheets, testimonials and an extra wick included. Bottles of the Vapo-Cresolene chemicals are frequently found as well, sometimes empty but occasionally still with some of their original contents, which should be treated as a toxic material. These devices are often collected by miniature or night lamp collectors, or those with a pharmaceutical or medical interest.

As found on Vapo-Cresolene box:
  Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.
  Registered, France, May 1st, 1887.
  Registered, Germany, 1899.
  Registered, England, May 15th, 1888.
  Registered, England, Feb. 3rd, 1897.
  Registered, Canada, April 12th, 1887.
The Vapo-Cresolene Company was established in 1879. They maintained offices in New York City, first at 180 Fulton Street and then at 62 Cortlandt Street, and in the Leeming-Miles Building, 1651 Notre Dame Street, Montreal, Canada. As early as 1881, Messrs. Allen and Hanburys, Plough Court, London, were listed in a British pharmaceutical journal selling Page's Patent Vaporisers, as they must have been referred to prior to the trade name Vapo-Cresolene. In later advertisements, they are listed as Allen & Hanburys, Ltd., Sole Agents located at 27 Lombard Street, London. The company's production facility was located in Chatham, New Jersey. The Vapo-Cresolene Company survived well into the 1950's (as many 50's-era advertisements exist) and perhaps later and used a small electric unit as the heat source.

In her book, Evolution of the Night Lamp, Ann Gilbert McDonald depicts another version of a vaporizing lamp with a twisted wire frame but does not attribute it to the Vapo-Cresolene company. It does, however, conform to Fig. 1 of the drawings in Carpenter's 1881 patent as seen below. The other lamp, Fig. 2, is a version more closely resembling the early advertisements seen in Britain, which are noticeably different than the models commonly available today.

Patent Drawing
Twisted wire-framed vaporizer lamp as depicted in Carpenter's patent of 1881.



The founts of the lamps are most often found in clear or colorless glass. The author has seen two examples of a light aqua color over the years. The burners are of the "Olmstead" type, some marked with V.C. CO. and five stars. There are two common versions of the burner - the one with rounded prongs (seen in left-hand margin) and the "spear-point" variety as seen in the patent drawing. The chimneys are more often the little milk glass versions seen in the lamp at the top of the page, but the clear upright version in the left-hand margin is fairly common and is believed to be an original item. The diminutive Vapo-Cresolene lamps were designed to burn kerosene and most of the founts are embossed as such.

In his book entitled Chatham at the Crossing of the Fishawack John T. Cunningham wrote: "James H. Valentine made a crude vaporizer in 1879 in an effort to ease the pain of his young daughter, who lay racked with whooping cough. In desperation the father put a coal tar acid named Cresolene in a tin cup and suspended it over a small kerosene lamp. The girl found quick relief as soothing fumes filled the bedroom. Valentine recognized that he had discovered a commercial product: named Vapo for vaporizer and Cresolene for the coal tar acid." He writes further: "The first vaporizers were made in Kelley's Hall (over the grocery store), but Valentine did not have the capital to expand the market for his product beyond village limits. He was helped financially by George Shepard Page, and in time sold out to Page's four sons - Albion, Lawrence, Harry, and Raymond - and their sister Florence. The Pages shifted manufacturing to the old Stanley Hall near the Fairmount Cemetery."

The Vapo-cresolene lamp was first patented by Elias H. Carpenter as a "Method Of And Apparatus For Volatilizing Cresylic Acid." Carpenter received his patent number 247,480 on September 27, 1881 and assigned same to James H. Valentine, who in turn assigned one-half to George Shepard Page. G.S. Page's son, Albion Lambert Page, would be president of the Vapo-Cresolene Company in the late 1880's.

George Shepard Page (b. July 29, 1839, d. March 26, 1892) grew up in the coal tar business, having learned same from his father, Samuel Page, who distilled paraffin oils, varnishes, and other products in Boston, Mass. The 1862 Boston Directory lists them as Samuel Page & Son, doing business at 88 & 90 Water Street, and residing in Chelsea. One of George's first ventures in the early 1860's was the formation of the New York Coal Tar Chemical Company. George S. Page was recognized as one of the leaders in the coal tar and gas production fields both in the United States and Europe, where he frequently traveled. He developed and perfected many processes for the use of the by-products of these related industries, turning what was once considered waste products into something valuable (Slater 163-65). Since the cresolene "is a product of coal-tar possessing far greater power than carbolic acid in destroying germs of disease," (Adams 627) it was natural for him to take advantage of the disinfecting properties thereof, and develop a broad market for this product, both domestically and abroad.

