By Fiona Dart
If you are ever on the beach with me and you hear me let out a scream it’s most probably because I have found a stopper. I love all sea glass and ocean finds but I have a distinct affinity with the ever-elusive sea glass bottle stopper. I can actually pinpoint back to the time when my love for these tactile little gems started. Approximately 30 years ago I found two stoppers on a beachcombing trip and I remember thinking how uniquely special they were. At this stage in my life my children were small and I was in the throes of raising my family and doing everything that revolved around being a busy working mother so whilst beachcombing was in my blood it was not on my immediate radar at that time. However, through my various moves and life’s turns of events I squirrelled these stoppers away until about 10 years ago when my irrepressible beachcombing really began but more so in recent years since I have retired.
I have been extremely lucky over the years to find some seriously gorgeous stoppers. People often ask me “How do you find so many”? I live in an area which was colonised in the early 1800’s by the British so a lot of my finds were from the Victorian era and dumped at sea or in our river and still wash up to this day. Stoppers, china, glass, porcelain dolls, bottles, metal and medical paraphernalia can all still be found to this day but it is the stopper find which delights me the most. As a serious beachcomber I also think you develop an eye for the things you want to find so I think perhaps I have developed stopper eyes. I am certainly no expert but through finding a great assortment this has allowed me to research the ones that I do find. Perfume, apothecary, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar bottle and vulcanite stoppers are typically what I find washed up on my beaches.
A commonly found type of stopper originates from a Holbrook and Co bottle which contained Worcestershire sauce. These originated from England from approximately 1860 with a major export trade developed in Australia by the 1880’s. It was said to be the highest selling Worcestershire sauce in the world.
Lea and Perrins was another UK based sauce and was first made in the 1830’s while George Whybrow bottles contained salad oil and jars which vesseled pickles. I am always filled with excitement when a stopper is beautifully sea-worn and I can still read it’s embossment. I find a lot of plain topped stoppers as well and I believe these to be from apothecary and medicinal bottles. Two favorite medicinal stoppers in my collection are denim blue and deep purple in colour. Their coloring is very unusual rich, seaworn and tactile.
Fancy stoppers with decorative tops are usually from perfume bottles. Recently I had the good fortune of finding a glorious green Crown Perfumery smelling salts stopper. It was late in the afternoon and I had walked over the particular spot at least three times. The light did not lend itself for finding such a gem. It was just so random and unexpected. Crown Perfumery was founded in 1872 by William Sparks Thomson. Queen Victoria granted the Crown Perfumery her own crown’s images for the top of fragrance bottles. I was completely and utterly overwhelmed with this find to the point that soon after I had found it I lost my footing on the rocky ledge and took a tumble. I had been shaking with excitement and I think I was in shock. I really did hurt myself but the joy of finding such a treasure overrode my pain. I was out of action for at least 10 days. Mind you it didn’t do me any harm. It was a find I could only have dreamt about and it came true and worth every bit of blood that it drew. I consider this stopper the best overall find in my collection to date and I play with it on a daily basis. It was a major #sparkjoy moment.
I still regularly find the small vulcanite bullet/gravity stoppers. These were made from a hardened rubber compound and were placed in bottles to work on the same principle as that of a Codd marble in a Codd bottle. When I first picked up one of these I actually thought it was an old dirty ear plug and nearly left it there. Horrors! I am so glad I didn’t as I soon learned what these smooth little treasures were and I am now proud to say I love my small collection of these.
I hold my stopper collection on a pedestal and would say that each and every one is my pride and joy. I never ever tire of finding these gems and also it never ceases to amaze me when I find one washed up, hidden amongst the rocks or plucked from the water. I am forever thankful for where I live, for lovely low tides and for reaching a stage in my life where I can exercise my hobby nearly on a daily basis. I thank the ocean each time I find one, kiss it and place it in my hand for a period of time until the next one comes along. Doesn’t everybody kiss their stoppers?
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2019 issue.
May I ask where in Australia you live?
I love looking for sea/river glass and pottery which I then us to mosaic with. This morning I found a blue bottle stopper and I would like to know how I would find out it’s history please.