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( Originally Published 1963 )
Whimsical items helped to keep many glasshouses in all parts of the country in operation during the nineteenth century. Some of them were purely decorative, others were useful, and none of them were regarded as whimsical at the time they were made. Little cup plates, 31/a to 3V2 inches in diameter, seem so in the twentieth century now that it is highly unfashionable to drink tea out of a saucer, but they were an important segment of many a glassmaker's business for about fifty years. Toothpick- and match-holders also were indispensable in late-Victorian homes and many of these were made in whimsical forms.
After it was established in business, a glasshouse might go on to specialize in cup plates or preserving jars or to make cut glass or pressed glass. However, the foundation of any glass company was the production of bottles and window glass. The manufacture
of bottles always has been important, and those made in the United States were seldom just plain glass containers with narrow necks and without handles. They traced the history of public events and commemorated famous people and also revealed what the average person drank, what medicine he took, and what things every household needed.
Anyone who rummages around an old house will almost certainly find a few old empty bottles. It is foolish not to look closely at such finds before tossing them into the garbage can or wastebasket. The two or three dusty, cobwebby bottles discovered on a shelf or in a corner of a cellar probably are worth a good deal more in cash than you'd believe. They were purchased originally for their contents-pickles, preserves, patent medicine, vinegar, or any one of a dozen other things-and the bottles represented only a fraction of the cost. At the present time, all nineteenth-century bottles are valuable on their own account.
Most of the old bottles that a person is likely to find will be blown-molded or blown-three-mold. If a bottle is rough and irregular at the mouth and has no rim, chances are it was handblown and the mouth of the bottle was snipped with shears while the glass was still pliable. Very old hand-blown bottles, such as those made during the eighteenth century, also have a round scar on the base, left when the bottle was broken off the pontil on which it was held while the glassworker shaped the neck.
Unlike bottles for liquids, snuff bottles were often very plain. Stiegel made them in the eighteenth century, and they were made through much of the nineteenth century too. Snuff bottles are not rare, but few persons nowadays recognize what they are. They were small, rectangular or square, narrow, and sloped gently to a short neck. Many were made of quite thin glass, clear or opaque and colored. Those of plain colored glass were evidently everyday snuff bottles, for handsome examples-some made of cameo glass -also have been found.
The earliest bottles hand-blown in this country for household use were commonly either slender and rather arched or squat and bulbous. Most difficult of all the hand-blown bottles to fashion was the large green carboy. It was made to hold vinegar, cider, and-it's been said-applejack. Carboys, strictly speaking, should come encased in wickerwork or a wooden box, and are still made in that way to transport corrosive chemicals. Vinegar was put up also in a demijohn, a large bottle with a narrow neck but smaller than most carboys. The demijohn was usually of green or brown glass and originally was enclosed in wickerwork or a wooden box like the carboy.
However they were made, old bottles were seldom colorless glass. Although the majority were clear, the formula and the cheap materials used resulted in a light green color at best and some verged on yellow or brown. Many of the utilitarian bottles of the 1800's and 1900's were deliberately made a deep blue, a deep green, or some shade of amber, brown, or amethyst.
Pattern-molded or expanded bottles had vertical ribbing, swirled ribbing, broken swirls, and-rarely-daisy in a diamond. After 1820, when blownthree-mold was used to a great extent for bottlemaking, the designs became more varied. However, bottles continued to be hand-blown and some made during the 1850's had smooth bases, others hollow ones. Neither color nor size is any clue to the date when a bottle was made, but the design may be.
The kind of bottle that it's fun to discover could have been made at any time from 1820 into the 1890's. This was the era when pickles came in "cathedral" bottles, which were green glass with an arch design on each of the four sides, or in smaller, more slender bottles with spiral ribbing. Glass jars for home preserving were small with rough mouths, or tall, somewhat like twentieth-century milk bottles. After 1860, preserves were sometimes sold in colored bottles of various sizes and shapes.
