Ancient Glass Blog of The Allaire Collection


Posted in Uncategorized by Allaire Collection of Glass on January 22, 2018

Prismatic (‘Mercury’) bottle of  The Windmill Collection of Roman Glass


Date:  2nd – 3rd century A.D. Size: H = 14.8 cm. D =  3.6 cm

Classification:  Isings (1957), form 84; Morin-Jean (1913), form 19

Provenance:  Private collection Ventura (USA)

Description:  Transparent pale green almost square bottle, blown in a mold with four vertical sections. With slightly tapering body toward the bottom. The base mark has in relief four swirls Freeblown cylindrical tall neck with outsplayed rim.

Condition: intact

Remarks:  Some bottles of this type have a picture of Mercury on the bottom, the Roman God for trade and travelers. The name can probably be traced back to the words merx or mercator, which in Latin stands for merchant or merchant. In addition to an image of Mercury, a large number of variants are known, such as combinations with simple geometrical motifs or floral such as palm branches (also on the wall) and letters, for example, G.H.F.I. or F.I.R.M. The latter could be an abbreviation of the workshop where such a bottle was produced (Latin: Firmii or Firmiorum).

This example does not have an attribute of Mercury, but (as mentioned above) imposes large ¼ corner circles or garlands, which creates a kind of star. Special is that an almost identical bottom brand also occurs on a regular square bottle in the Windmill Collection with short neck (also without handle)

Bottles with the generic name ‘Mercury’ are mainly manufactured in the Rhineland, Gaul, Istria, Dalmatia and Northern Italy. Most are found in the vicinity of Cologne, in Italy, Croatia, Belgium and also in the Netherlands. According to Stern (1977), they probably served as perfume bottles. This would also explain the narrow opening (and long neck) They do not exclude the possibility that they were filled with water from a holy spring in Roman times or were meant for the storage of herbs. Facchini (1998), on the other hand, is of the opinion that several bottles found in Northern Italy containing medicinal residues are considered to be specifically intended for the sale of various medicines.

Due to the rectangular shape, they are ideally suited to be transported in larger numbers at the same time. She further notes that the usual height for this is between 13 and 16 cm and the bottom dimension between 2.5 and 3.5 cm. However, from elsewhere in the western Roman Empire, considerably higher Mercury bottles are known, up to 22.5 cm (Smith collection, Whitehouse 2001) and 26.5 cm (Römisch-Germanisches Museum Cologne, Doppelfeld 1966). Furthermore, larger, hexagonal, specimens have also been found in Dalmatia.

Trade is of all times: thick-walled bottles may have had a content that was precious or dangerous like eye water, but, Morin Jean (1913) notes, it is also not excluded that it was a trick to make the buyer think that there is more in the bottle than was actually the case. After all, man wants to be deceived, ‘homo vult decipi’, so the Romans already knew in ancient times!

Reference:  Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Aquileia (Madruzzato/Mercate 2004/2005, inv. nr. AQ 2005/255); Corning Museum (Whitehouse 2001 vol. II, nrs. 567/585 (Mercury)  ; Musées Départementeaux de Seine-Maritime (Sennequier 1985, nr. 167, no trademark)

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