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washington WASHBOT bottles
ebay by Bob Parsons nasa
For years there were two figural bottles in the shape of a bust of George Washington in my cobalt glass collection. According to their labels and base embossing they once contained Black Cherry Liqueur a la Charles Jacquin et Cie, Inc. of Philadelphia. I haven't a clue as to where or when I acquired them, but I've got 55 assorted Bust of George Washington figurals now including two of the 1876 originals. My wife coined them Washbots which she says is short, practical and kind of catchy. Fine with me, I never argue.
(left to right) Clevenger Type I, Clevenger Type IV and 1876 original.
Hunting for top guns on the subject of Washbots has been an uninspired exercise for me. I ran ads and invitations seeking information about Washbots in several antique and collectibles publications including the AB&GC for eight months. I begged a couple of glass libraries to get into the search. So far, not one Washbot spokesperson raised his or her hand. Worse, there was just one response from another `courageous' collector. Hello, out there! It's nice to be different, but not lonely. On the plus side, the ads did produce several nice bottles, interesting information, and a couple smart bottle persons admonished me that many experienced collectors fancy original Washbots primarily as bitters bottles. Touché.
The bottom investigation line is that I found little more than a stingy admission of Washbot existence mostly in the form of an occasional folksy magazine article about figurals which barely game them a nod.
Nevertheless, several varieties of the originals have been notable in bottle auctions of late, (Hagenbuch, Heckler$550 to $1700.) McKearin's gives them neither mention nor number but Knopf's Glass 2 collectors guide and Richard Watson's book on bitters bottles do reveal a little about Washbot history and how to distinguish originals from reproductions. They are not obscure and dealers regularly move a variety of these attractive bust of General Washington bottles.
Everything starts somewhere and I'm willing to stick my neck out where few seem to have stuck theirs before. Corrections and feedback are welcomed as part of the learning process. So ...
According to Albert Christian Revi in his excellent book American Pressed Glass and Figure Bottles, a gentleman by the name of Bernard Simon of Scranton, Pennsylvania designed and patented a bottle on December 14, 1875. Revi says: his patent enumeration's describe the bottle as representing a soldier in the Continental Army. Revi, of course, didn't suggest that the bottle was pressed glass because it's BIMAL, and one look at it pretty much tells the collector that the soldier is too dressed up to represent the lowly rag-tag infantryman whose feet got frozen at Valley Forge.
1976 Commemorative Boxed Presentation by Jacquin.
Knopf and Watson as well as several auction catalogs offer that the bottle was first on the market in 1876 when it was called a Bust of Washington Bottle. And why not? It certainly resembles several of artists Gilbert Stuart's portrayals of our beloved first prexy as a soldier. Also, the year of its' introduction, 1876, was our Revolutionary War Centennial when we still honored General Washington, as a hero.
In his apparent search of the patent files, Revi mentions that another Bust of Washington bottle was patented by one Edward Newman of Philadelphia on April 11, 1876. He describes a bottle which I gather was a pours from the bottom specimen and says: From the patent photograph we can assume that it was produced in dark colored glassprobably blue or dark amberand most certainly in crystal. With due respect to Revi, that may be a pretty big assumption to make from just a black and white photograph and apparently not having seen an actual production piece. Except for the patent information passed on by Revi, I could find nothing about Newman's Washbot. Even if this was due to my own flawed research, I am nevertheless persuaded to believe that Newman's bottle never went into serious production and that it's circulation was minimal. I hunch that only a very few exist and that collectors who own them certainly possess a very rare Washbot. Please write if you are sitting on information about these Newman bottles.
Rare Clevenger Type II's.
Back to the Simons Washbots. It's not news to bitters bottle collectors that the exceptionally clear inscription around the front part of the base of what might be called a modified pedestal reads: SIMON'S CENTENNIAL BITTERS and opposite this on the back are words: TRADE MARK. The embossing clarity of these words is that feature which primarily distinguishes this original Washbot from some later reproductions where the words are not at all clear and sometimes hardly discernible.
