Black Glass

1505038_10202507536318980_120552724_nIt’s funny what ties into beachcombing. For instance, I have been watching the latest Masterpiece Theater show – POLDARK. I thought the time period of this historical fiction was sometime after the War of 1812 based on the top hats worn by the men and the black rum bottles from which Poldark’s servants constantly – and not so surreptitiously – tipple.   Those bottle lips look molded and more similar to mid-19th century bottle lips than the sheared bottle lip and applied lip string of the 1700‘s.

IMG_0355 But then, I am not a bottle expert and could be wrong. But I know a little bit about 18th and 19th century black bottles from my beachcombing forays. Black glass shards can be found throughout the UK south to Spain and Portugal, the Caribbean, Hawai’i, the South Seas, Canada’s Maritimes and the US east coast. Why? Because of four+ centuries of high seas roaming from pirates, privateers, rum runners, explorers, merchants, and the military.

IMG_1580 I have a thing for black glass, not because it is particularly beautiful but because, most times, it is old and imbued with history, from the early free blown bottles of the 16 and 1700’s, to the very uniform molds of the late 1800’s.

Black glass is not really ‘black’ but either a dark amber or deep olive green. But older bottle shards can be so thick, one cannot see thru them unless you hold a very bright flashlight to their edge. The dark color arises from the presence of impurities in the glass. The upside of this color is that it prohibited sunlight from ‘turning’ the contents rancid. It also hid the sediment on the bottom produced from the liquids.

IMG_5172 During the 1600’s, 1700’s, and early 1800’s, bottles were free blown. Such bottles showed great individuality, especially the popular Dutch Onion bottle, which has a bulbous shape, great kick-up and pontil, and a sheared top with an applied lip string. Many also have a seal applied identifying the maker or the person who actually owned the bottle. Such bottles – intact – command very high prices in today’s antique bottle market.

For beachcomb sleuths who try to ID black glass shards, useful indicators of origin and age include (older bottles) bubbles in the glass, sheared bottle lip and applied lip string, bottle seals, (later bottles) embossing, molded bottle lips, mold marks on the sides and the base, and pontil scars. (The bases of early 19th century mouth-blown bottles usually have some type of pontil mark or scar, which can be found on the bases of both free and mold-blown bottles.)

There are bottle specialists who are always willing to share their knowledge, either in bottle/collectible shops or via internet sites. Below are a few sites that will help familiarize you with black bottle genres, lips, mold marks, etc.

For more info, visit:

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