A Condensed History

Digger Odell's Antique Bottle & Glass Collector Magazine Price Guide Series: Black Glass, 2009 lists over 900 black glass bottles that have sold at auction. You'll find a picture of every bottle listed, along with accurate descriptions, and up-to-date prices. Get your copy today.

Glassmakers produced black glass bottles on this continent and in Europe from the mid 1600s up through the latter part of the 1900s. The term Black glass refers to glass usually in shades of dark green and amber. Often the glass is so dense that the color appears black. The dark color results from impurities in the glass batch, or as a result of the proportions of the ingredients used. The primary agent producing the color is iron oxide, although other substances can produce the effect as well. Not only do this oxide turn the glass dark green or amber, but it strengthens the glass as well. These two qualities, strength and the dark color, meant less breakage for shippers and less spoilage of the contents due to exposure to light. The black glass bottles contained wine, beer, porter, ale, cider, or other liquids.

Between 1630 and 1650, glass blowers in England began making black glass in response to demand from consumers for stronger dark colored vessels. The actual term "black glass" was not formally used until the mid 1700s. The term appears in American newspaper advertisements in the 1740s.

The first black glass bottles were free blown shaft and globe variety. Because these free blown bottles varied so in capacity, the English government passed a law forbidding the sale of wine in bottles in the 1636 At that point, private issue bottles with embossed seals became popular with wealthy patrons, both as a status symbol and to avoid confusion during the filling process at the vineyard.

By the later part of the 1600s, the shaft and globe form had become the much squattier English onion. Difficulties shipping these round sided bottles eventually prompted another change to a straighter sided bottle, the English mallet. By the late 1700s this form had grown taller and thinner to a cylinderical type which was much more consistent in capacity. Around that time, some glass houses may have been using a type of mold open at the top made of clay or wood and sunk into the floor of the glass house called a dip mold. This production technique helped keep the capacity of the bottle more consistent. By the early 1800s three piece molds were being used and the quality and quality of production rose. Seals gradually became less popular. In late 1821 Henry Ricketts received a 14 year patent for a new method of bottle making using molds and other tools. Numerous black glass bottles of this era appear with his name embossed on the base.

Readers wishing further information on this subject as referred to Understanding Antique Wine Bottle by Roger Dumbrell, Published by Antique Collector’s Club 1983, England. This text can still be found from time to time. Another good source of information on this subject is American Bottles and Flasks and their Ancestry by Helen McKearin and Kenneth Wilson, Crown Publishers, NY, 1978.

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