Following the failure of the first Glassmaking enterprise at Jamestown, there were numerous attempts to create a glasshouse in the colonies during the 17th century. Most notable were the relatively longstanding enterprises in Salem, Massachusetts (beginning in 1639) and Evert Duykinck's New Amsterdam Glass House which operated from 1645 to 1674. Sadly, little is known of the bottles blown at these houses but it can be assumed that the bottles they produced were blown in the English or European tradition on a relatively limited scale. Made to augment the limited supply of imports, the bottles produced in Colonial Glass Houses were created for local consumption only. In doing so, these early Glass Makers risked raising the ire of Mother England, as all colonial industry of the period was ostensibly meant to be working for the benefit of the Crown.
As noted earlier, it was not until 1739 and the creation of the Wistarburgh Glass Works that the American Glass Bottle Industry first took root and the "Colonial Period" of glass manufacturing had its start. Lasting until 1815, this period is characterized by hand-crafted bottles blown in the English and Germanic tradition utilizing raw materials from our own shores. The reliance upon traditional forms and techniques was a natural result of two distinctly different forces. First, the craft of glassblowing remained an "art" that few (if any) colonial settlers fully understood. Glassblowers were a highly protected (and valuable) commodity across Europe and only limited numbers emigrated to Colonial shores to share and practice their craft. As a consequence, glassblowing remained a closely guarded and somewhat mysterious "secret" throughout much of the 18th century. The second reason behind reliance on English and European forms is perhaps a bit more difficult for today's Americans to understand. Although distaste for Mother England continued to grow throughout the 18th century, public opinion still overwhelmingly favored English and European arts and crafts, believing that they were "finer." There was little support for domestic arts and/or industry, a situation that would not change until an independent American economy emerged in the aftermath of the War of 1812.
What then, were these English
and Germanic inspired objects produced by the 18th and early 19th
century Colonial Glass Houses? Although none of the bottles produced
on our shores during this period are "marked" by their
maker, excavations of the Wistarburgh Site, Steigel's Works and
the Pitkin Glass Works sheds a good deal of light on the production
techniques used by these factories and their resulting wares.
In addition, the pioneering works of George and Helen McKearin,
Harry Hall White and others give students of today a broad range
of knowledge from which to base their study of Colonial Period