Ask a Curator – A Wine Bottle Seal from 1772

(NPS Photo by Norm Eggert)

For those of you who guessed “wine bottle seal,” you are correct. This is an example of a wine bottle seal dating to 1772.

What is a wine bottle seal?

Wine bottle seals were used at least since c. 1650. When a bottle was still warm, a pad of glass was added to the front and stamped with a metal die. The die had information such as year, the owner’s name, the owner’s initials, and/or the owner’s locality.

Wine bottle seals were used to indicate ownership, the establishment to which the bottles belonged to/came from, or the contents of the bottles. Because of this, seals were used by private individuals, vintners, glass makers, and merchants of beer and wine. 

Seals increased the cost of a bottle, and not everyone was able to afford this extra expense. Because of this, fragments of wine bottles with seals are less common archeologically than their unadorned counterparts.

Who was T. _ean?

Wine bottle seals are useful tools for dating an archeological context, but they can also add a human element to a site’s interpretation. And this seal is no exception. But who was T. _ean?

This seal was found at the Narbonne House Site in Salem, MA. In 1772, Joseph Hodges was living in the Narbonne House. Hodges was a wealthy merchant. Following Hodges, the Andrews’ occupied the house from 1780-1820. Andrews’ was also a merchant. It is possible the seal could have been deposited at the site during either man’s occupation, especially as they were both merchants.

A case for Capt. Thomas Dean, Jr.

In looking through the records of persons living in Salem during this period, we came across Captain Thomas Dean Jr. In a preliminary search, Captain Thomas Dean was a merchant from Salem.  We cannot know for certain that he was the owner of the seal, but it is certainly possible. Being a merchant, he would have been more likely to be able to afford wine bottle seals. He also probably would have known Joseph Hodges and/or Jonathan Andrews.  With further research, it may be possible to argue a stronger case.

Questions for additional research:

  • Are there archival records showing that Dean had a relationship with Andrews or Hodges?
  • Do we have known examples of his full seal?

About Megan L.

Megan graduated from Boston University in 2008 with an M.A. in Historical Archaeology. While in graduate school, she wrote her master's thesis on 18th-century glass drinkingware excavated during the Big Dig and interned with NMSC for 2 years. Megan has been a full-time employee since February 2010.
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5 Responses to Ask a Curator – A Wine Bottle Seal from 1772

  1. Nikki Estey says:

    Here’s something else that is interesting –

    According to the Narbonne House Archeological Site Report, in Joseph Hodges’ will from 1778 (he died later in 1785), it gives his brother “my mansion house I now live in.” If anyone has visited the Narbonne House, the know it is not considered a mansion and Hodges is most likely talking about another home. The report goes on to say, “If the Hodges ever lived in the humble house on Essex St., it is clear that they vacated it by 1778.” (Archeological Investigations at the Narbonne House, p 71).

    So it may have belonged to an acquaintance of the Hodges/Andrews, but it could have also been from a tenant renting the house from the Hodges while Joseph and his wife were living in their “mansion house.”

    All in all, it is a seriously cool artifact.

    • Megan L. says:

      This is an excellent point. Tenants were not uncommon during this time period and, with the house’s proximity to the ocean and the custom’s house, it seems likely that a merchant (assuming the seal belonged to Thomas Dean) would have found this to be an ideal place to rent. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Emily Murphy says:

    Another possibility is that this bottle could have been a present to whoever actually lived in the house. Politics were particularly sticky in the early 1770s, and particularly in Salem there was a lot of jockeying for position. Alcohol was an important lubricant in the process, whether it be buying a round at the Sun Tavern on Essex Street, the Derbys providing generous amounts of rum punch at entertainments at their homes, or the presentation of a bottle of wine from a private cellar that conveniently had the giver’s name on it to remind the recipient of their largesse.

  3. Pingback: Litter Bugs of the Past: A Social HistoryThe Narbonne House in Salem, MA | NMSC Archeology Blog

  4. Pingback: More Than Just A Witch City: A Look at Life in Salem, MA | NMSC Archeology Blog

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