What Is It? August 2019

 We had no correct answers for our August What Is It. This item is an ancient baby-feeding device. Roman terra-cotta bottles, such as the rare Third Century A.D. nurser pictured above have been uncovered, with dried milk inside, at infant burial sites. It may have been the very thing that caused the baby’s death. The mortality rate for bottle-fed children was worse than breast-fed babies. The reason was that bacteria bred furiously in the milk soaked nursers. It wasn’t until the great French scientist Louis Pasteur demonstrated that bacteria could cause fatal infections that the connection was made. Rubber nipples and sterilization eliminated the bacteria, enabling nursing bottles to become the safe equipment they are today.
   The older a nursing bottle is and the less familiar in shape and material it is, the more likely it is more valuable. Most collectors strive for a well-rounded collection with representative samples of such popular types as 19th and 20th century glass, early-19th century pottery, 17th and 18th century pewter. (Metal, particularly pewter, was a common material for nursers in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. The lead content in that alloy may have contributed to the infant mortality rate as well, but the material makes such nursers very desirable—and costly—collectors’ items. Most were melted down long ago for their metal.)

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