Photo 1: Sprite Bottle Base Featuring Mammoth Cave National Park Embossing.

By Lee Priddy

My grandmother had a glass bottle collection when I was a child, focusing on local milk bottles from the Middle Peninsula of Virginia and Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root medicine bottles. I spent hours looking over the dairy names and the seemingly random letters and numbers embossed on outsides of some, while wishing that the paper labels were still present on others. At the time, we had no sources about those bottles except what we knew from the local dairies and some books on milk bottles that we found in antique stores. With resources now available on the internet, I wanted to pass along some sources that I use daily for the identification of twentieth-century glass bottles that could be helpful for others.

What separates twentieth-century bottles from their centuries of predecessors is that the majority were machine made. In 1903, the Owens automatic bottle-blowing machine was invented, revolutionizing the glass bottle industry. Bottles no longer had to be made by hand. By 1917, half of the bottles in the United States were manufactured using this machine. It allowed for the mass production of glass bottles with a fixed volume capacity. This technological innovation also permitted information in the form of embossed letters, numbers, and symbols to be automatically applied to the exterior providing additional information on the manufacturer, mold cavity of bottle shape, function, and date (Jones et al. 1985; Miller et al 2000). The Owens machine and subsequent developments in bottle-making machines led to specific physical characteristics on bottles, such as mold seams extending all the way from the base to the finish of a bottle. These characteristics can help identify a bottle as machine made and sometimes can narrow down the manufacturing date even further. Online resources such as the ones I’m going to explain below can help with that identification.

The Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) hosts the Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website (https://sha.org/bottle/). This website, created and managed by Bill Lindsey, is designed to answer questions about most utilitarian bottles and jars produced between the late 1700s and 1950s. It is divided into subject pages such as dating, types/shapes, glassmaking (with makers marks), colors, finishes and closures, body and seams, bases, fragment type, glossary, references, and links. It also includes the ability to search the website and is completely accessible to the public, not just SHA members. I have found this website to be crucial in the identification of maker’s marks on glass bottles as it also contains alphabetical tables that contains the logo, firm, and date range. While this website incorporates a large date range for glass manufacture, it separates machine-made bottles into the types of finishes and bases that are specifically found only on these bottle types. This information is vital to me as a Lab Manager being able to identify which decade(s) a site was occupied in the twentieth century (Lindsey 2024).

The Parks Canada Glass Glossary, often deemed the original gold standard for glass identification that later research was based upon, is also found on the SHA website (https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/GlassGlossary.pdf). It was one of the earliest attempts to create a standardized system to catalog glass artifacts. It includes an overview of the manufacturing techniques for general glass, glass containers, tableware, closures, and flat glass. My well-worn book has been a constant resource for me even with the new online sources available (Jones and Sullivan 1989).

Another helpful website is the Glass Bottle Marks (https://glassbottlemarks.com/). It consists of a series of articles on common glass factory information with links to specific topics such as manufacturers’ marks on bottles and other glassware, glass insulators, Ball Perfect mason jars, and depression glass. It also contains a very informative article explaining the numbers seen on the bottoms of glass bottles and jars. This website contains a wealth of information and a very helpful keyword search to find specific topics (Whitten 2024).

Finally, never doubt the search function for finding information on a specific manufacturer or bottle type. There are thousands of resources available and even specific websites for bottle types. As you would expect, I have shortcut on my favorites to the glass chronology and dates of Coca-Cola bottles from the number of fragments that we recover (The Coca-Cola Company 2024)!

A twentieth-century glass bottle recently excavated is a great example to demonstrate how I utilize these glass resources to conduct my analysis on glass artifacts from a particular site. Dovetail recently found a brilliant green, machine-made soda bottle base with the following letters embossed on it: “MAMMOTH CAVE NATL. PARK/L” in Fredericksburg, Virginia (Photo 1). The Mammoth Cave National Park was embossed in a circular pattern around the edge with the L in the center.

First, the stippling around the base edge dates this bottle to post 1939 (Miller et al. 2000). A further internet search revealed additional information about the history of this bottle. In the 1960s, Coca-Cola released a limited edition of green Sprite bottles that were embossed with the names of the 36 national parks established at that time as a promotion to entice people to visit the parks (McCarthy 2019). Utilizing the SHA Historic Bottle Website manufacturer’s marks for L, the bottle could have been manufactured by the Laurens Glass Works. This company produced glass bottles from 1968–1990 from several locations in the American South and had a strong relationship with the Coca-Cola company (Lockhart et al.2016; Lockhart et al. 2017).

This one glass bottle base shows the immense details that can be gleaned from one artifact and the interesting perspective it can bring to a site interpretation. Knowing where to look for information is very important in artifact identification due to the wide variety of precontact and historic artifacts that we encounter in our work in the Mid-Atlantic region. I hope these resources will challenge others to keep researching and publishing on different types of material culture. The study of glass bottles has definitely evolved since my early days looking for information in the book section of antique stores and on my grandmother’s shelf!

 

 

 

Bibliography

Jones, Olive, and Catherine Sullivan

1989    The Parks Canada Glass Glossary for the Description of Containers, Tableware, Flat Glass, and Closures. Studies in Archaeology, Architecture and History. National Historical Parks and Sites, Canadian Parks Service, Environment Canada.

Lindsey, Bill

2024    Historical Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. Electronic document, https://sha.org/bottle/, accessed May 2024.

Lockhart, Bill, Bill Lindsey, Carol Serr, Pete Schulz, and Beau Schriever

2016    Manufacturer’s Marks and Other Logos on Glass Containers- L. Electronic document, LLogoTable.pdf (sha.org), accessed May 2024.

Lockhart, Bill, Nate Briggs, Beau Schriever, Carol Serr, and Bill Lindsey

2017    Laurens Glass Works. Electronic document, https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/LaurensGW.pdf, accessed May 2024.

McCarthy, Mary

2019    Sprite Delight: National Park Bottles. Electronic document, https://www.beachcombingmagazine.com/blogs/news/sprite-delight, accessed May 2024.

Miller, George L., Patricia Samford, Ellen Shlasko, and Andrew Madsen

2000    Telling Time for Archaeologists. Northeast Historical Archaeology poster series 29(1).

The Coca-Cola Company

2024    The History of the Coca-Cola Contour Bottle- The Creation of a Cultural Icon. Electronic document, https://www.coca-colacompany.com/about-us/history/the-history-of-the-coca-cola-contour-bottle, accessed May 2024.

Whitten, David

2024    Glass Bottle Marks. Electronic document, https://glassbottlemarks.com/, accessed May 2024.