For as long as there have been bottles and jars, people have come up with ways to close them up to keep the contents clean and safe. Early closures were straw, rags, leather, clay, wood, or whatever someone could find that they could stuff in the top of the container. The earliest glass stoppers date back as early as 1,500 B.C., though they didn’t come into wider use until the mid-19th century, mostly used for food containers.
Stoppers can be simple and utilitarian, or decorative and ornate, but generally have the same three parts. The shank sits inside the bottle or jar neck and serves to close the container. The shank can be ground down to fit a specific bottle exactly, or a thin strip of cork used to create a tight seal. The finial is the top part of the stopper that you grasp to pull the stopper out. Decorative finials were used on perfume bottles, decanters, and other bottles that were meant for display. The neck is the part of the stopper in between the shank and the finial, and is not always present on a glass stopper, depending on its design.
Glass stoppers were usually used on bottles that would be used over time, such as a perfume bottle, and sauce bottle, decanters, and apothecary bottles. Bottles that were used only once, such as wine or beer, would be stoppered with cork or something less expensive than glass. With the advent of less expensive closures, such as the crown cap or the external screw cap, the use of stoppers declined. When you find a glass stopper on the beach, you’re finding a little piece of history!
See Fiona Dart's beautiful collection of beach-found glass bottle stoppers ›
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2019 issue.