History Well-Preserved

Featured Fragment – Nineteenth-Century Pickle Bottles

By Kerry González 


Gothic Revival style shown in the design of the pickle bottle

Recent excavations by Dovetail, conducted on behalf of Stafford County, recovered two cathedral-style pickle bottles (displayed below). They were located within two separate trash pits at a Civil War-era encampment in the town of Falmouth in Stafford County, occupied between 1862 and 1863. The area is now part of Pratt Park.

Bottles such as these were often used to hold foods that had been preserved through drying, smoking, pickling, etc. (Society for Historical Archaeology [SHA] 2016). This process, developed by M. Nicolas Appert, began during the Napoleonic War era as a means to help the military store foods for longer periods of time (SHA 2016). Appert’s process, formalized in 1809, began with direct heat which killed the bacteria in the food. This was followed up by the installation of an airtight seal over the mouth of the vessel to avoid additional contamination. Oddly, scientists of the time, Appert included, did not fully understand how or why the process of heating and sealing of a container preserved perishables for long periods of time; they just knew it worked (SHA 2016).

The ornate pint-sized bottles shown here exhibit a wide mouth, which allowed for bulky and large foods, such as pickles, to be packed and removed easily. The design of the bottle features beautiful elongated cathedral windows; it is a reflection of the Gothic Revival style en vogue during the mid-nineteenth century in America (SHA 2016). This revival not only affected the style of bottles of the time but architecture as well. Houses reflective of Gothic Revival style often feature steeply pitched roofs with a central cross gable lined with decorated vergeboards (ornate trimwork lining the roof eaves), a one-story entry or full-width porch, and windows with Gothic detailing, including drip molds, pointed arch (lancet), or false shaping (McAlester 2013 267–268). Clearly it was a popular motif and one that extended to even the most seemingly ordinary of objects—the humble pickle jar.




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Society for Historical Archaeology
2016 Society for Historical Archaeology Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. https://sha.org/bottle/index.htm, accessed September 2016.

McAlester,Virginia Salvage
2013 A Field Guide to American Houses. Alfred A.Knopf, New York, New York.

A Toast to the King!

Featured Fragment–Fall Hill Avenue Finds

By Kerry S. González

During Phase III excavations for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Fall Hill Avenue Expansion Project in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a small family-sized punch bowl with evidence of ceramic mending was recovered. Punch was widely popular during the eighteenth century as the act of punch drinking bordered on the ceremonial. Punch drinking was a social event which often reinforced feelings of hospitality among the drinkers. This was often accompanied by toasts to the hosts, guests and even the king. Although inventories from 1645 to 1800 in York County, Virginia examined by Eleanor Breen shows only six out of 100 persons owned a punch bowl during that period, archaeological evidence suggests the number is much higher. An analysis of the ceramic assemblage from the Phase II and III excavations at the site determined that two tin glazed punch bowls were present in the collection. One of which showed evidence of repair.

It appears that the mended punch bowl likely functioned post-repair. The mend holes are near the rim and would likely have allowed for continued use. Furthermore, the punchbowl displayed an upside-down Chinoiserie motif on the exterior as well as a decorated interior. The upside-down motif is a result of the Georgian social habit of storing vessels upside down in a cupboard or shelf. This allowed the pattern to be more visible when on display, but consequently concealed when used. Taken together (the mending and the upside-down motif), it appears that the punch bowl primarily served as a show piece indicating that the occupants of the site were well aware of, and participated in, contemporary practices of displaying social status.

Close up of mend holes on tin-glazed punch bowl recovered from Fall Hill excavations.

Mended tin-glazed punch bowl fragments recovered from Fall Hill excavations.

Complete tin-glazed punch bowl showing upside down motif similar pattern on fragments recovered from Fall Hill excavations.



Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.