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Early English Glass: Seal Bottles

Prior to the late 16th century, there is very little evidence to suggest that much glass was being produced in England. The earliest signs which appear are from the time when England was under Roman occupation. Other than this only a very small amount of medieval “forest” glass from The Weald area of Southern England have been discovered. All other glass found was imported predominantly from Italy.

Early designs

It was as late as the 17th century that glass vessels appeared in England. Previously vessels had been made from materials such as metal, pottery and leather. One recognised form of early English glassware are dark green seal bottles produced in the mid 17th century onwards. These bottles were freeblown and hence some rather unusual, eccentric shapes with globular bodies were produced. One obvious characteristic is that they bore seal marks which identified the owner. On a practical level this meant that once its contents had been drunk, the bottle could then be sent back to the wine merchant to be refilled. On a social level these seals were considered to be a sign of wealth and standing. These distinctive bottles most likely represent the first examples of specifically British glassware.

What makes a desirable example?

From a glass collectors perspective certain examples of seal bottles are considered to be very sought after. However, there are several culminating factors involved which contribute to both their desirability and value. Frequently they are found cracked, stained or with small chips. The later is not so important but what is important is that the seal is intact. Often they are found in water which leaves a dull impression which naturally effects the value as they should have a typically bright and shiny surface.

If you have any glassware, please contact Robin Newcombe, general valuer at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent.