Black glass is likely my favourite area of bottle collecting.
There is something about the feel of it that just does it for me.
This area also encompasses a long history of glass making, from the early
freeblown bottles of the 16 and 1700's, to the very uniform molds of the late 1800's.
Black glass is actually not black, but is usually either dark amber or deep olive green.
The color arises from the presence of impurities in the glass. The producers of the contents
of these bottles didn't mind the dark color, as it hid a lot of the sediments that could be
found in the liquids produced.
Early in the manufacture of the blacks were the wonderful bottles produced during the 1600's, 1700's, and early 1800's. These bottles were freeblown and blessed with an incredilbe crudeness and individuality. The wines of the 1700's are great examples of these pieces. Perhaps one of my favorite bottles of this era is the Dutch Onion. This freeblown bottle has a nice bulbulous shape, great kickup and pontil, and a sheared top with an applied lip string. Many of these bottles also come with an applied seal which identified the maker or the person who actually owned the bottle.
Around the year 1695 the cup mold was introduced. Initially, these molds were earthen and consisted of a simple cup. The bottom portion of the bottle was formed in this cup with the shoulders and neck completed in the tradtional way. These bottles continued to be very crude and it can be difficult to tell them from their freeblown cousins. If the shoulder of the bottle touched the cup mold a seam resulted around the shoulder. This however is not always the case. The bodies are often more cylindrical then freeblowns but not always. The bottle on the left was blown in a cup mold. Note the similarity to the bottle on the top left of this page. The difference is that the cup mold does have a faint seam around the shoulder, although it is not visible in the picture. Both bottles are, in my opinion, very nice and crude.
As the 1700's progressed, the lips of the blacks began to evolve, becoming larger and thicker. This was necessary in large part due to the introduction of sparkling wines. It was around 1815 that earthen cup molds were replaced by hinged iron molds. These molds consisted of 2 and three piece molds. It was in 1821 that the most important development in bottle making took place. It was in this year that Henry Ricketts patented the Ricketts 3 piece mold. This allowed the bottle to be blown in a consistent shape and size, something that is not possible with freeblown bottles. The bottle on the right was blown in a Ricketts mold. Note the symetrical shape of the bottle, this result would be consistent. This mold also allowed a slug plate to be added to the bottom of the mold, which was often used to emboss a company name. The picture on the left shows the bottom of the Ricketts bottle. Clearly embossed are the words "RICKETTS" and "BRISTOL". The name Ricketts continued to be on the bottom of his bottles until 1860. The advent of molds and the ability to emboss led to a wonderful period of bottle crafting during the 1800's. Many of the fabulous historical flasks were made during this time. The blacks for the most part ( there are exceptions to the rule )remained unembossed save for the addition of an applied seal. Their lips continued to be hand applied and often crude. In fact, even though they became very uniform, they maintained their individuality. This was due in large part to the applied lips, seals and whittling.
I have only touched on the development of the blacks, and the history of glass bottles. Much more information is available to those inclined towards looking. Lip evolution can help determine a bottles age, as can body style. Especially with the blacks. Age, although important, is not the be all to end all. With black glass it is a matter of the look, the crudeness, the "feel" of the bottle. At least for me it is, you can be your own judge. In the near future I hope to have a few more thumbnails of black glass that you can click on to gain some more feel for this wonderfull area of bottle collecting.
Onions, Mallets and Transitionals
3D BOTTLES: A different view
LINKS: A variety of bottle related sites
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