The History of Bottles

A narrow-necked container made of an impermeable material in various shapes and sizes that holds and transports liquids. Bottles can be sealed with an internal stopper, a closure, or an external bottle cap. The word is a compound of Old English botel and Middle English flask or wineskin, which in turn are derived from the Late Latin butticula (plural of buttule, a small nipple or bladder).

The history of bottlemaking is a fascinating one. As humans developed, so too did their needs and as a result bottles were reimagined in countless ways. Bottles evolved from utilitarian vessels to containers with unique aesthetic features, which not only differentiated products on store shelves but also reflected the values of their makers and consumers.

In the industrial era, glass was increasingly replaced with a resilient and flexible plastic that offered the advantages of durability over fragility. Invented by DuPont chemist Nathaniel Wyeth, the resulting polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as PET, has had a profound impact on human culture and industry ever since.

Glass is a complex material that forms in a manner neither quite like a liquid nor a solid. It starts out in a viscous state, but as it cools the ingredients become locked into disordered atomic arrangements that prevent them from forming the regular crystal structure of a solid. Instead, glass is a liquid-like semi-liquid that has the properties of both a solid and a fluid.

This is because atoms in a glass can move about freely within the container, but they are essentially locked into place by molecular forces. Because of this, it is possible to form very thick and rigid objects from thin sheets of glass that are otherwise brittle.

Most bottles were molded, but mouth-blown and some later machine-made bottles were finished by tooling. The finish was also sometimes applied by reheating and blowing terminal neck glass, called “goffering” in the 19th century (McKearin & Wilson 1978). The term “finished bottle” is used to describe a neck-finished bottle that has had the goffering removed to reveal the mold seam. Bottles with this feature have a keyed mold base, discussed in detail on the Bottle Bases page.

A dimple or a hole molded into the neck of a bottle for a lever wire to hook onto in a toggle closure device (White 1978). This is another feature that is easier to see than describe.

The gradual reheating and cooling of newly blown bottles in a kiln or oven, aka lehr, to enhance strength and reduce cooling breakage. The person who tended the lehr was called the lear tender.

Many of the specialized terms used on this site are collector based, but some are technical glassmaking terminology or simply descriptive. For instance, the term “baffle mark” refers to the line or scar left on a bottle’s parison by the baffle plate and blank mold in machine-made bottles. This feature is sometimes referred to as the suction mark or cut-off scar.