Essences and flavorings were put up in smaller bottles than pickles and preserves. Sometimes these bottles had special shapes according to the contents. Peppermint bottles usually were tall, slender, and cylindrical; lemon extract came in elliptical bottles.
Of course, many liquids were sold in plain bottles with nothing more than the seal stating the name of the company. An exception was Poland water in a bottle shaped like a figure to depict Moses smiting the rock-fancier than many a whisky bottle.
Certainly, early Americans drank considerable quantities of spirits, if one is to judge by the enormous number of whisky and other liquor bottles as well as bitters bottles that have been found. Wine bottles (but not decanters) were plain in comparison to whisky bottles, but bitters bottles were particularly unusual. One was made in the shape of a standing Indian, and Dr. Fisch's bitters came in a bottle shaped like a fish standing on its tail and holding the mouth of the bitters bottle in its mouth. Plantation brand bitters was put up in a square bottle molded in the shape of a slave cabin of exaggerated height, Suffolk bitters in a bottle shaped like a pig.
On both bitters and patent medicine bottles, the brand or firm name was often worked into the sides. A liquor distiller in Philadelphia by the name of E. C. Booz added a word to the dictionary because so many people asked for his brand by requesting "a bottle of Booz." His bottle, 8 inches high, was shaped like a log cabin to represent the birthplace of President William Henry Harrison, who had campaigned on the slogan of "log cabin and hard cider" in 1840. The distiller's name and address were imprinted on the narrow sides of the bottle, and the sloping roof also carried printing.
Flasks, which are large, flat-sided bottles, were made originally to carry gunpowder and various things other than whisky or hard liquor. But it is the half-pint, pint, and (after 1850) quartsize liquor flasks, decorated and in colors, that are the most unusual. The first ones are said to have been made by the Kensington Glass Works in Philadelphia, about 1833, but by 1840 every glass factory in the country was producing what are now called historical flasks. Their popularity continued until about 1870, and while it lasted, the demand led to all sorts of odd and unusual designs. Patriotic emblems with an eagle to signify liberty or with a bust of Columbia were fully as well liked as agricultural motifs such as sheaves of wheat or rye, grapes, or cornstalks, sometimes combined with a cornucopia to symbolize prosperity and plenty. Portrait flasks honoring presidents, war heroes, and celebrities were probably made in greater quantity than the simpler flasks with floral garlands, sunbursts, and the like. Mottoes ranged from one word, "Liberty," to "The Father of His Country" over a profile of George Washington, and from a simple identification over other portraits to "Use me but do not abuse me." Some flasks carried more advertising than ornamental decoration, and now and then a joke or comic flask appeared.
Most flasks were rounded toward the neck and base, but some tapered inward more at the neck. The violin flask was shaped accurately enough for the violin to be recognizable. This type was decorated with scrolls and perhaps stars or a similar conventional motif. The decorative designs for all of these flasks were cut into the molds, which were prepared by professional moldcutters. The molds were the full size of the flask, and the glass was blown into them. Shades of green and amber probably were most common, but rich greens, blues, yellows, an aquamarine, and amethyst also were made. The color appeared deeper in the thicker sections of the flasks.
One of the most famous of the many portrait flasks depicted Jenny Lind, her head and shoulders framed in garlands, her name spelled out above, on a ribbed flask. Washington, Adams, Franklin, Lafayette, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Har-rison were among the presidents and statesmen honored on portrait flasks. Heroes of the Mexican War such as Zachary Taylor, Major Samuel Ringgold, and Captain Braxton Bragg were other favorites. The War Between the States was memorialized in several designs. Most important on one were clasped hands advocating friendship between the North and South.
Other flasks commemorated such matters of historical interest as railroad building, Mississippi steamboating, and the Colorado gold rush; the last showed a prospector with his tools and bore the legend "For Pike's Peak." After 1848, flasks were made with Masonic and other fraternal emblems, ships (including a classic man-of-war in full sail and some famous vessels), and also miscellaneous but more conventional designs.
