By Pam O'Brien
I was lucky enough to come upon this interesting sea pottery piece late in January 2018. My husband and I were driving around Newport, Rhode Island. I asked him to stop at the Castle Hill Inn Beach so I could take a photo. It was winter, so there is some access to private beaches. I walked the short beach and picked up a few pieces of sea glass and pottery. I took a few photos and turned to head back to the car. My eye caught a piece on the ground with the word “NASSAU.” It was cold so I picked up the piece and tucked it away to check it out later.
My husband and I began to search for the history of this piece. We were able to find out that the clay jug originated from Niederselter, Herzogthum Nassau (Province), Germany and held mineral water dating back to at least 1787. The area was home to different wells of natural soda water, known as far back as the Bronze age, with some of the wells stilled being used for production of soda water today.
Jug-making was a cottage industry in the Westerwald area where families in at least nine villages manufactured the Selters (brand name of the soda water sourced from the Nassau province) bottles. Identification on the front of the bottles, such as Herzogthum Nassau (literally, Dutchy of Nassau) identify the political territory of the local nobility or councils that licensed the exportation of the water. Because of the competition from glass containers, the jug trade declined by the end of the 19th century and was reduced to 49 jugmakers by 1926.
The Castle Hill Inn, on the coast at the beach where the historical pottery was found, has its own history, related to both its Newport home and possibly the pottery find. From the Inn’s own website, it is noted, “As Newport began to grow into a prominent seaport, the wealthy built great architectural tributes to the life of leisure: splendid, multiple-roomed mansions called 'cottages.' Castle Hill was a gracious, shingle-style song of a house commissioned in 1874 by marine biologist and naturalist Alexander Agassiz of Harvard University. Today’s inn was his original summer home, where he kept his eye on the ocean and the sea life within it.”
How did this piece end up on a beach in front of the Castle Hill Inn? Is is possible that Agassiz had Selters Water sent to his home in Newport, RI during the summers in the late 1800’s? Or perhaps after World War II when Castle Hill Inn officially became a hotel, and the water was commissioned to serve as a beverage for the guests of the inn and spa?
We will never know but it was definitely interesting researching the history of this piece.
This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine March/April 2018 issue.