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Bottled Ship Builder

Ship on bottle history

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  My impression from the Wikipedia article was that the Bohemian glass workers had invented a formula for making clear glass and so-called crystal, not gotten the formula from Venice. Ultimately though glass technology does come from Italy since the Roman's introduced the basic technology into northerrn Europe. The Franks were making glass by the 5th century, and it wasn't bad stuff.

  In terms of the history of objects inside bottles, the oldest example comes from Matthias Buchinger, and dates back to 1719. He was German, and traveled to Britain to seek patronage, unsuccessfully, from King George I, also a German.

  I've done lamp-work glass blowing, and the fact is that any glass gets clearer as you blow it; the walls become thinner and assume an even thickness as they stretch into a sphere. Further, the balloon shape is the easiest to form since it only requires a blow pipe, not a combination of pipe and pontil, and the bubble shape doesn't require flattening on the marver. Too much is being made of the containers Biondo used, they are little different than ordinary demijons of the period and could have been created by any shop with access to reasonably clear glass.




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Here's a bit of information from the website you cited that you may have overlooked:  

  • 1867 First regenerative glass furnace was patented in Germany by Siemens brothers, Freiderich, Karl, Hans, Werner and Wilhelm

The reason the Biondo bottles have been overlooked is that they were virtually unknown until David Luna de Carvalho found them and brought them to the attention of the world on his blog O Mar das Garrafas within the last five years, at most. [He is a Professor and Researcher of Contemporary History for the Portuguese Ministry of Education in Lisbon and has published two books on early 20th century Portuguese History and co-edited a third. He is also a big SiB enthusiast. His blog's title translates to "The Sea of Bottles".] As I pointed out when I posted the photos of them, none are publicly displayed. If you recall, I pointed out that David found the 1792 bottle in a dusty storage area of a Lisbon Maritime Museum, packed in straw and uncatalogued (the museum didn't even know they had it), just two or three years ago.


I think the notion that the Biondo bottles were easy to create by comparing them to spheres and demijohns oversimplifies the difficulty. They are not spheres. Even the two rounds ones are round only in the plane perpendicular to the camera's line of sight. In the horizontal and other vertical plane they are ovoid (ignoring the neck) with convex front and back surfaces. I have touched on the subject of the difficulty of reproducing something similar to the round ones with the glass blower I have used to make my custom bottles. He told me they would be difficult at the size suggested in the photo with a size reference - perhaps 15 inches across. The greatest difficulty arises with keeping the glass thickness uniform for minimal distortion. By his demeanor during our conversation he did not seem to relish the thought of making such a bottle the way he did when I initially talked to him about the bottles I was picking up. A demijohn is a large glass container with a relatively small neck usually enclosed in wickerwork (in the period we're discussing) and used as a fermentation vessel. As such, color, clarity, surface finish and uniformity of thickness have little or no bearing in their production. It seems to me analogous to comparing apples and oranges.


Just the knowledge that the Murano glass makers had developed colorless transparent glass would prompt other glass makers to duplicate the results. One way is to experiment to find a way to make it, which seems likely by the Bohemian glass makers. The other way is to steal it and experiment further as Ravenscroft did. A Murano glass maker "stole" the Bohemian secret in 1737 in order to compete against them in the cut glass market. In general, cristallo did not stand up well to the carving and faceting done on English and Bohemian crystal. Conversely, English and Bohemian crystal was not useful with the long times at working temperature needed in traditional Murano glass types and techniques. The three types of glass mentioned are chemically very different.


I came across the website for the Museo del Vetro in Murano which was established in 1861. There is more there on the history of glass making than anywhere else I've found. This museum has the 1806 Biondo bottle. 


"Murano's glasssmakers were soon the island’s most prominent citizens. By the 14th century, glassmakers were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state, and their daughters permitted to marry into Venice’s most affluent families. Marriage between glass master and the daughter of the nobleman wasn't regarded as misalliance. However glassmakers were not allowed to leave the Republic. Exportation of professional secret was punished by death. Many craftsmen took this risk and set up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far afield as England and the Netherlands. By the end of the 16th century, three thousand of Murano island's seven thousand inhabitants were involved in some way in the glassmaking industry. French revolutionary armies occupied Murano in 1797."  Wikipedia, "Murano glass"

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Decided to do a little experiment to see how difficult it really is to do some of the more complex items in the mining bottles. For the first experiment I tried a version of the wheel in the Buchinger bottle. The bottle used for the experiment is 5 inches / 127 mm, outside diameter, with a neck ID of 1.060 inches / 27 mm. The wheel is six spoked, 4 inches / 102 mm OD, made in three segments.



