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Artifact of the Month: English Case Bottles

Conservator Terry writes about the English case bottle glass from the La Concorde/Queen Anne's Revenge shipwreck

Author: Terry Williams, Conservator

English case bottle base
English case bottle base from the site

Case bottles were popular from the 17th to the 19th century. Their boom in popularity is linked to an elixir developed by Francisco de la Boe in the mid-1600s. The professor was experimenting with various ingredients to create a diuretic, when he created what is known today as gin. Originally sold in apothecary shops, it was so popular that some apothecaries began to make gin full time. Gin was sold in a variety of bottles, both stoneware and glass, and were round. To increase the efficiency of transporting the bottles, they were eventually designed with flat sides and tapered bodies, allowing for more secure shipment in cases…hence the term case bottles.

Square or rectangular bottles were produced in England as early as the mid-17th century, and eventually would be found in a variety of colors from light olive green, blue-green, to almost black. Bottle glass is basically composed of silica, soda, and lime, and it is impurities in sand or other compounds that give glass its color. Iron impurities in sand are common, with less iron resulting in shades of bluish-green to aqua, and more iron resulting in darker greens. Of the English case bottle glass recovered from our site to date, very dark green is the predominate color.

English case bottle fragments
Case bottle fragments

Early bottles were made using free blowing while shaping with simple hand tools. As the need grew, dip molds were devised and made from a variety of materials including wood, metal, and clay. These bottles would have some degree of taper to allow the bottle to be pulled out of the dip mold once the body has been shaped. If wood was used, it had to be kept wet continuously to survive the intense heat of the molten glass.

To use a dip mold, molten glass attached to a blow pipe was dipped in through the top of a mold. Air was blown into the pipe causing the glass to expand and conform to the shape of the dip mold, forming the body and sometimes the base of the bottle. Still attached to the blow pipe, the bottle was removed through the top of the dip mold and its remaining features were free-blown. Much of this information is garnered from the Society for Historical Archaeology and is an excellent resource for dating bottles.

So far, we have positively identified 96 fragments of English case bottle glass, many of which were discovered in concretions. With the hidden nature of glass in concretion and the thousands of concretions yet to be broken down, who knows how much more we might find!

References:
-Carnes-McNaughton, L. and M. U. Wilde-Ramsing. 2008. Preliminary Glassware and Bottle Analysis from Shipwreck 31CR314, Queen Anne’s Revenge Site. QAR Research Report and Bulletin Series QAR-R-08-02. Manuscript, QAR Conservation Lab, Greenville, NC.
-Munsey, Cecil. 2009. “Gin Bottles: A Historical and Pictorial Essay.” Accessed March 22, 2022: http://www.cecilmunsey.com/images/1238_GIN_BOTTLES.pdf 
-Ramey, Robin. 2017. “Case Bottles,” County Archaeological Research Team blog. Accessed March 22, 2022: https://cartarchaeology.wordpress.com/2017/10/27/case-bottles/ 
-Lindsey, Bill. 2022. “Square/Rectangular Styles,” Society for Historical Archaeology. Accessed March 22, 2022: https://sha.org/bottle/liquor.htm#Case%20Gin%20bottles

Images:
-English case bottle base from site 31CR314, La Concorde/Queen Anne’s Revenge. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
-Fragments of case bottle glass from site 31CR314. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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