The originals were all cork stoppered and most had a faint aqua tint. Less common are those in shades of amber. Regardless of color, the originals generally had two types of lips or collars: a single ring and a double ring. (Figure 1) The single ring varieties are found with variances in ring thickness up to 1/16 of an inch. The double ring varieties also have lip variances. Sometimes there are two distinct rings of equal size, sometimes the rings are close and appear to merge and sometimes one ring is smaller and less pronounced than the other. These lip differences are probably best attributed to gaffer technique at the time of lip application. The variations give the serious collector something to shoot at for bragging rights.
While the originals exhibit minor differences, I would like to believe that mine are fairly typical. Both measure a little over 10 1/4 inches tall and 5 1/4 inches wide across the general's chest. The one with the very faint aqua tint has a single ring collar. It bears no pontil mark, and exhibits a two part mold line which traverses sideways through the arms, shoulders and head. Washington's features are not particularly sharp and what looks like a protruding left ear is really the mold maker's cavalier treatment of his wig or hair. The base is almost round, but a close inspection reveals an oval measuring 4 1/8 inches in length by 3 7/8 inches wide. The embossed lettering is very crisp, the glass is smooth and free of all but a few natural bubbles for character.
The amber one is characteristically very much like the tinted one but it has a double ring collar with the lower ring being somewhat less pronounced. The base in not oval, but round with a 4 1/8 diameter. Both bottles weigh 22 ounces empty and the volume is 30 fluid oz. when filled to the beginning of the neck. One of several very similar molds likely produced all of the original 1876 Washbots. So much for the real McCoys.
The Challenge of Reproductions.
Obviously biased by possession and pride, I think my Washbots reproduction are more exciting than the originals. More exciting may mean cheaper, but they are certainly more colorful. There are, admittedly, no hard production numbers to prove it, but some very special Washbots made in the 1940s and 1950s, at the old Clevenger Brothers Glass operation, have been more elusive and harder for me to come by than the 1876 originals. I don't get to every bottle show and most of my canvassing is done in the Northeast, but if you doubt the scarcity of some of these bottles, start looking for yourself.
My friend, Tom Haunton, a dealer in South Jersey glass, showed me three of these Washbot reproductions (Photo) from his private cache at the Keene show three years ago. Frankly , I hadn't cared much about them at the time. He alleged them to be Clevenger productions and I later fount that they certainly looked exactly like those pictured and described in a 1940's Clevenger catalog. I was hunting for something different so I bought all three.
They were pristine, heavy jobs almost 20 ounces, in bright cobalt, deep amethyst and rich amber. Unlike the originals, the bottoms had deep kick-ups with great open pontils. The pontils have convinced some careless collectors that they are older than they really are, since their overall characteristics are much like the 1876 originals....with two notable exceptions: As cautioned before, the lettering around the base was blurred and the collar had a blob top treatment rather than a ring or rings. Since there seems to be no evidence that anyone ever dignified these special reproductions with a formal designation before, I'm willing to take a chance here and identify them as Type I Washbot reproductions. (Figure 2) They're attractive and rather special, I think.
So special in fact that in more than three years of fairly deliberate search by myself and several dealer bird-dog friends, not to mention three doses of advertising, I've only been able to turn up and acquire two additional Type I Washbots. One is a bluish green and the other two are surprisingly crystal clear. Significantly, during this same period, I have seen at least eight originals at shows and in auction. (A single ring lip variety at the Saratoga show last year was offered at $625., one just like it went for $650. in the April, 1997 Heckler auction, and I bought an amber one from Glassworks last year.)
(left to right) Wheaton, Clevenger Type I, Jacquin.
Ever ponder what some buyer down the road might pay for a carefully crafted uncommon bottle which never contained anything and was apparently just a deco historical piece? The late bottle specialist Bob Heath once told me that along with the Clevenger E.G. Booz and Jenny Lind calabash repros, all produced with prominent pontils, these Washouts were sometimes selling (offered?) for more than $100. Perhaps. But I still worry that `pontil-mania' could cause some true age camouflage.
