Historic Glass

Types of bottle closures

alcohol flasks
Beer and whiskey bottles
Canning jar fragments
Medicine bottles
Soda and cleaning bottles
Tableware glass
Glass toys

Most of the recovered glassware (81 pieces) came in the form of bottles designed to hold food, beverages, medicine, cosmetics, and cleaning materials. Also recovered were glass toys (marbles and car), tableware (cups, glasses, plates, bowls), an eyeglass lens, and a car headlamp.

Machine Made (after 1917) or Hand Blown (before 1917)

In analyzing glassware, there are several ways to determine age.  The most obvious is whether the piece was hand blown or machine made.  Prior to 1880, all bottle making was conducted by glass-blowing guilds.  A hand-blown bottle is often blown in a mold that creates a seam mark on the bottle.  The bottle is then removed from the mold and the hand tool used to shape the neck wipes away the mold seam in the neck area and often leaves slight striations encircling the neck.

Most blown bottles were plain, however in the 1860’s, insert plates could be placed in the molds, allowing bottles with embossed lettering and images.

In 1881 and 1886, Philip Arbogast (in the U.S.) and Howard Ashley (England) developed semi-automatic bottle making machines.   By 1893, the Arbogast machine was being used for petroleum jelly jars and fruit jars.  By 1903-04, Michael Owens had designed a fully automatic bottle making machine and by 1909, advances in the machine allowed the production of prescription bottles.   By 1917, 90 to 95% of all glass containers were made by either semi or fully automatic machine (Davis 1970, Miller and Sullivan 1981, Kendrick 1971).

Both the body and the neck of a machine-made bottle are made in molds.  These molds will create seam marks that extend up and across both the body and the neck area.

Glass Color and Maker’s Marks

Glass color and maker’s marks can also assist in determining the age of glassware.  The natural iron in glass mixtures turn the glass an aqua blue color.  Beginning about 1880, magnesium (imported from Germany) was added to the mixture to create clear glass.  Though initially clear, exposure to ultraviolet light turns the magnesium a light purple color.  During WWI (about 1914), imports from Germany were cut off and American bottle makers couldn’t obtain magnesium.  They substituted selenium.  Though initially clear, exposure to sunlight turns selenium a pale wheat or honey yellow color.  Selenium was used between 1914 and 1930 (Kendrick 1971).

Neck and Closure Styles

Cork stoppers, Hutchinson Spring Stoppers, and the Lightening bottle stopper were all in use on hand-blown bottles.  The crown cap was invented in 1892 and can be found on both hand blown and machine-made bottles.

Alcohol Bottles (32)

The brown-glass bottle fragments once held brandy (0-164), whiskey (0-193, 377) and beer (0-222).  The base of one bottle has the “M G W” Middletown Glass Works mark indicating manufacture sometime around 1889 (Toulouse 1971:362).

The purple-glass base and neck above represent hand-blown liquor flasks.  The screw-cap neck (0-1) is most likely from a Philadelphia Screw Top Flask.  The base is from a Cummings’ Picnic Flask (Putnam 1965).

Other hand-blown liquor bottles included wine bottles.  Two olive green glass, turn-mold bases represent clarets or Bordeaux wine bottles (0-407, 424).

Pieces of 10 blown wine bottles, 7 blown liquor bottles, 5 blown beer bottles, and 2 unidentifiable blown alcohol bottles were recovered.

Machine-made alcohol bottles included 2 liquor, 1 wine, 2 beer, and 3 unidentifiable.

Canning Jars (9)

Canning jars were well represented by 6 jar fragments and 3 lids.  The three pieces pictured include the wall of a “Kerr Self-Sealing” mason jar (0-218) manufactured between 1915 and 1950 (Toulouse 1971:306). Also included is an unidentifiable olive green canning jar fragment with “…CO…” embossed on the wall (0-220).

The circular milk-glass piece (0-192) is an insert for a Mason canning jar lid. John Landis Mason patented the screw-top canning jar in 1858.  The glass insert for the screw-top was invented by Louis Boyd in 1869 to better seal the screw-top canning jars. This piece is embossed “MASON JARS” and was most likely manufactured around 1900 (Toulouse 1971:345).

Medicine/cosmetic Bottles (17)

Medicine bottles were well represented by hand blown patent remedies (3) and medicines (2) as well as a machine made patent remedy, a Bayer pill bottle, and 5 unidentifiable medicine bottles.

Pictured are 4 patent remedies including a machine made, honey yellow castor oil bottle (1914 – 1930) (0-198), and three hand blown patent remedies (0-47, 197, and 340) (1860 – 1917).

Also recovered was the base of a cold cream jar (0-410) and a “The Bayer Company Inc.” bottle with an Owens Illinois maker mark (1929 – 1954) (Toulouse 1971:403).

Misc. Bottles

A “Nesbitt” soda and “Clorox” bottle were recovered.  The Nesbitt bottle is most likely from the 1940’s-50’s.  After 14 years of providing soda fountains with its orange syrup, Nesbitt began bottling its soda and soon had bottling franchises all over the U.S. It soon surpassed Orange Crush as the #1 selling orange soda. In the 1960’s Coca Cola’s “Fanta” took over the #1 spot in orange soda sales.  In 1972, Nesbitt was sold to the Clorox Company (Grace 2006, Scott 2008).


A single fluted stemware glass (purple) and a jelly tumbler were recovered.  The purple glass was manufactured between 1880 and 1914.  The machine-made tumbler by “Ball” is after 1917, but date unknown.

Lamp Glass

A purple glass base to a kerosene lamp was recovered (iso-0-3) as was a scalloped milk glass rim that was most likely a kerosene lamp chimney or vase (0-303).

Glass Toys

A molded glass 1930-40 car (0-341) was recovered along with several glass marbles (0-51, 184, 218, 403).  Marble 0-403 was most likely manufactured before 1925 (Webb 1994:74).

The density map on this page shows the distribution of only those glass pieces that were manufactured before 1900.  It clearly outlines that part of the reservation that was in use prior to 1900.

With few exceptions, most cultural material, including glass, was found within 100 meters of the lakeshore. Easy access to water would have prompted community members to live and conduct most of their activities as close to the lakeshore as possible.  

As the Elem community had no running water until the late 1960’s, this need to live and work close to the lakeshore controlled patterns of discard not only during prehistory, but also throughout most of the historic period.