Ships in Bottles — A Bit of the History and Lore

Ship in a bottle -- 1784

Ship in a bottle — 1784

A Facebook video by my friend Frank Hanavan showing him inserting a ship in a bottle (after the page break) got me thinking about, well, ships in bottles. When, where and why did sailors start putting ships in bottles? After looking into the history of ships in bottles (or SIBs, as the aficionados refer to them), I don’t claim to have all, or even most, of the answers but I have come across some interesting lore.

The first mention of objects in bottles dates back to 1719. A German artist, musician and magician, Matthias Buchinger, built models, although not necessarily, of ships inside bottles. He was also well known as an illustrator and engraver, all of which was remarkable given that he was born without arms or legs. He was also quite the lady’s man, having married four times and having at least 14 children by eight women.

As described in History of Ships in Bottles – by Bob de Jongste: The oldest surviving ship in a bottle dates to 1784 and is a Turkish or a Portuguese three-masted warship. It is put in an egg­-shaped bottle, which is placed upside down over a wooden stand. It is now part of the collection of the ‘Museum fiir Kunst und Kulturgeschichte der Hansestadt Lubeck’ in Germany.

The oldest SIB in the Netherlands is dated 1795. It is a so-called POON-ship, a one-masted freighter with lee-boards, ranging from 16 to 60 tons. It was also used for regular passenger service. This SIB can be found in the Maritime Museum at Rotterdam.

The SIB became very popular after the fast sailing ships like the clipper were put into service. Consequently most of the antique SIB’s which can be found (very scarce) are dated later than 1840.

To learn more about ships in a bottle, check out The Ships-In-Bottles Association of America (S.I.B.A.A.)

To watch Frank’s artistry, check out the video below:

Posted by Frank Hanavan on Monday, January 4, 2016


Ships in Bottles — A Bit of the History and Lore — 10 Comments

  1. Pingback: Travel News / Ships in Bottles — A Bit of the History and Lore

  2. Visitoring Trafalgar Square in London a few years back I came across a rather intriguing exhibit on the fourth plinth of Nelson’s column. British artist Yinka Shonibare had been commissioned to create a contemporary art exhibit for the plinth. He chose to make a ship in a bottle: HMS Victory, Horatio Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar. The ship’s 37 large sails are made of the richly patterned textiles associated with African dress. It remained there for 18 months or so and then a public appeal was launched to ensure it had a permanent home. It is now installed outside the Sammy Ofer Wing of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

  3. The three oldest ships in bottles were created by Giovanni Biondo, dated 1784, 1786 and 1792, and were built for the Venetian Navy. They are very accurate models of new designs for Venetian First Class and Second Class line of battle ships. The 1784 bottle is of a First Class Ship, the 1786 bottle is of a Second Class Ship as is the 1792 bottle which is identified as the Fama the first vessel of that class completed. The fifth oldest ship in a bottle of an un-identified three masted warship was created by Francesco Biondo (Giovanni’s son) in 1806. These four ships in bottles are clearly the work of master modelers built in state of the glassblower’s art bottles. The 1784 bottle is in the museum stated (but the ship is mis-identified), the 1786 bottle is in a private collection in Milan, the 1792 bottle is in a museum in Lisbon and the 1806 bottle is in a glass museum in Venice. None are on display to the public.

    There are no other existing examples of SiBs until about 1880 which roughly coincides with the introduction of mass produced colorless transparent bottles cheap enough to be considered single use. Contrary to popular myth, few if any SiBs were sailor made, but were much more likely built by light house keepers who had lots of free time and access to bottles and materials. This explains the nearly ubiquitous rocky point or part of a coast line with a light house in SiBs in that period. Sailors did not have free time to build SiBs. Merchant ships were always manned with minimum crews to keep costs down and the sailor’s life was little more than work, eat and sleep. Ship captains viewed idleness as a breeding ground for mutiny and consequently kept crews busy when not eating or sleeping.

  4. Awesome post, I love seeing ships in bottles getting recognition. @Frank Hanavan, great work!

    I’m pretty new to the bottling community and just joined the site that Frank pointed out as it seems like it’ll be a huge help for me. If anyone is interested in learning more about building ships in bottles, please feel free to contact me or visit my website which shows a detailed list of supplies I use as well as step by step instructions on all my build processes.

    Again, really happy to see this craft getting recognition!

  5. Please could you tell me the value of the following planes/ships in bottles in my collection:
    Planes:F111 Swing Wing, Mustang
    Ships: Golden Hind,HMS Victory (Nelson’s flagship 1305)
    Santa Maria (Christopher Columbus’ flagship) The Mary Rose (Henry v111’s
    flagship 1548)
    Also have a rather large one with the inscription: “Hot Air Balloon”
    The above are all mounted on wood. Please can you tell me if it is worth keeping. Many thanks. Sheila.