Components for the wheel ready to go into the bottle.

I dug up a digital stop-watch to time their assembly inside the bottle.

Time starts after I move the camera and tripod aside and put the bottle on the

work bench. Time stops when the wheel is assembled and hanging by a thread.



Assembled wheel hanging by a thread. I was surprised at how quick the assembly

went. I photo-shopped the stop watch showing the elapsed time into this photo.


Although I have made spoked wheels to go into a bottle - they were small enough to pass through the neck whole - I have never assembled one inside a bottle and had no idea how to do it. While digitally sketching the wheel, I had an idea, sketched it out and saw it would work, at least in theory.



I think the technique is self-explanatory.

Edited by Dave Fellingham
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Upon an exploration of the Museo Del Vetro website, I discovered that the 1806 bottle by Capitan Fransesco Biondo is on display, contrary to what I said earlier. I also found that the museum has another bottle, by an unknown artist, assumed to be the same age (#7 on the list in the link). The description is of a "fodder shop" which I assume is a typo/translation error for "food ship." Somehow, a glass decanter or bottle, of sufficient quality on its own to be displayed in a glass museum, was used to model a warehouse full of bales of hay and sacks of feed seems improbable. A food ship seems more likely given that everything needed on the islands of Venice had to be brought in by ship, but a curious subject. If it is an SiB, that would be five out of six of the earliest SiBs in existence are clearly connected with Venice. I'm trying to find a photo.


The guide book Daniel referenced is for this same museum and describes in some depth the displays in the main building and the numerous glass workshops associated with it. The museum hasn't changed much since 1869 (the date of the guide book) and it seems likely the 1806 Biondo bottle has been on permanent display since 1861, when the museum opened.

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Sorry I haven't gotten more information yet on glass history.  Life has a way of getting in the way sometimes.  I wonder though if the museum has more information on the Fransesco bottle.  Might be worth sending an email.  Also that's an interesting technique on the wheel.  It might be used to create a helm in a bottle.  A guy in the local club here did one.  He used some sort of adhesive brass to hide the seems.  Had a heck of a time with it though.  I don't think he used any string.  Haven't seen him bottle anything else since.     

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  • 1 year later...
On 15.05.2015 at 6:29 PM, Dave Fellingham said:

I sent an e-mail to the museum requesting more information on the "fodder shop" bottle. If I get a response and it's helpful, I'll follow up on trying for more information on the 1806 bottle.

Hi Daniel!
Have you any new information about it?

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  • 4 years later...


I appreciated  Dave Fellingham 's Dave Fellingham suggestion that I transcribe. It is plausible, because in the list of "captains" in the archives of Venice there is no Biondo, neither Giovani nor Francesco.

"About the title of Captain associated with Giovanni Biondo, I'm reminded of the Royal Navy practice of giving the title of "Colonel of Marines" to Navy captains who had distinguished themselves in battle or through other outstanding service to the Crown as a sinecure (a paycheck with no responsibilities or duties attached). These Colonels of Marines were never listed on the roster of active Royal Marine officers. It seems possible that Giovanni Biondo may have had something similar happen to him as compensation for making these bottle ships for Venice. I also notice that the reference you linked to for translation help is for Capitan of Venice Francesco Biondo."

I must say that "FAMA" ( Biondo Lisbon) really existed and was the flagship of the Venetian squadron. As for the other ships from the 18th century, their name was still made through sculpted icons. "Fame" is one of the first warships with a written denomination.

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  • 1 month later...

A few weeks ago I was able to find information on the Web (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft:Giovanni_Biondo_(Captain)) that there was even a Captain Giovanni Biondo and that everything suggests that he belonged to the merchant marine, due to allusions in the text of a historical source that refers "Mercancia" and  "abastecimento" (it means "merchandise" and "goods supplies"). I had already checked the list of armada captains, published in "Vascelli e fregate della Serenissima : navi di linea della Marina venetiana 1652-1797" by Guido Ercole that the name Giovanni Biondo never comes up.


Edited by David Luna de Carvalho
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