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Object Record

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Catalog Number 1999.048.274
Description Matthew's bottle glass stopper recovered from City Centre Plaza, 1873. On the neck of stopper (transition point between the shank and finial) embossed in tiny lettering with what appears to be the following: "PATENTED / A. G. 26 1862 / OCT. 11, 1864 / APRIL. 15, 1873".The glass stopper is clear and shows evidence of machine manufacture.
Object Name Stopper, Bottle
Collection 3D - Food Service Tools & Equipment
Title Matthew's bottle glass stopper recovered from City Centre Plaza, 1873
Date 1873
Creator Matthew, John
Role Manufacturer
Inscription Text "PATENTED / A. G. 26 1862 / OCT. 11, 1864 / APRIL. 15, 1873" (On the neck of stopper)
Provenance 20 boxes of archaeological material excavated from the City Centre Plaza site at 950 Main at Middlefield in Redwood City. Excavation for development, done by Basin Research Associates.
Notes A glass stopper was likely the most common material that was used as a bottle stopper, that that perception could be skewed by the higher likelihood of a glass stopper surviving to the present than most other materials. Glass stoppers can be either solid glass or hollow.
Glass stoppers are made up of three parts - the shank, which is the part that inserts into the bore/neck of the bottle; the finial which is the portion above the shank that one grasps to remove the stopper from the bottle; and the neck, which is the transition point between the shank and finial.
Most glass stoppers were molded to shape then the shank ground to a more precise shape. However, some very early bottles and decanters (first half of the 19th century and before) were free-blown or pattern-molded with the stopper shank (and matching bore) not molded or ground to shape (McKearin & McKearin 1941).

Gravitating Stopper ("Matthew's Patent")
The gravitating stopper was patented on October 11, 1864 by Albert Albertson and assigned to John Matthews, an associate of Albertson's, in 1866. This closure was apparently first put into use in 1867 or 1868 (Riley 1958). It consists of an elongated glass plug with a flared knob on one end. A rubber gasket was placed on the upper end of the knob which when placed in the bottle sealed the contents by pressing against the inside surface of the bottle at the juncture of the neck and shoulder. The bottle was "...filled in an upright position, then inverted so the stopper would gravitate into closed position, and be held there by the inside pressure when the bottle was removed (from the filling machine)." The Matthew's Patent noted that the stopper could be made of ", hardwood, or other suitable material..." though it is likely that glass was by far the most commonly used material (Bender 1986).

Gravitating stopper and bottle base; click to enlarge.The illustration to the left shows the stopper separately outside and inside a typical bottle. The photo to the right shows the base of a Matthew's patent bottle with the 2.1" long stopper (without the rubber sealing ring) in front. The pictured stopper is embossed in tiny lettering with what appears to be the following: PATENTED / A. G. 26 1862 / OCT. 11, 1864 / APRIL. 15, 1873 (some of the embossing is very hard to read). Click Matthew's stoppers for a picture of several of the glass stoppers minus the rubber sealing ring which would have been on the narrow flared "knob" end (top end as shown in the picture). These bottles were opened by pushing down on the head of the stopper to release the pressure which allowed the stopper to sink to the bottom of the bottle and the contents to be accessed. The stoppers were removable from the bottle for cleaning and reuse and to replace the gaskets as necessary.

The base of most (but not likely all) bottles that used this closure are embossed as follows: GRAVITATING STOPPER / MADE BY (around the outside edge of the base) JOHN MATTHEWS / NEW YORK (inside the first ring of embossing) PATD / OCT 11 / 1864 (in the middle). Click gravitating stopper bottle base to see a close up picture of the embossing found on the base of these bottles (picture is of bottle to the right). The embossing is also shown behind the stopper in the image below. Because of this base embossing many people assume that Matthews was the patentee. However, Albert Albertson was the patentee and Matthews "...genius lay in forceful marketing ideas" in gaining acceptance and widespread use of this closure and the equipment to enable its use (Graci 2003).

Dimensions H-2.125 W-0.375 D-0.375 inches
Search Terms Archaeology
City Center Plaza
Drug Stores
Redwood City
Subjects Bottle industry