NYT article re: VAPO and CRESOLENE
Portion of a New York Times article dated October 14, 1900 reporting on the annual horse show of the Morristown Field Club in Morristown, New Jersey. Note that Albion L. Page's horses are named VAPO and CRESOLENE!

The basic premise of the invention was to heat a dish suspended over a small heat source to vaporize the chemical contained therein. Vapo-Cresolene was used to "cure or considerably alleviate" primarily diseases of the respiratory system and throat such as whooping cough, asthma, diphtheria and scarlet fever. It was also used to sanitize rooms - bedrooms, "sick rooms," or other areas where there were sick or infected patients, or where the bacteria were thought to "lurk."
From Carpenter's patent specification: 

"If a room is to be disinfected, one or more of the 
devices are supplied with cresylic acid, the lamps 
lighted, and the room is closed.  The vapor will 
commence to rise from the basin soon after the lamp 
is lighted, for the liquid cresylic acid will vaporize at 
a low temperature; but the amount of vapor expelled 
will increase as the temperature is raised, and the 
vapor will fill every part of a room, enter every 
crevice, and pass through or between every article."
On August 4, 1885, James Henry Valentine obtained Letters Patent No. 323,547 for a "Vaporizer." Depicted in the patent drawings are the familiar Vapo-Cresolene lamps, and a version designed to be used with a gas lamp. One of his main improvements over the previous version was a way to deflect the heated air away from the basin to prevent it from overheating by adding vent holes around the ring that holds the dish or basin. Many of these "lamps" are embossed around the ring with the August 4, 1885 and an August 8, 1888 patent date.

Vapo-Cresolene Bottle
The origin of the 1888 date is uncertain, as it is not a "normal" patent date (meaning it's not a Tuesday, the usual day of patent issues, but rather a Wednesday) and the author cannot find a corresponding patent. It is possible that it is a "misprint" of the August 8, 1899 patent obtained by Harry De B. Page noted below, but it seems unlikely that this would not have been corrected; most of the lamps that the author has seen are similarly marked. For now it remains a mystery and any further theories would be pure speculation.

James H. Valentine also obtained two patents for the bottles used for the Vapo-Cresolene. These came in both two- and four-ounce sizes. Bottles conforming to the 1894 design patent were embossed with the U.S. and English patent dates: PATD US JUL 17, 94 ENG JUL 23, 94. Later, the bottles carried the 1895 patent date: PATD. US. JUNE 18-95 ENG. JULY 23-94 (Griffenhagen 95). The design of the bottles featured rows of pyramid-shaped hobnails on two sides of the bottle to indicate that the contents were poisonous, a common practice of the period. The other two faces of the bottles were smooth to facilitate the application of labels, which would not have been possible had the entire surface been covered with the hobs. Today, bottles can commonly be found in clear or colorless glass and different shades of aqua; and occasionally in dark amber or cobalt blue, another practice of the mid-1800's to indicate that the contents of the bottle were poisonous. Here's a short article from The Lowell Sun, (Lowell, Massachusetts) dated Thursday, December 12, 1912, reporting the death of a three year old boy who drank Vapo-Cresolene.
Patents of James H. Valentine:

247,480	  Sep 27, 1881	Volatilizer *
323,547	  Aug 4, 1885	Vaporizer
374,720	  Dec 13, 1887	Vaporizer
D23,466    Jul 17, 1894	Bottle
541,133	  Jun 18, 1895	Bottle
571,811	  Nov 24, 1896	Volatilizer
D30,880	  May 30, 1899	Vaporizing vessel
651,150	  Jun 5, 1900	Vaporizer
729,019	  May 26, 1903	Vaporizer

* assigned to Valentine by Carpenter

Another less common form of medicinal lamp is Schering's Formalin Lamp. Early ads claimed: "Annihilates germs, removes odors, prevents disease, hastens convalescence..." This lamp was produced by the company of Schering & Glatz in New York City, with offices at 58 Maiden Lane.
Schering's Formalin Lamp
A Schering's Formalin Lamp produced by Schering & Glatz, a German company with offices in New York. Photo: eBay auction.

From an Internet history of the Schering company, "In 1851, at Berlin's Chausseestrasse 17, Ernst Schering opened a pharmacy he named Gruene Apotheke. Twenty years later, the founder incorporated the business as a stock company named Chemische Fabrik auf Actien. In December 1889, Schering died at the age of 65, one year before his company began marketing its first specialty product - a medication for gout." "Schering & Glatz, was established in the United States in 1867 to distribute Schering products such as diphtheria medication." The company was always located in the Maiden Lane area, first at No. 52, then at No. 55, and in 1898 at No. 58. On July 1, 1910 they moved into a renovated five-story building at 150-152 Maiden Lane (Photographic Times 245).