Then, suddenly, after 1870 these portrait and historical flasks were made no more. They cannot be said to have been displaced by the character bottles that started to appear in the 1870's. These were made in the form of an animal such as a bear, or of a bird, fish, gourd, or the like, as well as Some portraits, and were used to hold perfume, medicine, liquor, and other liquids in small amounts.
Apothecary bottles made before 1900 are also of interest to collectors. These were clear, blue, or amber glass and usually bore the drug label. Some apothecary jars with matching covers were cut glass. Barbershop bottles of the Victorian era, probably mostly from about 1870 to 1900, were often made of handsome glass. Those of colored cut glass or of colored glass with an overlay design are the most valuable.
Decanters, fancier spirits bottles for use in homes and taverns, held wines and hard liquors that had been decanted or poured gently to avoid roiling them, and hence were ready to be poured into glasses for individual servings. All three of the great eighteenthcentury glassmakers-Wistar, Stiegel, and Amelung-made decanters in various sizes and in wonderful colors or with colored decoration, a few with simple cut motifs such as the flute. Wistar left some magnificent mulberry-colored decanters.
Nineteenth-century decanters are the ones found most frequently. Those made in the early 1800's were handblown, blown-molded, or blown-threemold. Blown-glass decanters were decorated usually with applied threads or trails of clear and colored glass. Blownthree-mold decanters had geometric and swirled patterns. Some of them are most attractive and quite sparkling, and-until touched-likely to be mistaken for cut glass. Sunburst and quilted patterns are more rare; they were made in Stoddard, New Hampshire, if not other places.
In pressed glass, cruets are easier to find than decanters. Some patterns, particularly early ones, did include decanters-for example, Fine Rib, Diamond Point, and Waffle and Thumbprint made by the New England Glass Company, Sandwich Star and Waffle of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company, and Excelsior made by Mc-Kee Brothers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Decanters were made also in such later patterns as Wedding Ring and Lee.
Peachblow and other kinds of art glass were used for decanters too, but the greatest number and greatest diversity of decanters can be found in cut glass. They were being cut by B. Bakewell and Company in Pittsburgh in the 1820's. From 1830 into the 1870's, decanters with simple flute cutting and steeple stoppers were made in such quantities that undoubtedly a good many are still to be found. Those with star-cut bottoms were made after 1830. During the Brilliant Period (18801905), decanters were cut in most of the popular patterns. Among the many shapes were cylinder, globe, barrel, and one resembling a champagne bottle. Some patterns included more than one decanter either because two sizes, pint and quart, or a different style of neck were made.
Decanters averaged 9 1/4 to 10 1/4 inches in height, until elongated shapes became fashionable in the late 1800's and extended the height to approximately 131/4 inches. Blown and blown-threemold examples were made of much thinner and lighterweight glass than the pressed and cut glass ones. Pressed glass decanters are likely to be interesting because of their patterns, but cut glass decanters were generally of much finer-quality glass.
The rings around the neck of a decanter are always noted by collectors. The triple rings that were used on Waterford cut glass decanters were copied in this country and can be seen on many free-blown and blown-molded as well as cut glass ones. The rings usually were plain glass. However, on cut glass decanters they too were likely to be cut-simply, perhaps in a feather or a diamond cutting. A single broad ring or two narrower rings also were common. Many decanters, of course, were ringless.
Unlike many bottles and flasks, which were plugged with corks, decanters and cruets were made with glass stoppers. For cut glass decanters, steepleshaped stoppers were customary during the first half of the nineteenth century. Two other styles of the early years, used both in Ireland and this country, were an upright circle and what I call the mushroom. During the Brilliant Period, globular stoppers with faceted cutting were common. Square stoppers, octagonal ones with a flat top, and variously cut steeple stoppers were also popular.