Don't go away. Now comes a Type II Washbot reproduction. A total surprise to me. For two years I owned just one of these; a bright intense green specimen. Everything about it was the same as a Type I. Almost. The base was still pontiled, but it was flat with no visible kick-up. More noticeable, the lip wasn't a blob top. Rather, I'd call it a drip flange if there is such a thing. (Figure. 3) I was at first inclined to dismiss it as a singular aberration of the Type I. Not until I ran into another one just exactly like it a year ago, in light blue, at the Balcksmith's Mall in Ogunquit, Maine did I think both of them ought to be distinguished as a type by themselves. One of something could be an exception to the rule, but when there are two, one naturally suspects there are more. Why not? So a Type II has boldly emerged which must be even less common than the Type I. Recently a dealer call from Connecticut got me my third one. Light green.
Four different Jacquin's.
If you aren't lost yet, a third Clevenger Washbot, Type III, comes on the scene. It is decidedly the product of an entirely new or very much altered mold with obvious and prominent differences from the previous Types. It has the same 10 height, but it has no pontil. The bottom reveals a subdued concave shape and the neck is straight with a finely tooled ring lip. Most importantly, the pedestal type base looks like it has been filled in, (Figure 3) and the glass has a strangely crude and rough appearance. It was pointed out to me that when some of the Type IIIs were viewed sidewise, Washington's foulard or neckpiece seems to have been flattened away. (One bottle wag told me this might be a gaffing lapse where the blower ran out of wind. Anyway, they are different and I think they deserve to be recognized in a special category, mostly because I have Type IIIs in amethyst, green and amber which look exactly like those offered in a Sixties Clevenger catalog.
The last of the Clevenger types, or a Type IV, is captioned Small Washington Bottle on page 14 of that same catalog. At 8 1/2 tall on a 3 1/4 diameter base it is best described simply as a smaller version of the Type III. I have nine of them in various shades of amber, amethyst, green and blue. One is clear, two have purposely sheared lips. You can still buy them off the shelf today at the Clevenger facility in Clayton, NJ. (See photo).
Still more Washbots
The Charles Jacquin et Cie.,Inc. of Philadelphia and Cote D'or, France is probably responsible for more bottles being made in the shape of a Bust of Washington than all other sources combined including the originals. Literally hundreds of thousands of Washbots were made for Jacquin by the Maryland Glass Company of Baltimore from the mid `40s up to the late `70s. One order alone in 1975 was for 500 gross. Most were deep cobalt, a favorite production color for Maryland Glass, (Noxema, Bromo-Seltzer, Phillips, Clairol, Ear Fiddles, Evening in Paris, Wyeth, Art-Deco pieces) but some of the older ones in my collection are light to medium blue and one appears to be a dug bottle. Just how many Jacquin Washbots survived or avoided the dump is unknown,but many varieties, some common, some scarce, populate the flea markets and antique shops today.
I have a fully labeled Jacquin, sans the liquid cordial, in its 1976 commemorative box which was hard to come by. While Jacquins do not currently proliferate, neither are they scarce. They are usually available in the $15. to $30. price range. Some of the first ones fetch more Dealers mostly consider them table fillers. I have 17 Jacquin Washbots and only two of them are duplicates. This makes a statement for collectors who like to deal with mold numbers and varieties at modest prices.
The 1876 original Simon's Centennial Bitters (front and side view).
I am personally indebted to Dr. Paul Stefan, Vice President of the current Jacquin Distillery (America's Oldest Cordial Producer) who graciously supplied me with a great deal of technical and historical information on the Jacquin Washbots. While company records do not go back 50 years and Maryland Glass and its' successors went defunct some twenty years ago, there is good reason to believe from base embossing that Jacquin Washbots originated just after WWII, in 1946. So, after the Simons bottle in 1876, the Jacquins, seventy years later, seem to have been the first to again celebrate a bust of George Washington in glass.
One of Jacquines is a fully labeled cork stopper specimen which reads Washington Bottle - Deluxe Cherry Liqueur, 30 Proof, 4/5 quart. It has both Federal and Maryland Tax stamps. Embossed on the base, besides the single word JACQUIN, are three numerals: 117 which Dr. Stephan says is a mold number, R44 which is the Rectifier number assigned to Maryland Glass by the Federal Government and once required to be embossed on any bottle whenever it was to be used for alcoholic beverage. Dr. Stephan says the 46 is the year the bottle was made. And lastly, along with the R number one will always find the familiar government required legend: Federal Law Forbids Sale or Re-Use of this Bottle on the back between the shoulders. Federal Regulations regarding the bottling of alcohol changed in 1966 and subsequently both the legend and the R44 were dropped from Jacquin Washbots.
