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Despite the blue glass sputum flask being produced in their millions, they are very hard to find! But why?

The reason is quite possibly due to the nature of the illness, and the stigma associated with Tuberculosis. Anyone who recovered from the disease would no doubt wish to destroy any reminder of their past ailment. Additionally, standing orders in many sanitoriums was to destroy everything in the room following the death of patients.

And who on earth wants a small glass medical bottle...?!



The history of the sputum flask goes way back to the 1880s when it was discovered that the infectious nature of spit was what caused other people to become infected. The simplest solution was to develop a means to contain the sputum, and the sputum flask was born.

Ivo: My first encounter with what I now know as a “Blue Henry” bottle was on a flea market in the mid-eighties. It was an oval shaped cobalt blue bottle of a rather low glass quality and was embossed “Crachoir de Poche” – pocket spittoon. To me it conjured up images of well dressed travellers chewing tobacco in a carriage while not wanting to offend the ladies. It was not until 15 years later when I saw a similar bottle in an exhibition on sanatorium care in the Amsterdam historical museum that it became clear what it really was: a souvenir of suffering and sickness, an essential sanatorium implement. Sputum flasks were produced in considerable quantities for 50 years by many different manufacturers – but few survived.

Robert Koch



Left: Dr. Robert Koch who is acknowledged
as the first person to isolate M.Tuberculosis.