Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website
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Welcome to the BLM/SHA
Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website!
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, administers and manages over 248 million surface acres of America's public lands, located primarily in 11 Western States and Alaska. Part of the mission of the BLM is the management and preservation of the cultural and heritage resources found on America's public lands - prehistoric and historic.
The author created this website
as a BLM employee and continues to update and enhance the site
in retirement as a volunteer. This website now has a permanent
home courtesy of the
Website Goals: To enable the user to answer two primary questions about most utilitarian bottles and jars* produced in the United States (and Canada**) between the late 1700s and 1950s, as follows:
The above two questions also address what was succinctly articulated in the Intermountain Antiquities Computer System (IMACS) and the nominal purpose of this website, which is to provide archaeologists with a manual for a standard approach to arriving at historical artifact function and chronology (University of Utah 1992). This entire website is essentially a "key" - albeit a complex one - to the dating and typing (typology) of historic bottles. In addition, this site also assists the user with these questions:
3. What technology, techniques, or processes were used to manufacture the bottle?
4. Where was the bottle made and/or used?
5. Where can I go for more information on historic bottles?
Blow-pipe pontil scar.
This website will explain why this sharp glass mark on the base of a bottle is a key mid-19th century (and earlier) diagnostic characteristic.
Since there were hundreds of thousands of uniquely different bottles produced in the United States (and Canada**) between the late 18th century and the 1950s (Fike 1987), it is beyond the scope or even possibility of this site (or any website or book) to provide specific details about more than just a fraction of a percent of that variety. Even then, the bottles discussed in depth are so primarily to illustrate the presented information and concepts.
This site instead
attempts to help the user determine some key facts - approximate age &
function - about any given utilitarian* bottle/jar based on observable physical characteristics.
Many hundreds of specific historic bottles are used as examples within the pages
of this website to illustrate the concepts discussed; with luck you may find
the specific bottle you have an interest in discussed though typically you
This website is intended for...
▪ Field archaeologists trying to identify and date bottles or bottle fragments which are found during cultural surveys and archaeological excavations in the United States;
▪ Educators dealing with the subject of historical archaeology; and
▪ Collectors and the general public trying to date a bottle, determine what it was likely used for, and/or begin their search for information dealing with the fascinating world of historic bottles.
HOW TO USE THIS SITE
Some of the embossed markings on the bottle base above are a great information source for 20th century bottle identification; some are meaningless. This bottle is an Owens-Illinois Glass Company produced beer bottle made in 1941 by the Oakland, CA. plant.
This website will help you determine what to look for when identifying and dating historic bottles.
If you are attempting to estimate the approximate manufacturing date - or age - of a particular bottle (or significant sized fragment) the first page to visit would be the Bottle Dating page and its related sub-pages. These pages lead a user through a series of questions about the physical/morphological characteristics of historic bottles which help to narrow down the age of an item. This complex of pages is a major hub of the rest of this website and the best place to start a search. Also linked to the Dating page is a sub-page called Examples of Dating Historic Bottles which tracks a few different bottles through a dating and general information quest to illustrate how the dating process and this website work.
If you are interested in identifying what a bottle was likely used for - i.e., what "type" of bottle it is (aka "typology") - the Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes page and the extensive array of related sub-pages should be visited. This very large complex of pages includes bottle type specific sub-pages with extensive style based dating information, including complete scans of 5 different early 20th century (1906 to 1933) bottle makers catalogs spanning the mouth-blown to machine-made bottle manufacturing era! The "Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes" complex of pages is in essence an on-line "type collection" of major bottles styles and types made from the late 18th through mid-20th centuries. Please note that the main "Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes" page - and many of the subordinate pages - are very large with hundreds of imbedded images ; they may take a bit of time to load even with a moderate to high speed internet connection.
Be aware that none of the pages are all inclusive since related information exists on one or many other website pages. For example, there is information pertinent to dating a bottle on virtually every website page. The title of any given page gives the predominant theme of that page and would be the first place to start when pursuing information on that particular subject. However, the process of bottle identification and dating is quite complex with many exceptions; thus, the need for many web pages covering an extensive amount of descriptive information. A listing or "map" of all the main subject pages and connected sub-pages found within this website is found at the following link - Website Map. Use that page to get a feel for the structure of this website and to access any of the other web pages.
It is suggested that if you only bookmark one page of this website for future reference, that it be the Website Map. That page also includes a summary of significant recent changes and additions to this website.
When possible, the information on this website is
given general reliability rating estimates (e.g., high, moderate, low or
"usually", "occasionally", "almost always", "almost never") to allow a user some "feel" for
the probable accuracy of their conclusion or determination. In
addition, there are hundreds of dating and/or typing determination examples
scattered throughout virtually every site page to give the user a feel for the
processes involved in dating and/or typing a bottle.
SEARCHING THIS WEBSITE:
To do a word/phrase or image search of this website one must use the following Google search link:
Search the SHA/BLM Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website
(Note: Search results for this website will be just below the final top-of-the-page Google paid ads.)
It is recommended that a new user first view a short listing of User Tips about how this site "works." Click on User Tips (pop-up page) to view this information.
If you simply want to learn something about historic bottles and/or view pictures of a lot of different type historic bottles, just "surf" the site!
*Note on the scope of this website: This website is designed to provide information on the dating of typical "utilitarian" bottles and jars made in the United States from the late 18th through mid-20th centuries. It does not attempt to fully address the dating of "specialty" or imported bottles made during that time, though much of the information found on this website is pertinent to these items to varying degrees.
What is a utilitarian bottle or jar? What are specialty bottles? Both are hard questions to answer and the answer is somewhat arbitrary in the end. For this website the distinction between the two categories is related to the varying time frames that different glass making techniques were used for the two classes of bottles. Click on utilitarian bottles or specialty bottles to view the portion of the Glossary Page that covers these subjects. The author has tried to define the distinction between these two classes of bottles from the perspective of the intent of and information found on this website.
**Note on Canadian bottles: This website was prepared based primarily on information about bottle manufacturing technologies, processes, and styles specific to the United States. Empirical observations indicate that Canadian-made bottles very often followed similar glassmaking technique and process chronologies making much of the information applicable to Canadian made bottles. However, some Canadian-made bottles mirrored English manufacturing techniques/timeframes and many English stylistic trends (particularly for liquor, soda, and beer bottles) which differed somewhat from typical U. S. items - though many Canadian bottles also mirrored U. S. styles. If using this site for the dating or typing of a known or likely Canadian-made bottle, keep this in mind as the reliability of the information may be reduced.
The subject of Canadian-made and imported
(primarily European) bottles is addressed by the following question on the FAQ's page:
The opinions expressed are those of the website author and not necessarily those of The Society for Historical Archaeology nor the Bureau of Land Management.
This website created and managed by:
Bureau of Land Management (retired) - Klamath Falls, Oregon
Questions? See FAQ #21.
Copyright © 2020 Bill Lindsey. All rights reserved. Viewers are encouraged, for personal or classroom use, to download limited copies of posted material. No material may be copied for commercial purposes. Author reserves the right to update this information as appropriate.