The first Jacquins were cork stopped with two distinct neck and lip styles to accommodate them. (Figure 3) Later, screw caps were introduced with an assortment of caps both metal and plastic, plain and fancy. Jacquin Washbots were obviously the result of many recreated and similar molds as judged by the diversity of mold numerals on their bases. Production volume undoubtedly caused molds to wear out, but all Washbot replacements had the same overall characteristics and dimensions. Apart from the neck and lip shape differences as well as various embossings, the most significant departure from other Washbots was in the base treatment. The pedestal effect disappeared and the bottle looked for all the world like a Clevenger Type III (Figure 3 again.)
The oldest Jacquin (c.1946) Probably the first reproduction after the 1876 original.
I think the Jacquin bottle came out before any of the Clevenger offerings, but one might suspect some mold swapping or selling was going on between Maryland Glass and Clevenger were it not for these instructions given to Maryland Glass by Jacquin on May 21, 1975: You are to construct moulds for this item at a cost of $18,505.(!)...You will not construct any George Washington type liquor bottles for any other company, and the Jacquin firm will have the exclusive use of the aforesaid mold. These words of warning sounded enough like patent language to ward off copycats, but other makers were likely safe with similar Washbot offerings so long as they weren't used for the purpose of dispensing liquor.
Finally, Jacquin put their famous black cherry liqueur and even some creme de menthe into nip sized ABM Washbots just 3 1/2 tall. Always in cobalt, they did this with a cork stopper and later with a plastic screw top and they were perfect miniatures of their big brothers. I have several and even one with some good stuff still in it. I have seen these little corkers with full labels and the tax stamps priced at more than $50.
Almost, but not quite last in the Washbot reproduction story are Wheatons. The Wheaton Glass Company literally flooded the market as a producer of deco figural bottles during their heyday some twenty and more years ago now. Wheaton reproduction pieces are still abundant and a circa 1977 product listing, given to me by my research friend and author, Doris Christiansen, reveals that Wheaton did not overlook a facsimile of the Washington Bust bottle. If you are engaged in the flea and antique market hunt, then you know that they are undoubtedly the next most common Washbot to the Jacquins. They are fairly easy to acquire in the $10. to $15. price range.
Wheaton reproductions are identified quickly by the usual contrived pontil mark and the words: Wheaton, N.J. embossed on the base. They are 9 tall with lots of wording such as Simmon's (sic) Centennial Bitters and Mt. Vernon, Virginia 1832 and General Continental American Army. They are listed as being available in five light colors namely: green, amber, blue, amethyst and ruby. I have never seen a ruby colored Wheaton Washbot, but I do have a blue-green one which is not listed. The standard colors are fairly common and their shades can make an interesting collecting challenge.
Bob Pasons and Washbots
at the National Bottle Museum Show in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Saving the biggest for last goes to the Italians. This Washbot is an ABM whopper. At 11 3/4 tall in light green the House of Banfi of Farmingdale, N.Y. ordered an Italian wine maker to fill the bottle with a 1974 vintage wine which from the label was called Barsotini. This replica of a bust of Washington has better definition and clarity in the general's features than any of its' predecessors. Some of the general's upper vestments are tastefully highlighted in gold as is an eagle just above the base. And on the base, also in gold, are the dates 1776 and 1976. This Washbot is only 22 years old, but I have never seen or heard of another.
In summary, it has been for our collecting pleasure...first Simon, and maybe Newman, then Jacquin, later Clevenger, Banfi and finally Wheaton who got into the Washbot production act. So if you are looking to have some fun collecting bottles something different without cashing in the family jewels, first try some Washbots reproductions. You can go for the originals later. All are challenging available, colorful, historical, gaining in value, and best of all, different from what the collector down the street may be chasing.
Many of the author's Washbots are on display at the National Bottle Museum in Ballston Spa, NY. Bob Linden is a retired banker, history buff and a past contributor to AB&GC.....
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