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Fetch Me My Smelling Salts

Updated: Apr 13, 2021


Smelling salts were made from various preparations of ammonium carbonate (NH4)2CO3H2O), a compound which provoked an inhalation reflex by irritating the linings of the airways.

This substance was used in the classical era to prompt vigorous breathing and restore consciousness to the diseased, injured and the fainting woman. Which there were a lot of. Vinaigrette was also used in this way. It was housed in many forms of containers:

Nathan Mills Vinaigrette Box


Smelling Salts On The Ashmore

One passenger on the Ashmore, Mrs Sarah Smith, fainted whilst climbing down the stairs to the steerage cabin. She broke her collarbone when she landed. Yet another true story from the doctor's diary who wrote about his treatment of her.

Specially designed portable bottles were very popular. They were regarded as a fashionable commodity and used mainly by women in the 18th Century. It was said that certain women 'behaved differently' knowing the 'sal ammoniac' was close at hand should they need it.

18th Century French Vinaigrette Bottle

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If you were revived by smelling salts, you were considered a modern and elegant woman. In several medical journals, smelling salts were said to be capable of restoring the soul and body. This let to questions about the nature of the human life force itself.

This widely used and multifaceted substance was also known as the policemen ‘lady-reviver’. It was normal for the boys in blue to carry the ornate and perfumed preparation. It was in the nineteenth century that smelling salts reached their commercial and cultural zenith.  

19th Century Vinaigrette Bottle

Photo from

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