Case Bottles

by Robin RameyCART Assistant Lab Director

Case bottles, also known as “case gin” or “taper gin” bottles were square or rectangular glass bottles that were popular in Europe and the New World from the 17th to 19th century. Case bottles were designed with flat sides and tapered bodies so that they could be packed into cases and crates for transport more efficiently than cylindrical bottles. As the object’s common names imply, gin and other spirits were the most common contents stored and shipped in case bottles.

The manufacture of case bottles originated in England, where four-sided glass bottles were being produced as early as the mid-17th century. Case bottles and case bottle fragments found in U.S. archaeological contexts pre-dating the 19th century were likely European imports, as the production of case bottles in the U.S. is not believed to have commenced until the early 19th century. Imported case bottles were made in a range of colors from light olive green to almost black. The fragments pictured below were likely from imported case bottles.

Two case bottle fragments. The lighter olive green is a body fragment. The darker is a base fragment. Note the base fragment's rectangular shape.

Case bottle body fragment (left) and base fragment (right) recently recovered by the CART field crew.

Until the advent of mechanized bottle production in the 20th century, case bottles were almost always manufactured in dip molds. Dip molding allowed for more expedient and uniform manufacture of glass bottles than the earlier tradition of free-blowing and shaping with simple hand tools. To form a bottle using a dip mold, molten glass attached to a blow pipe was “dipped” in through the top of a mold. Air was then 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. The molded body—still attached to the blow pipe—was then removed through the top of the dip mold and the bottle’s shoulder and neck were free-blown.

The design and the manufacturing techniques employed in the production of case bottles leaves behind certain characteristics that can help in the identification and classification of case bottle glass recovered from archaeological sites. Case bottles are always square or rectangular in cross-section and taper from shoulder to base. The taper can be subtle or dramatic, but some degree of narrowing is necessary to allow the bottle to be pulled out of the dip mold after the body has been shaped. The dip molding process results in a symmetrical bottle with no mold seams, though sometimes a horizontal line may be present at the juncture of the molded body and free-blown shoulder. Dip molding prevents embossing on the body of the bottle since the embossed design would be ruined when the body was pulled from the mold. Embossing on the base of the bottle, however, is possible and has been documented on bottles recovered form archaeological contexts in the U.S. The body of case bottles often have a slightly textured appearance that results from contact with the dip mold during the manufacturing process, however the free-blown shoulder and neck will not exhibit the same texturing because they do not come in contact with the mold. The necks of case bottles are generally very short and may display a variety of bottle finishes, including flared, laid-on ring, mineral finish, oil, and blob finishes. Often, the four corners will be the only part of the bottle’s base to contact a surface when the bottle is standing upright. In these cases, the heels in between the corners will be slightly arched. This condition is referred to as a “four-point” resting point.

An olive green case bottle reproduction.

A reproduction case bottle with a flare finish. Note the short neck and the slight taper from shoulder to base. This example does not display the common “four-point” resting point.

References

Lindsey, Bill. Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. 2010. Society for Historical Archaeology and Bureau of Land Management. Available: http://www.sha.org/bottle/index.htm

Jones & Sullivan. The Parks Canada Glass Glossary for the Description of Container, Tableware, Closures, and Flat Glass. 1989. Environment Canada. Available: https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/GlassGlossary.pdf

Munsey, Cecil. Gin Bottles—A Historical & Pictorial Essay. 2009. Available: http://www.cecilmunsey.com/images/1238_GIN_BOTTLES.pdf

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About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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