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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 13

Table Glass Excavated at Beaubassin, Nova Scotia

by Jane E. Harris

Glassware of the Acadian Period

There were four kinds of glassware excavated at Beaubassin which may be related to the Acadian period on the basis of manufacturing techniques, glass type and prevailing style. In addition to globular wine bottles and later "flower-pot" wine bottles, there were also utilitarian bottles of blue-green glass and clear, non-lead glass vessels.

Wine bottles were often used as containers for substances other than wine or spirits. NoŽl Hume (1969b: 20) describes a number of wine bottles discovered at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, full of cherries and their liquid, and F. Buckley (1933: 234) cites a 1735 advertisement showing medicines stored in ordinary wine bottles. In this report the term "wine bottle" refers to all commonplace olive green or black glass, roughly cylindrical bottles.

Late 17th-Early 18th Century Globular Wine Bottles

French and English wine-bottle styles of this period seem to be generally similar. Wine bottlemaking was a relatively new industry in both countries and progress in glassmaking up to the early 1700s seems to have been much the same. Barrelet (1953:102) describes the French wine bottle of about 1700 as being "onion-shaped." The same shape is referred to in NoŽl Hume's wine bottle typology (1961: 99-100) as the "squat form" and occurs from about 1685 to 1730. In each case the bottles have short globular bodies, much broader than they are high, with broad bases and push-ups. The necks are tapered and finished simply with a cracked-off lip and applied string rim, possibly down-tooled on English bottles.

There were 14 fragments excavated from Beaubassin which fall into this category. One specimen (Fig, 2) is almost one-half of a freeblown, globular body with a height of 80 mm. and a diameter of approximately 160 mm. The glass is seed-bubbled, olive green (10Y), and has an orange-peel texture. Deep striations mark the base of the neck. The remaining 13 fragments are base, body or shoulder segments representing at least five more bottles. All are olive green varying from 2.5GY to 7.5Y. Patina is heavy on some fragments and non-existent on others.

2 Globular wine bottle, ca. 1685-1730 (7B8F2-6).

18th-Century French Wine Bottles

Evidence from French colonial archaeological sites has shown that in France, freeblown globular bottles were being replaced at least as early as the 1730s by bottles blown in a shoulder-height dip mould. The resulting bottles are the common "flower-pot" bottles (NoŽl Hume 1961:110) with tapered bodies and long tapered necks simply finished with a cracked-off lip and applied, rounded string rim. The glass used was dark olive green, a product of the coal-fired furnace which was not used in France until after 1700 (Scoville 1950: 41). In 1735 the French government standardized the size of wine bottles to a volume of 93 centilitres and a weight of at least 25 ounces empty (Barrelet 1953: 102). Such a decree could have initiated the use of dip moulds or, if they were already in use, would have accelerated the frequency of their usage. Dip moulds continued to be used throughout the remainder of the century; however, the small number of specimens from Beaubassin could be expected to have been manufactured before 1750, assuming no French bottles came into the area after the expulsion of the Acadians.

Sixteen fragments were from "flower-pot" shaped wine bottles having evidence of tapered bodies and necks and plain finishes as described above. One specimen is an olive green (10Y) neck fragment of badly decomposed glass. Long, deep striations are still visible on the neck, twisting to the right as they rise. The cracked-off lip is approximately 30 mm. in diameter. The string rim has been accidentally broken off the neck and all that remains is a thin line of rough glass around the neck 14 mm. below the top of the lip.

All of the remaining fragments are small and vary only slightly in colour from 7.5Y to 10Y. The glass has deteriorated to a considerable extent leaving a brown, flaky patina that seems to be peculiar to French wine bottle glass of the 18th century. NoŽl Hume (1961: 109) describes this patina as being similar to brown sugar in its consistency. Patina was a consideration in assigning fragments to this bottle type when other considerations such as shape failed.

Utilitarian Blue-Green Bottles

A second bottlemaking tradition in France during the 18th century involved the wood-fired furnace and the "common" bubbly, blue-green glass it produced. Unlike the glass from a coal-fired furnace, this glass was used to manufacture bottles in a variety of shapes (Scoville 1950: 111-12). Bottles representing two of these shapes were found at Beaubassin. The first is a flat-sided bottle, probably square, that was possibly used for olive oil or liquor or perhaps even toilet water, and the second is a bottle with a circular cross-section that could have had any of a number of uses. Bottles of "common" glass have been found on other French colonial sites in historical contexts from 1732 to 1760. Ten such blue-green fragments were recovered from Beaubassin which quite likely relate to the Acadians. There was also a small amount of burned blue-green glass from three excavation units.

One specimen, a base and body fragment of very heavily seed-bubbled, blue-green (10BG) glass, is from a square or rectangular bottle. One side of the bottle has an almost complete width of 75 mm. The basal surface is concave to a height of 11 mm. and bears a glass-tipped pontil mark 34 mm. in diameter.

Another specimen is the only vessel from the site with a circular cross-section. The quality of the glass, however, is the same as those with linear cross-sections: dense seed bubbles and a glossy, blue-green colour (5BG). The base, approximately 55 mm. in diameter, appears to have a bell-shaped push-up approximately 15 mm. high. There is a glass-tipped pontil mark at the tip of the push-up.

The remaining fragments are from flat-sided bottles probably similar to the first example described above. The quality of the glass does not vary and has a colour range of 5BG to 10G.

Clear Non-Lead Glass Vessels

One would not expect to find a significant number of fine glass artifacts on a site such as Beaubassin. Coleman (1968b: 13) refers to porringers and mugs used by the Acadians, these being more practical vessels for a pioneer life. Any clear glass used by the Acadians would most likely be non-lead, as lead glass was not produced in France until the late 18th century (Barrelet 1953: 107; Scoville 1950: 44), and lead glass produced by the English in the early 18th century was expensive.

There were four non-lead glass fragments found at Beaubassin which could have been from vessels used by the Acadians. One specimen is a small rim fragment that may have been from a tumbler. The glass is clear with a pale green tint and extensive crizzling, features common to clear glass produced in France in the 18th century (Charleston 1952: 18-9). The rim has a sheared and imperfectly fire-smoothed lip approximately 60 mm. in diameter. Examination under a shortwave ultraviolet light revealed a wiggly line on the rim that was barely visible to the naked eye. Further examination under a microscope showed the line to be incidental etching from a substance, probably enamel, that had been applied to the rim as a means of decoration. Such a line close to the rim was a common design element in engraving and enamelling of the German-Bohemian style which prevailed in France in the mid-18th century.

Also recovered from the site was a body fragment from an engraved tumbler. No rim remains but one edge of a crude, copper-wheel engraved design is present. Engraving non-lead glass was practiced on the continent, and by the 1770s in New England, but was uncommon to English manufacture (Elville 1951:153).

The other two fragments, both of clear, unpatinated, non-lead glass, are fragments from stemware bowls. One is a rim fragment with a cracked-off, fire-polished lip, approximately 75 mm. in diameter, from a waisted or bell-shaped bowl. The other is simply a fragment with vertically and horizontally curved planes as from a rounded bowl.

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