Window to Our Past

By Kristina Braga

sunrise in new jersey

Like many sea glass enthusiasts, I’m addicted to combing the beach at low tide in search of frosty tumbled nuggets. Every so often, I come upon pieces of sea glass depicting full or partial trademarks, letters or numbers. I usually pause in wonder for a moment, before adding the piece to my bag and continuing along my way. It was only this past summer where a glass bottle bottom with a raised mark of an inverted triangle with the letters “WT” inside piqued my curiosity enough to investigate its origin.

sea glass with WT

Searching through images of vintage bottle marks online I learned that the “WT” stood for the Whitall Tatum glass factory once located in Millville, New Jersey, one of the first glass factories in America. This factory mass-produced large quantities of prescription drug bottles, as well as other types of bottles and insulators. The company operated from 1806 to 1938 until it was purchased by Armstrong Cork Corporation, which began using its own bottle mark. This narrowed down my fragment’s manufacturing date to sometime between 1806 and 1938.

Although this was a great start, I hoped to narrow down this time frame even further. With some additional digging, I found that from 1875 up to 1900, the bottle mark of Whitall Tatum was “W.T.& Co.” allowing me to rule out this time period for my particular piece. In 1901, the company name changed to Whitall Tatum Company, causing their trademark to change to “W.T.C.O.” which was used on their bottles until the early 1920’s. From the 1920’s until the late 1930’s, the tumultuous trademark changed once again. This time, to a “WT” inside an inverted triangle. This last change matched the worn bottle bottom I found on the beach. I’m confident that this bottle was most likely a druggist prescription bottle manufactured by Whitall Tatum some time between the early 1920’s and late 1930’s. This piece is likely 80 years old or more!

sea glass bottle O in square

About a month later, I found a second bottle bottom with another interesting trademark. This one depicted an “O” inside a raised square, and research showed it to be the trademark used by Owens Bottle Company beginning in 1919. This mark was quickly phased out in 1929 when they merged with the Illinois Glass Company; therefore, my piece must have been manufactured some time between 1919 and 1929. After 1929, the trademark changed to the letter “I” inside an “O” entwined with an elongated diamond. Owens manufactured many types of glass containers, including prescription bottles, food and beverage bottles, preserves and packer jars. If I had to guess, I would say my bottle “round” came from an old ketchup or beverage bottle. With a manufacturing plant right in Glassboro, New Jersey, it is not at all surprising to find an Owens bottle piece washed up on my beach.

sea glass piece with R

I never imagined that investigating these markings would take me on a journey through bottle making history. As an amateur sleuth, I encourage you all to do some investigative researching of your own to uncover the story behind the mysterious gems that wash up on your shores. These pieces of history are waiting for us to reveal their past!

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine March/April 2018 issue.

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