Willington Cathedral Pickle

Provenance: Rick Ciralli Collection

We are looking at what collectors affectionately call a “cathedral” pickle bottle. This “Willington Cathedral” is exceptional because of its rich blue-green color and widened neck. It also comes with strong provenance and history.

Many of the early American pickle bottles and jars of this style were made starting in the 1840s and up to the turn of the century and were used as a way to preserve food for out-of-season use and for long journeys, especially by sea or across the country by wagon. We know this because many of these types of bottles have been found at Civil War dumps, old forts, and shipwrecks which adds to their allure.

Glassmakers developed these distinctly American Gothic-style bottles as a way of appealing to consumers. The bottles traditionally have high arched windows, intricate framing, and curvilinear details with a wide opening designed for retrieving its content with ease. These details mimicked architectural trends found in homes, churches, and other buildings and had ties to nature and religious iconography.

Originally, this bottle would likely have included a cork stopper, perhaps sealed with wax and metal foil. One side of the bottle was usually left undecorated and flat, leaving an area that would have held a paper label advertising the bottle’s contents. As would be expected, the earlier examples have pontiled bases and exceptional character. Over time, “Cathedral” has overtaken “Gothic” as a more descriptive name for these bottles.

The Museum of Connecticut Glass notes the following for the West Willington Glassworks (1814-1872).

In 1814, a stock company was formed by John Turner, Ebenezer Root, and Frederick Rose, all presumably from Coventry, Connecticut, and Roderick Rose, Stephen Brigham Jr, Elisha Brogham, and Spafford Brigham, all of Mansfield, Connecticut. Abiel Johnson Jr. was also said to have been part of the organizing group which was clearly competing against the Pitkin Glassworks, The John Mathers Glassworks, and the Coventry glassworks.

They remained the owner until 1828 when Gilbert, Turner & Company acquired the glassworks as well as the Coventry works. This company operated the Willington glassworks until 1847. There was a Hartford agent named Lee, Hopkins & Butler who advertised Willington porters in 1829. In 1847, Gilbert, Turner & Company sold the works to a group of six men, Harvey Merrick, Elisha Carpenter, William M. Still, William and Francis Shaffer, and James McFarlane.

The first output of glass bottles consisted of inkwells, snuffs, demijohns, chestnuts, and flasks including some Pitkin types. There were reportedly a few rare sealed bottles as well. As far as we know, there were no marked bottles or flasks prior to 1849. From this date to 1872, demijohns dominated the sales with wines, some bitters, and even a booze bottle cabin figural.

Perhaps the most famous of the wares are the Willington gothic cathedral-type pickle jars of varying sizes and colors. They also produced base-embossed cylindrical bottles (there are 9 variants known), varying sizes of berry bottles in olive amber and olive green colors, and of course, the popular Liberty Eagle marked flasks in 1/2 pint, pint, and quart molds.

See the museum example of a quart GII-61 “Liberty” Eagle “Willington Glass Co. West Willington Conn” flask.

The Willington glassworks also produced utility bottles, insulator types, rolling pins, and assorted tableware. The colors of the glass were similar to Pitkin’s and Coventry’s but the shades of greens are among the most beautiful glass ever produced in this country.

The Willington Historical Society has many members with interest in the local glass and Connecticut glass also. They have regular meetings with guest speakers and presentations. A glass display and historic museum are in the works.

Primary Image: The Willington Cathedral Pickle bottle imaged on location by the FOHBC Virtual Museum midwest studio led by Alan DeMaison.

Support: Reference to Ketchup Pickles Sauces – 19th Century Food in Glass by Betty Zumwalt

Support Images: Auction Lot 193: Cathedral Pickle Bottle, probably Willington Glass Works, West Willington, Connecticut, 1845-1860. Square with beveled corners and fancy cathedral arches, medium blue-green, tooled round collared mouth – iron pontil mark, ht. 7 1/4 inches; (professionally cleaned with light remaining wear marks, dull exterior surface, interior has been coated to mask stain). Similar in form and construction to Z pg. 456, top right A very appealing jar in mold design, color and size. Generally fine condition. Dr. Charles and Jane Aprill collection. – Norman C. Heckler & Company

Support Image: Photograph of a group of five cathedral pickle bottles by Ed & Kathy Gray.

Support Images: Two photographs of a group of three Willington cathedral pickle bottles. Rick Ciralli.

See More Food and Sauces

Food and Sauces Gallery

The Food and Sauces gallery is still under development. Stay tuned!

Featured Stories

FOHBC Virtual Museum: Now Open Free 2020

Free Entry!

With COVID-19 canceling many events, bottle shows, and public gatherings and closing the museums that many of

Read More


Scroll to Top