The fortunate manner in which this 17th century beverage bottle was discovered would inspire jealousy in any specialist dealer/collector who has laboured on countless, fruitless excavations the length and breadth of England, but it is a story very much in the tradition of other accidental discoveries.
A farm worker is sitting down for his lunch of beer and sandwiches in a field outside Shrewsbury when he spots a glinting light among the shady roots of an oak tree nearby that has recently been blown over. He finishes his lunch and strolls over to investigate. Scraping away the dirt, a bottle neck with a chunky string rim appears. With careful jiggling and further digging, the dark green bottle emerges.
Knowing nothing of its significance or value, but prompted by his wife’s intense dislike of it, he lets his son take it to a local antiques fair, where a stallholder from Nottingham offers him £1000, but apparently advises that it may be worth far more than that and suggests a call to Yorkshire specialists BBR. At BBR Alan Blakeman was delighted by the discovery: “...the pristine little gem has sat in our office for the best part of four months and been fondly caressed by Dave Walker Barker (a collector) and a few privileged others,” he said.
The bottle’s survival was probably due to the large quantities of iron oxide used by the manufacturers to strengthen the glass, although few bottles of such early date have been found. The government outlawed commercial sale of wine in bottles in 1636, because the freeblown shaft and globes varied so much in capacity that production could not be standardised. Thereafter such bottles were secretly issued with embossed seals for wealthy patrons.
Mr Blakeman dated this bottle to the mid 1660s, although it may have been earlier than that because bottles from the latter half of the 17th century tend to have shorter necks and more angular shoulders.
Distinguished by the intitials (T) E B, the bottle measured 71/2in (19cm) high and sold to an American collector for a premium inclusive £19,800 – a price which the auctioneer believed to be the highest ever paid for a shaft and globe at auction.