Windowsill Bottles...What are they?
by Bob Parsons
Originally published in The Bottle Muse, July/Aug./Sept. 2002, a publication of the National Bottle Museum, 76 Milton Avenue, Ballston Spa, NY., 12020 (518) 885-7589
I became enamored with the aesthetics of the windowsill bottle about fifteen years ago. I had never seen some of the colors, shapes and primitive designs. They piqued my curiosity and eventually fostered a collection of more than 60 bottles.
My interest began in 1987 while visiting Bruno Pavlovski in Gibbstown, New Jersey. He had answered my ad for violin bottles wanted in the AB&GC. A six-hour ride (one-way) to his home was a must to see his viobot collection. While visiting, I noticed several glass shelves set in a window. Small flask like bottles that were very colorful and attractive sat on the shelves. I asked him what those bottles were and he said, "window sill bottles". I then inquired, " why the name windowsill"? His answer was that they never contained anything and were strictly a decoration for the home. They certainly were incredibly attractive with the sun streaming through each one, so I asked him if he wanted to sell them. His answer was a firm "NO" as he liked them too much to part with.
A windowsill bottle is approximately 6" high and 5" wide. It is a crude, squatty, misshapen flask that is pontiled. It has a smooth sheared lip with an opening of 1" or more. The necks vary in size from small to large. The bottles come in a variety of colors including shades of red, amberina, amber, green, cobalt, aqua, jersey green, clear, vaseline, amethyst and milk glass. Most have an obscure design in the glass similar to a quilted or subdued diamond pattern.
Windowsills were made by the Clevengers in Southern New Jersey between 1935 and 1945. In discussing how these bottles were made and to add to their mystique I spoke with Tom Haunton of Medford, MA, a well known authority and researcher of Clevenger Bros. Glass Company. He states, "They were blown into a wooden mold for the shape, then hand finished. Each Clevenger windowsill has a slightly different shape to it, since the heat of the gather of glass would burn off some of the inside of the mold with each bottle made. Consequently, a bottle blown at the end of a wooden mold's life would be substantially bigger than one made at the beginning. The bottle's quilted pattern was achieved by either rolling the gather of glass over chicken wire, or affixing the chicken wire to the inside of the wooden mold. Good old-fashioned South Jersey simplicity and ingenuity!"
Another theory on how they were made was given to me by Jim Travis, the current owner of Clevenger Bros. After examining a few of my bottles, he stated that the gather of glass was placed in an iron mold to obtain a design, then with a pontil rod attached, the whole bottle was refired to subdue the design and smooth out the sheared neck. Although Jim has not made any of these bottles, this is how he would have done it. I guess you could call it the modern method versus the early method when wood molds were still in use.
Most of my bottles have been found at bottle shows on dealer tables. Ebay has had a number of them, and they can also be found under the categories of Clevenger, flasks, windowsill bottles, Vaseline glass and amberina glass. Yard sales and flea markets have also been fruitful suppliers.
I have noticed in my quest for these bottles that some of the aqua and light blue have been referred to as poison flasks, and as a result the prices were very high.
Others who collect windowsills have broadened the category from just Clevenger to include more modern and contemporary flasks and small bottles hand made by glasshouses such as Pairpoint Crystal Glass Co. on Cape Code, MA.
At a recent National Bottle Museum's Bottle Show at Saratoga Springs, NY, I was privileged with friend Bob Linden to put on a display of these interesting bottles. The display with its myriad of spectacular colors generated curiosity and was well received and enjoyed.
Since Clevenger Bros. Glass Company ceased operations back in1999, the windowsill bottle with all its aesthetics is one of those early Clevenger pieces that is becoming very collectible!