What Is a Bottle?

A bottle is a container, usually used for holding liquids. Bottles come in many shapes and sizes, made from glass or plastic, metal or other materials. Bottles can also be decorated or marked in various ways for identification, marketing, and merchandising purposes. Bottles are used by people for a wide range of reasons, including hydration and nutrition. Bottles can be used to carry beverages, cosmetics, cleaning products, pharmaceuticals, and personal care items. Bottles can be used by both infants and adults. Bottles can be recycled or disposed of when they are no longer needed, though some countries have restrictions on how and where bottles can be discarded.

Bottles are an important part of the human experience, and they have become a part of our cultural heritage. Several museums have significant collections of historic bottles, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Other museums have large or small collections of bottles, often based on geographical areas or bottle types. Bottles are often collected for their aesthetic value, or because of historical significance or rarity. The design and decoration of bottles are also of interest to some collectors.

The word bottle is derived from the Latin term for flask, a vessel for drinking water or other liquids. The first known commercial production of glass bottles occurred in Italy around 1000 AD. The earliest records of the production of glass bottles are of wine and ale flasks, followed by oil and vinegar flasks. Some of these were of a very simple design, with a mouthpiece and cap, but as the production process improved and techniques were refined, more complicated designs appeared.

Most bottles made today are made of glass, but historically, some were made of other materials such as pottery or clay, or even wood or leather. Glass was the preferred material for making bottles, due to its transparency, strength, and ability to be decorated. The first glassmakers were able to produce very thin walls of glass, which allowed for easy labeling and advertising.

Glass makers used a variety of tools to shape and finish their bottles. One of the most common was a block, a flat surface – typically wooden but sometimes iron – on which the gob or gather of molten glass at the end of the blowpipe could be rolled to give a symmetrical form to a bottle; this is called “blocking.” The bottle shown below has distinctive embossing on its body, courtesy MoMA.

A marver was a metal or wooden table – often wax or oil coated for lubrication – on which the gather of glass at the end of the blowpipe could also be rolled to form the neck and finish of a bottle; this is called “marvering.” The bottle shown below has a finely patterned finish, courtesy the Museum of Modern Art.

A bird swing is a light-imprinted, meandering mold seam found on the body, neck, and finish of some bottle types that results from distortion caused by expansion of the parison during cooling of the second blow mold; this feature can be seen in the picture below of a calabash type bottle from the 1850-1870 period. More details are given on the Bottle Finishes & Closures typology page.