I was given a gift of a bottle that washed up on a Central American, Carribbean beach. It is a beautifully ocean-worn, green bottle with irridescence throughout. Sand and shells are trapped inside, held by a sand plug that I do not want to crack for the benefit of emptying the bottle. Some of the sand looks as if oil seeped in and trapped both itself and the sand inside the neck. Most of the sand is coarse, lumpy and dark with small shell shards mixed in, tumbling around; most likely some coral. Air pockets exist and the bottle’s inside seems to be pitted in spots, as sea glass shards get pitted just from being in salt water. Not one part of the glass is broken, chipped or cracked.
Vertically, raised letters on the bottle read:
MURRAY & LANMAN
It is an awesome gift: a beach find, sand from a beach I’ve never been to, glass that appears old and it is from a dear friend. The bottle is displayed in a prominent spot in my house between a Seagrass basket from the South Carolina Low Country filled with shells from my first month living on Siesta Key back in 2009 and a digital frame featuring scenes from a Hawaiian vacation in 2012.
My husband was looking at it last week and we talked about what Florida Water could be. He found it online, ordered it and we just got a bottle of Florida Water in the mail. It came in a plastic bottle of the same shape as my glass treasure but just a little smaller. The cologne inside is sealed with a plastic screw top and a label with a vintage look is stuck to the outside of the bottle. We took a whiff and a pleasant tropical aroma of citrus, lavendar and clove touched our senses. I first thought of Jean Nate, a scent from my youth. My husband read me some information about it and found that Florida Water is a uni-sex cologne with an orange base. It can be used as a cologne or toilet water. We read that it can be used in your bath and that baseball teams in the South would combine it with ice in a cooler and wet down some towels to wrap around the players’ necks to cool off when it was too hot out.
So, how did a bottle of Florida Water end up on a South American beach?
Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water was the the most popular product sold by Lanman & Kemp, a leading New York City wholesale druggist firm in 1808. Florida Water was sold as a toilet water. Advertisements claimed it was associated with the Fountain of Youth that the Spanish explorer Ponce de León had searched for in the early 1500s and had refreshing qualities and cosmetic uses.
Lanman & Kemp was involved in the 19th-century wholesale drug (pharmaceuticals and herbals) trade throughout the world. With the help of traveling sales agents, major company operations existed in Central and South America and in the Caribbean Islands. Shipments were also sent through the maritime mail.
There were many variations of the Florida Water bottle shape and size throughout the years. I learned that Florida Water was launched in 1908 although the “druggists” partnership between Murray & Lanman was pre-civil war. The following parnership of Lanman & Kemp operated afterward and shipped many personal products throughout the world by boat, including Florida Water.
Maritime shipping had its good and bad moments. The Carribbean and Gulf of Mexico is dotted with shipwrecks. It wasn’t until recently that hurricanes and other storms were tracked. In early days, ships went about their business moving around the vast seas without warning until it was too late. It is estimated that hundreds of shipwrecks still lay, mostly unexplored, beneath the waters. It is noted that several bottles of Murray & Lanman Florida Water were found from the depths of the shipwrecked S.S. Republic. Cargo, loosened by storms, end up on shores and that is exactly how a bottle, my bottle, that could possibly be around 100 years old, was recently found on the coast of the southeastern Yucatan Peninsula.