Bottling Hot Sauce

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.

Grouping of food bottles dating from the 1860s to 1930s; click to enlarge.

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 gGothic peppersauce bottle from the 1850s; click to enlarge.lass 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.

Late 19th century "beehive" peppersauce bottles; click to enlarge.

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.

In some cases, pepper sauce brands would be embossed on the glass surface itself. 1890s peppersauce with original label; click to enlarge.

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

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4 Responses to “Bottling Hot Sauce”

  1. ilcorago Says:

    Beautiful bottles! The first successful American bottle manufactory was opened by Caspar Wistar across the Delaware, in NJ, about 1739. Caspar and his son Richard learned the art of glass making from Belgian makers. They sold the bottles and window glass along with brass buttons at their Philadelphia shop on Market Street. In an ad in the Pennsylvania Chronicle in August, 1769, Richard advertises his glassware, encouraging American consumers’ independence from England: “As the above mentioned glass is of American manufacture, it is consequently clear of the duties the Americans so justly complain of; and at present it seems peculiarly the interest of America to encourage her manufactures, more especially those upon which duties have been imposed for the sole purpose of raising a revenue.”

    Just a curious link with pepper sauce, pepper bottles and the American Revolution.


    • I did more homework thanks to your tip. Here’s what I found: Caspar Wister’s company was called the Wistarburgh Glass Manufactory, located near Alloway in South Jersey. (http://www.wistarburg.org/overview.htm) It’s considered the first successful glass factory in America.
      Southern New Jersey towns, like Millville and Glassboro, were major centers for commercial, industrial and scientific glassmaking for generations. Their highly skilled craftsmen would also become well-known for producing unique and beautiful decorative folk art glass. Many of these treasures can be found at the WheatonArts and Cultural Center.

  2. demit Says:

    Nice post, nice photos too! I do love wavy glass.


  3. What a gorgeous post: old bottles are such beautiful objects…


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