Dip molded vial (left) ca. 1810, similar vial with paper label (right) ca. 1835.
Turlington’s Balsam of Life (left), American, ca 1820.
“Liquid Opodeldoc” (right), ca 1835.
Flint glass “Bear’s Oil” (left)
embossed with image of bear,
ca 1820. Flint glass French
scent bottle (right), ca 1830.
French wine bottle (left) ca 1835
American ale bottle (right) ca 1830.
Pictorial flask, “General G.
Washington” ca 1835.
“London” dry mustard bottle, ca 1830
Blow-pipe pontil scar,
and iron pontil scar.

BOTTLE GLASS ON THE FRONTIER:
Common Products in the Midwest, 1790-1840
Robert Mazrim 2008

(Excerpted materials from Mazrim’s “Seminar in Historical Archaeology: Samples, Artifacts, and Consumer Goods” 
Illinois State University, Graduate Program in Historical Archaeology, Spring 2008)

This article is designed as an overview of the basic types of glass packaged products in use in the Midwestern United States between 1790 and 1840, with an emphasis on the consumer product forms over manufacturing techniques.

While Midwestern homes were well supplied with imported ceramics and other goods, glass packaged products were less heavily consumed before 1840. This is visible primarily from the archaeological record, as the archival record concerning the range and character of bottled goods on the frontier is restricted to limited newspaper advertisements. While American glasshouses were well established by the early 19th century, and European products also readily available to wholesalers and importers, the range of such goods found in Midwestern households was limited. Glassmaking in the greater central Mississippi River Valley did not begin until after 1840.

Many of the bottles found in pre-1840 contexts in the Midwest were made in this country, however. The glass industry of the upper Ohio Valley was well developed by the 1820s, and many of the specimens found in Illinois were made in that region. Others were manufactured in the glasshouses of eastern Pennsylvania. Most of the wine bottles encountered, however, were probably made in France. Some of the ales or porters may have been bottled in England, and several of the earliest medicinal bottles were also made in England.

Precise dating of glass bottles is often difficult, and is best accomplished with a combination of technological and product-based information. Embossed bottles, which identify the product and/or its maker, offer a starting point for further archival research, while unembossed bottles can be generally be dated only from aspects of their manufacture.

The most basic technological rule of thumb for placing a particular bottle into the early 19th century is the presence of a “pontil scar” on the base of the bottle. Created when the bottle is removed from a blowpipe or iron rod after lip finishing, the scar can be in the form of a jagged donut-shaped protrusion (blow-pipe ponti), a solid, circular protrusion (solid-rod pontil), or a gritty or rust-like circular texture (sand or iron pontils) on larger bottles. With the rapid and widespread adoption of the "snap case” by American glasshouses around 1860, the bases of bottles were no longer scarred during the lip finishing process.

Bottled products of the period can be divided into four basic categories: Medicinal/Utility, Cosmetics, Liquor, and Foodstuffs.
MEDICINAL / UTILITY:

This category includes traditional and “patent” medicines, as well as general purpose household chemicals that were often packaged in similar bottles. The single most common form of medicine/utility bottle from this period is the small, unmarked, dip-molded vial.  While storekeepers purchased such bottles already filled, local druggists often bought them empty, and filled them with their own botanical compounds. Unfortunately, only paper labels identified the contents of dip-molded vials, and thus little can be said about their contents from archaeological excavations.

Aside from more traditional botanical remedies, new “patent” or proprietary medicines were also becoming popular during the early nineteenth century. Many were packaged in plain vials, but embossed patent medicine bottles were becoming increasingly popular during the period, and thus their archaeological remains are more easily identified. Some of the more common patent medicines of the period include  “King’s Patent Essence of Peppermint,” “Liquid Opodeldoc,” and  “Turlington's Balsam of Life,” which was packaged in a distinctive, fiddle-shaped bottle that was first manufactured in England during the mid 18th century. By 1840, nationally-marketed American products such as  “Fahnestocks’ Vermifuge”, “Dr. Thompson’s Eye Water”, and “Rowand’s Tonic Mixture or Vegetable Febrifuge” become somewhat common in the Midwest.

Bottles containing the powdered tobacco product known as snuff were generally sold alongside medicines in apothecaries or dry goods stores. Snuff bottles are distinctive olive green containers with rounded shoulders and wide openings. They changed little during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

COSMETICS:

This category is very small before 1840, but includes one or two popular products. The most common of these are hair care goods, usually in the form of hair oils. Before 1830, the most common such product was “Macassar Oil”, first bottled in London but also made in America. By the 1830s, another product known as “Bear’s Oil” , which was initially composed of scented bear grease, was also popular. 

French perfumers exported bottled scents to North America beginning in the mid 18th century. In the Midwest, bottled scents are rare before 1840, and usually appear only in urban contexts. After 1790, such scent bottles consisted of small, square, flint glass bottles (often embossed with the perfumer's name), or more elaborately molded decorative bottles that were usually unembossed. The latter became much more popular after 1840, and were manufactured in American glasshouses.
 

LIQUOR:
Liquor bottles found in pre-1840 contexts in the Midwest include wine, ale, and whisky containers. Most wine bottles are probably of French origins, and closely resemble those in use today. Ales and porters were packaged in thick-bodied, shouldered bottles made of a dark olive green glass that appears black unless held to the light. Such bottles were made in America as well as Europe. The specimens normally found in the Midwest are probably of domestic origins. These were marked only with paper labels until the 1840s, when some brewers packaged their beverages in bottles that were embossed across their shoulders. 

After the late 1810s, whisky was sometimes bottled in decorative, elaborately molded flasks. Often depicting portraits of the founding fathers or American eagles, these bottles were manufactured by a number of American glasshouses. Storekeepers purchased these bottles empty, and filled them with imported or locally-made whisky.


FOODSTUFFS:

Although glass bottled foodstuffs became very popular in the Midwest after 1850, they were few before 1840. The most common such product was bottled mustard, which was sold in the form of a dry powder. Distinctive tall, square bottles embossed “LONDON” contained this powdered mustard, and are commonly found in urban contexts during the period. Olive oil bottles are also recovered, packaged in narrow, long necked vessels shaped somewhat like wine bottles.