The Clara Barton Museum Blog

Artifact Series – Antimony Bottle

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Antimony Potassium Tartrate, aka Tartar Emetic
Property of U.S. General Services Administration
This glass bottle of Antimony was found among Clara Barton’s possessions in the attic of the Missing Soldiers Office.
What is Antimony, and why did Clara or one of the other tenants have a bottle of it? Antimony, also known as Antimony Potassium tartrate or tartar emetic, is a metallic compound that was used in Heroic Medicine.
For a brief crash course in the Heroic Age of Medicine, check out our post on Clara Barton’s use of mercury in 1868.
Tartar emetic was used as an expectorant and emetic. The intended use of this compound as a medication was to create and dispose of fluids, much like the use of mercury. Also like mercury, tartar emetic is very toxic. Surgeon General William Hammond banned both mercury and tartar emetic/antimony from use in military medicine due to their toxicity in 1863; the ban did not last long, as in the ensuing chaos, Hammond was removed from his position in 1864. That’s a story for another blog post, though!
Why did the tenants have a bottle of antimony? Probably because they were self-medicating! Just like how we’ll keep a bottle of aspirin around the house, they kept some medications around as well. Clara certainly talks taking medication in her diaries.
Antimony has seen a number of uses throughout the 19thand 20th centuries. Whether it is being used to induce vomiting, cure drunkenness, or even as a fairly effective treatment against some parasites, Antimony is a dangerous drug for anyone to take. Its use in medicine more or less stopped toward the end of the 20th century.

This bottle can currently be seen in the Clara Barton exhibit at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, but it, as well as the other medication boxes and bottles that were found, will most likely be used in an exhibit about boarding house life at the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office. As always, if you’re interested in seeing this artifact in person at the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office, please consider donating to the museum at
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