Of the 8,000 bottles recovered from the wreck of the SS Republic, over 1,500 examples represent food bottles, the third largest category excavated from the site (18.0% of the total). Included are a variety of pickled goods, sauces and preserved fruit. Most were retrieved empty, yet a number of examples still contain their original 19th-century contents: well-preserved chunks of pineapple and rhubarb, sliced peaches, blueberries and gooseberries, as well as perfectly preserved red, green and yellow chili peppers, some floating in a murky liquid, now contaminated with sea water and ocean deposits. Most of the bottles were shipped as cargo, bound for merchants in New Orleans and perhaps for further trans-shipment up the Mississippi to the Western Frontier.
The SS Republic carried an impressive cargo of what collectors today call "Cathedral Pickle" bottles, one of the earliest of the U.S. bottle styles strongly identified with foods. "Gothic" or cathedral-patterned bottles designed to emulate ornate church windows and arches, originated during the mid-19th century "Gothic Revival" era in America and Europe. The Gothic style, as it was called by glassmakers of the period, was a distinctly American invention produced in scores of different and often very subtle decorative designs. The elaborate patterns were an early and apparently successful attempt to use packaging to attract the eye of potential purchasers by stylistically emulating the already popular Victorian gothic design elements that were so fashionable at the time. They were also intended to effectively compete with similar imported English products sold in plainer bottles.
Pickles were not the only fare preserved in such bottles, but pickled vegetables and other preserved foods was a key staple in the 1800s, the equivalent to our modern-day salad. After being sold to the consumer, when emptied these bottles were often refilled with various contents as a means of a secondary storage.
Well over 100 Cathedral Pickle bottles were recovered from the wreck site in four distinct sizes. The majority of the examples have a distinctive cross-hatch pattern, while a three berry design is present on over a dozen samples including the bottle shown here. A few unique samples feature a diamond motif. Three sides of each bottle have fancy arches framing ornately embossed panels, while the fourth side was left smooth for a product label. Such bottles typically ranged in size from a half pint to a gallon. The Republic bottles feature subtle shades of aquamarine, including examples that exhibit deeper hues of green. Some of these containers hold the eroded remnants of their original cork stoppers, which may at one time have been covered with coal tar and a plain foil seal. The bottles were made in two-piece molds, and were found on the wreck site in four sizes. This bottle type was used by food companies such as W.D. Smith, William Underwood and W.K. Lewis, although the Republic examples are now missing their company and product labels.