Preserve Bottles with Contents

Major advances in food preservation occurred early in the 19th century with the development of the hermetically sealed container by the French inventor M. Nicholas Appert. This milestone discovery was prompted by the offering of a monetary reward in 1795 by the French government for a viable food preservation process. It occurred during the era of the Napoleanic Wars when the soldiers’ diet of mostly salt-preserved foods was Vitamin C deficient, leading to outbreaks of scurvy. Appert’s experiments with the application of high heat along with the exclusion of air from a sealed container led directly to the development of a canning process in 1908 which permitted the long-term storage of animal and vegetable products in sealed containers of various materials. Glass in particular provided a number of unique qualities not available with early day ceramic or metal containers, i.e. ease of manufacture, impermeability to the atmosphere, and the fact that when in contact with food, glass would not give off any unfavorable flavors. In particular, bottles and jars intended for bulky food items such as vegetable and fruits, had to have a relatively wide mouth bore in order to facilitate the packing as well as the extraction of these food products.

Several dozen unembossed bottles recovered from the wreck of the SS Republic still contain a fascinating assortment of preserved fruits that look good enough to eat, and yet are now almost a century and a half old. Peaches, blueberries, gooseberries and rhubarb were discovered packed in cork-sealed preserve bottles with distinctive rounded shoulders, cylindrical necks and the characteristic wide mouth designed specifically for such foodstuff. The bottles no longer have their paper labels, and their wooden packing crates have long since eroded away, making it impossible to identify company names or other clues as to the origins of these found treasures. Yet, similar bottles excavated from the contemporary wrecks of the Steamboat Arabia and Bertand suggest the Republic examples contained brandied fruit or pie filling.

Shipwrecks: Artifacts & Treasure