Jeff and Holly Noordsy

Dealers Specializing in the Sale of Early American Bottles, Glass and Period Decorative Arts

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THE EVOLUTION OF FORM AND DESIGN IN AMERICAN BOTTLES: 1739-1903

CHRONICLING THE TRANSFORMATION FROM ART TO INDUSTRY

As Presented by Jeff and Holly Noordsy at the Eastfield Village Glass Symposium in August 2005

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Other vessels produced at 18th century Glass Houses include a wide variety of black glass "junk bottles" that as with the pattern molded flasks were blown in the English or European tradition. Blown to hold ale, beer, porter and cider (all of which were consumed in great quantities by the colonists), these bottles were relatively thick walled (out of necessity) and generally blown of dark "black" glass. And, although it is true that many of the ale and cider bottles used by colonists during this period were imported from England, there is ample evidence showing that bottles of this type were blown at Germantown, in Manheim and at the South Boston Works prior to 1815. In addition, recent findings show that "junk" bottles were almost certainly a regular product of the New Geneva Glass Works, blown in great enough quantities that in April of 1800, Albert Gallatin reported that he would have "some thousands of black bottles blown for the French market" ready by month's end. That such bottles were also blown at Wistarburgh, the Pitkin Glass Works and other Glass Houses of the period is a probability, as it was not until after cessation the War of 1812 that supply of these bottles was able to meet demand. Thus it seems quite likely that bottles of this type would have been a regular product of every 18th century American Glass House, even though it is today nearly impossible to distinguish them from English and Continental imports.

Like the English bottles that they emulated, these bottles were typically roughly one pint in size and blown with the aid of a dip-mold to give the bottles a generally cylindrical form. As a result, the junk bottles of the 18th century show some symmetry but they are decidedly non-uniform in both size and capacity, reflecting the personality of the blower. This same manufacturing technique was utilized in the production of larger wine and spirits bottles, which like the pint-sized porters and ales were blown to emulate the familiar products of English Glass Works.

The earliest of the black glass English spirits bottles were blown with a squat, low slung body and extended neck, gradually becoming taller and more slender through the Revolution and up to the creation of the three-piece mold in or around 1815. Though Helen McKearin proposes that some of the earliest English type bottles (the shaft and globe) MAY have been produced at the Salem Glass Works in the 1650s, it is not until the mid 18th century that we can find solid evidence of black glass wine and spirits blown on American soil. In his extensive archeological research at the site of the Germantown Glass Works, Richmond "Boo" Morcom found black glass seals and remnants of black glass spirits bottles in great enough quantities to indicate that they were a product of that Glass Works and not simply remains of cullet. Among the seals is an extraordinary piece dated 1755 with the name of "Thomas Hutchinson." At the time a young Boston lawyer, Hutchinson would eventually become Governor of the Commonwealth. Also found by Morcom at Germantown was a seal impressed "J. Mascarene" and dated 1748. This seal has caused some controversy over the years (in that the Germantown Works were purportedly not in existence until 1750) but Morcom makes a strong argument in favor of Germantown production by noting that the dates impressed on a seal typically referred to the year in which the contents were distilled and NOT the year in which the bottle was blown. If that is the case, the "J. Mascarene 1748" seal would be the earliest piece of dated glass known to have been blown in the colonies.

Wine and spirits bottles were also blown at Wistarburgh and the Corning Museum Collection includes a bottle from the 1760s with an impressed seal of "RW," probably made for the son of the Glass Houses' founder, Richard Wistar. Blown from a light green glass typical of Wistarburgh products, the bottle is decidedly English/Continental in form but is lighter in color (typical of the Jersey sand) and appears lighter in weight than the coal fired English glass of the period. Further evidence of Wistarburgh spirits bottles was found by Morcom during construction of I95 in downtown Philadelphia. Among his findings were numerous black glass bottles, shards and two seals, each impressed "S. Lewis / Haverford / Pennsylvania." Located just 35 miles Northwest of Alloway (and the site of Wistarburgh) it is far from a stretch to believe that these bottles and seals were blown at Wistarburgh for local consumption.

 

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