The Schering Formalin Lamp conforms to patent number 630,782 titled "Disinfecting By Means Of Formaldehyde." The patent was granted on August 8, 1899 to Albrecht Schmidt of Berlin, Germany and assigned to Chemische Fabrik auf Actien, vormals [meaning formerly] E. Schering, also of Germany. This lamp was designed to use Schering's Formalin Pastils, "which are entirely innocuous, [thus] the danger of employing the caustic liquid formalin is avoided" (circa 1902 advertisement). "The pastils are paraform, probably mixed with trioxymethylene. The apparatus is very simple, consisting essentially of a cup supported over an alcohol lamp. The pastils are placed in the cup and the heat of the alcohol flame causes them to disappear by conversion into formaldehyde" (Gatewood 635).

On the same date as the Schmidt patent, Harry De Bacon Page, of Chatam, New Jersey, received a patent, number 630,401 for an "Vaporizer" which was an improvement to Valentine's patent no. 323,547. Harry was the older brother of Albion L., the son of George Shepard Page, and in 1903 was listed as the company treasurer. The author was curious about Harry's middle name, De Bacon, which turned out to be his mother's maiden name.

Formalin Pastilles
Original Formalin Pastille box. Photo: eBay auction.



The following is excerpted from The Woman's Medical Journal detailing the procedures for using the lamp: "For the destruction of the less resistant disease organisms, such as the bacilli of diphtheria, typhoid fever and tuberculosis, forty 1-gramme (15.4 grains) pastils, the contents of two of the small boxes, will suffice in a medium-sized room, 3 m. (10 feet) high, 3 m. (10 feet) broad, and 8 m. (26 feet) long. Then the reservoir of the lamp is about half filled with alcohol after unscrewing the burner; the wick is lighted, and so regulated that it projects about 2-3 mm. (1/2 to 1/8 inch) above the tube. If wood alcohol is used as a fuel the wick should be about even with the tube (burner), as a too large flame will produce more heat than is required. More than 2 ounces wood alcohol should not be placed in the reservoir, which holds 4 ounces. The chimney, with the filled container, is then replaced upon the lamp" (p. 325). Therefore, unlike the Vapo-Cresolene lamp which was designed for kerosene, the Schering lamp was designed as an alcohol-fueled apparatus.

The formalin lamps are much less common than the Vapo-Cresolene lamps. When found, they are often incomplete and finding the missing parts is nigh to impossible.

Author's note: I purchased the fount and burner to a formalin lamp twenty-some years ago, as a naive collector, not knowing exactly what it was. At the time, I was collecting miniature or night lamps. Two decades later the top cup was given to me by another collector. The lamp is still without glass. The example from the eBay auction above is the only truly complete example that I have seen. I hold no hope of ever completing my example, but if some reader is in need of these parts, by all means please contact me. The thumbwheel on my example is unmarked; others seen have been embossed with the patent number - US PATENT 630,782.

    
Patent SearchPatent Search Interface
   

To view any of the patents referenced in this article, enter the patent number in the field below and click Query USPTO Database. This will open in a new window and take you to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office Database - directly to the patent in question. Learn more about the USPTO here.

Patent Number  



    
References  Acknowledgements
   
  • Special thanks to Laura Zmijeski of the Chatham Historical Society, Chatham, New Jersey, for the excerpts from the book Chatham at the Crossing of the Fishawack, by John T. Cunningham.


    
References  References
   
  • Adams, W.I. Lincoln and Clarence L. Usher, editors, The Photographic Times, Vol. XLII, The Photographic Times Publishing Association, New York, 1910.

  • American Medical Association, Nostrums and Quackery, American Medical Association Press, Chicago, 1912.

  • Cunningham, John T., Chatham at the Crossing of the Fishawack, Chatham, NJ: The Chatham Historical Society, 1967.

  • Gatewood, James Duncan, Naval Hygiene, P. Blakiston's Son & Co., Philadelphia, 1909.

  • Griffenhagen, George B. and Mary Bogard, History of Drug Containers and Their Labels, American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, 1999.

  • McDonald, Ann Gilbert, Evolution of the Night Lamp, Wallace Homestead Book Co., Des Moines, Iowa, 1979.

  • Schering AG - Company History viewed on December 15, 2008 at < http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Schering-AG-Company-History.html >

  • Slater, A.B., Jr., editor, Proceedings of the American Gas Light Association, Vol. X, No. 1, Providence RI, January 1894.

  • The Woman's Medical Journal, The Recorder Publishing Company, Toledo, Ohio, 1897.



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