December 28, 2011
Hot pepper sauces have been popular since the ancient Mayans and Incas, but it wasn’t until the advent of commercial bottle making in the mid-1800s that the hot stuff really took off.
Like its cousins, ketchup and fish sauce, creating suitable decorative containers for these table-side condiments got started early on. Glazed pottery such as wide-mouth mustard pots were often used, but by the early 1800s, hundreds of bottle manufacturers that specialized in making brand-recognizable bottles and other containers for milk, beer, wine and medicines were also making distinctive pepper sauce bottles.
Today, the classic five-ounce volume Tabasco bottle is a familiar presence on the table of most taverns, restaurants and homes, while countless gourmet pepper sauce makers tout their products on websites and gift catalogs or in food shops around the world.
The colorful array of bottles seen here are from the 1800s and some are also early examples of manufactured glass that was mass-produced by hand. A blob of hot glass held on the end of a long hollow glass rod, a pontil, would be blown by mouth into a multipart mold, usually made of wood. The resulting wavy lines, air bubbles and other imperfections of old glass are features now highly prized by bottle collectors. Although manufacturing automation techniques and glass quality improved a lot over the decades, even 20th century machine-made bottles are still in demand by bottle collectors. It’s easy to understand why.
Here are some examples of pepper sauce bottles created by glass makers of the mid-19th century to the early 20th century.
One of the first sauce bottles (left) was a gothic-style, four- or six-sided bottle, which mimicked the architecture of the period, with straight-angled sides and embossed side panels.
Another style in use from about 1880 to 1910 includes the beehive sauce bottle (right), long identified with E.R. Durkee & Co., still in business 100-plus years later packaging spices, salad dressings and more.
A machine-made ribbed sauce bottle was popular in the early 1920s. This vertically ribbed style (below) from the late 1800s still wears its original label.
Philadelphia had some two dozen glass manufacturing factories in place making custom glass bottles for various food and beverage industries.
Many of the pepper sauce bottles shown here are still being found in long-buried privies or old abandoned dumps by archaeologists and bottle hunters all over the country.
For more information about antique or vintage pepper sauce bottles, refer to the Historic Glass Bottle identification and Information Website. It is an excellent and reliable resource for learning about and identifying old American-made bottles of all kinds. Professional archaeologists and collectors rely on this website to identify and date bottles or bottom fragments found in excavations or in museums and private collections.
A history of the Tabasco company and its founder, Edmund McIllhenny, has recently been published by the McIllhenny Company. The website also has a terrific story about the oldest Tabasco bottle ever found at an archaeology site in Carson City, Nevada.
All photos courtesy of the Historic Glass Bottle Identification and Information website.
Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project