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ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE

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DEMIJOHNS

ebay by Bob Parsons nasa

As an antique bottle collector I can only wince and beaghast at what took place in Rockport, Massachusetts one hot dayin July 1856. This was the town where Hannah Jumper led a largergroup of women in a hatchet assault on the illegal liquorestablishments. According to the book Hannah and the HatchetGang, written by Eleanor Parson (no relations), a 75 year oldseamstress and 200other women, mostly wives, were fed up with all the drunk men intown. Their liquor bills were driving many families into debt.Hannah planned her raid and for five hours her gang of womenwielded hatchets as theyattacked 13 taverns, houses, barns and shops where illegal rumand spirits were sold. They smashed kegs of rum and bottles ofliquor to the tune of approximately 250 gallons. In oneparticular shop that was hiding liquor, 10 to 15 demijohns mettheir fate. The rum, liquor, and hard cider flowed down thestreets, and they say you could smell the rum and liquor forweeks after. This was the start of 141 years of being a dry townand it remains so today.

A groupof demijohns still wrapped in whicker.

It is hard to imagine all of the good oldbottles that were lost that day. Ten years ago I ran across ademijohn that I believe survived the hatchet gang. It came out ofa cellar in Rockport and was covered with dirt; the wicker haddried and fallen off revealing a heavy, round 3 gallon, orangeamber bottle loaded with bubbles, globs and strings with a 4 inchdiameter pontil. Its age is circa 1840 and the residue cakedinside on the bottom was from hard cider. It is one of myfavorite bottles.

I have been collecting demijohns for overtwenty five years and still get a thrill when I ran across one inmy travels. Demijohns are intriguing bottles and their size shapeand color will quickly catch your eye. The workmanship that wentinto blowing and handling this type of bottle in the old days wasextraordinary. One had to admire those craftsmen, the glassblowers of old, because of the skill needed in producing thesesizable bottles.

Bob Parsons, with thelargest demijohn in his collection!

Whey you pick up a demijohn you really know youhave a bottle in your hands. Most are large, rich in color, andthe older they are, the cruder the glass with excellent examplesof applied lips and pontil scars. I have always said that if youwant to see a sheared lip, ring around neck, rolled lip, appliedsloping collar, or a rough pontil, re-fired or polished pontil oran iron pontil, just pick up a big old demijohn and thesefeatures will confront you in great detail. Many were free blown,others blown into a dip mold, 2,3 or 4 piece mold, turn molds orjust on a plate base. The shapes are eye catching; ovoid, kidney,cylindrical, round, teardrop, apple and heart shaped. Sizes varyfrom a few ounces to twenty gallons or more. These very largeones are called carboys. As you can see the variety of demijohnsis seemingly endless.

The purpose of the demijohn was for transportand storage of bulk liquids. Glass is impervious to mostchemicals as well as alcohol and most common fluids used by ourforefathers in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s. Demijohns played animportant role in businesses and households during the earlydevelopment of our nation.

AnItalian olive oil demijohn imported by the Alberti Importing& Exporting Co. of Boston.

Thiscompany went out of business in 1901

There are still a number of older black glassdemijohns that have survived from the late 1600s and 1700s. Theseprimarily came from England and Europe which supplied thecolonies with much needed glassware and bottles until thecolonies started producing their own in the middle to late 1700s.

One ofthe first demijohns that caught my eye and I purchased was coatedinside with dried molasses. It was a 5 gallon size with a shortneck, wide mouth and was a two piece mold ovoid in shape. After agood cleaning, I was happy to discover a nice greenish blackglass bottle. Other demijohns I have collected contained, wine,olive oil, cider, whiskey and chemicals. In several I have founddried skeletons of mice who were lured by the smell, fell in andcouldn't escape.

Most all demijohns were wrapped or encased inwicker to protect them from breakage during shipping. This wasthe case in Stoddard New Hampshire glass factories where at timesthe general population was so involved in glass making women andchildren in nearly every home were engaged in gathering saplings,willow and other materials used in weaving a protective coveringfor the demijohns. One can only imagine these bottles beinghauled on an ox driven wagon over ruts and mud holes to a town orcity many miles away. Today, however, most demijohns have hadtheir wicker removed to better reveal their color and shape fordisplay and collectable purposes.

My method of cleaning these bottles is to takethem outside to the lawn and lay them on a towel to preventpossible stone scratches. I pour some dish washer detergent andfine sand into the bottle. I then add warm water and allow it tosoak, first on one side and then the other. After a good soaking,I roll the bottle around on the towel to agitate the mix andcontinue to do so until it appears clean. After a rinsing withthe hose, it is surprising how nicely the bottle sparkles.

Demijohns are bottles that have somewhat beenignored over the years and are now becoming popular especially asthe colors and shapes become known. They are ideal focal pointsand attention grabbers for enhancing furniture and room settings. Like many other antiquebottles placed on a table, shelf, or on a window sill they arevery attractive. Interior decorators have shown interest and arestarting to incorporate them in their business.

Collecting demijohns takes up a lot space inthe house and requires care in handling and dusting. Fortunately,I married a woman who also is fascinated by these big oldbottles.

Threenice Demijohns.

By the way, the word demijohn was taken fromthe French, Dame Jeanne, meaning Lady Jane. I am having a jobtrying to figure out how Lady Jane became he name of a bottle. Ifyou have the answer, please send me a note.

References:

On The Trail Of Stoddard Glass, byAnne E. Field

Hannah and the Hatchet Gang, byEleanor Parsons

Bob Parsons has been digging andcollecting antique bottles for over 35 years. He is a member ofthe National Bottle Museum and currently the President andTreasurer of the 90 member Violin Bottle Collectors Association.

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