by Maynard E. Steiner
The steamboat Arabia departed St. Louis, Missouri, August 30, 1856, "headed for all points on the Missouri River between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sioux City, Iowa", the Missouri Republican reported, with a cargo of new merchandise consigned to merchants along the river. Nine days later on September 5th however, after unloading freight at Westport Landing near the City of Kansas (present-day Kansas City), a village of 3,000 at best, disaster lay 10 miles up river, near Parkville, Missouri.
The Arabia struck a submerged tree trunk and "sank in the short space of ten minutes in some twelve feet of water," according to one newspaper story. The tree reportedly ripped through the steamboat's oak hull, penetrating some 10 feet and causing water to flood the main deck. While all 130 passengers reached shore safely, the Arabia and its 200 tons of new merchandise settled into the sandy bottom of the Missouri River. By evening, "all that could be seen of our boat was the top of the pilot house," a passenger recalled.
During the years since the Arabia's fatal voyage, the Missouri River shifted its course northeast, which left the steamboat buried on farmland. In November of 1988, some 130 years later, a small group of treasure hunters led by the Hawley family located the Arabia in a farmer's cornfield. Excavators uncovered the Arabia at a depth of 27 feet and salvaged the vintage 1856 cargo. Greg Hawley would later write, "I was perched on the edge of history, and what a glorious sight it was." Among quantities of housewares, clothing, footwear, bottled fruits, perfume, fabrics, tools, and building supplies, the treasure hunters found blown and pressed glassware in pristine condition.
Eight dozen scroll flasks in hues of blue and green were salvaged from the cargo compartments of the Arabia. The flasks (Figure 1), which were popular during the period 1830–1850, are attributed primarily to mid-western glasshouses, as all of the marked ones are from that area. Some 75 variations of the curvy shape and scrollwork-in-relief pattern have been recorded and classified (McKearin and Wilson, p. 423).
Their original use is unknown, though whisky flask seems most likely. Unaffected by varying temperatures or rough transport, whisky was freely consumed on the frontier. Typically, whisky was shipped in bulk containers and bottled locally. Perhaps the Arabia's scroll flasks were destined for that purpose.
Whale Oil Lamps
Excavators salvaged both mold-blown and pressed whale oil lamps. The mold-blown lamp with the engaging umbrella-shaped font (Figure 2), is yet to be identified. The font consists of an umbrella-shaped dome of 16 panels over a circular disk applied directly to stem and base.
The trio of lamps with whale oil burners (Figure 3) exemplify home lighting technology on the eve of the kerosene era. The so-called Elongated Star lamp at the right has a mold-blown font joined directly to a pressed stem and base. While attribution of the lamp remains uncertain, just such a technique was developed and patented in 1844 by Patrick Slane and John Golding of the American Glass Company. The technique employed "a mechanical device supporting a metal mold in which a lamp font was blown, centered on, and attached to a previously pressed glass base"(Kaiser, The Acorn, p. 40). Each of the two pressed lamps is joined with a wafer to its stem.
The dating and design of the Sharp Diamond pattern derive from a New England Glass Company catalog, ca. 1868–69. The Arabia's Sharp Diamond lap (Figure 3) and bowl (see Figure 9), however, move the pattern date back a dozen years to 1856 and, in turn, provide an important visual link to "130 pieces pressed sharp diamond pattern glassware" exhibited by New England Glass at the 1853 Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York City (Goodrich, Science and Mechanism, p. 220). The pattern is not illustrated in Exhibition reports.
The lamp with the onion-shaped font (Figure 4) and applied and tooled stem and foot is in a shape usually attributed to the 1860s but due to its' presence here, seen to be earlier. Pressed pattern whale oil stand lamps such as those found on the Arabia were easily converted to kerosene lamps, and many probably were converted, as the cleaner and cheaper fuel became available. The collar size was the same as a kerosene burner (Thuro, Oil Lamps, p. 78).
Mold-blown pint scroll flask with tooled neck and ground pontil mark. Aqua. 7½" h.
Mold-blown umbrella-shaped lamp, with pressed hexagonal base. Colorless. Whale oil burner.
Whale oil lamps. Pressed Bull's Eye and Diamond Point (left) and Sharp Diamond (center) fonts, each with applied pressed hexagonal stem and base. Mold-blown Elongated Star font (right), with pressed hexagonal stem and base. Colorless. H. (center) 10". Photograph courtesy of Greg Hawley.
Though dictionaries declare a glass container with spout and handle a "jug," M'Kee & Brother and J. B. Lyon and Co. named glass molasses containers with metallic spouts and tops "cans" in their respective illustrated catalogs (1859–1860 and 1861). The metallic tops or marketing concerns may have called for a special classification. The tops were available in either tin or britannia at a higher price.
The molded pattern on the molasses can in (Figure 5) remains unidentified. Perhaps a reader can assist. Meanwhile, an apt suggestion coming from Frank Robertson, researcher and author, is a Colonial variant. The pressed Colonial pattern, which Ruth Webb Lee reportedly considered one of the earlier pressed patterns, features a punty in the upper portion of the panel.
The molded pattern on the molasses can in (Figure 6) is Star and Punty, better known as a pressed pattern found on bottles and spoon holders and not identified as to maker. The syrup jug or cruet in (Figure 7) has mold-blown ribs, a style of decoration popular throughout the 19th century and not attributable to any factory.
Onion-shaped lamp font blown in a two-part mold, applied stem and foot, tooled rim, pontil mark. Colorless. Whale oil burner.
Mold-blown molasses can with applied handle and metallic top. Colorless.
Mold-blown Star and Punty molasses can with applied handle and metallic top. Colorless.
The pressed tumbler with applied handle in (Figure 8) is known also as a handled whiskey or mug. Though the contemporary pattern name was Palace, collectors continue to revert to its descriptive alias, Waffle and Thumbprint. This Palace pattern is illustrated in the Lyon and Company 1861 catalog, as well as in the New England Glass Company catalog of 1868-69 and an advertisement of Curling, Robertson & Sons of Pittsburgh shown in Lowell Innes's Pittsburgh Glass. American Glass Company invoices issued as early as September, 1854, reference "2 Palace bowls"(Kaiser, p. 67).
The footed bowl in (Figure 9) is pressed in the New England Glass Company's Sharp Diamond pattern discussed previously, while the spoon holder in the same picture is in the pattern shown as Comet in the M'Kee & Brother 1860 catalog. Molds for the pattern were found at Sandwich according to Ruth Webb Lee and the Cape Cod Glass Company advertised a Comet pattern in about 1863.
Mold-blown fine ribbed molasses can or jug and acorn stopper with applied handle, pontil mark. Colorless.
Pressed Waffle and Thumbprint (Palace) tumbler, with applied handle and pontil mark. H. 3 ¼". Colorless.
Pressed Sharp Diamond footed bowl (left) and Comet spoon holder. Colorless.
Though classified as cologne bottle, fancy shaped bottles such as the Arabia bottle in Figure 10 were used for numerous cosmetic liquids.
The perfume shipped aboard the Arabia included French perfume, according to analysis by International Flavors and Fragrances of New York City. However, an American perfumer may have prepared the cosmetic for market using domestic bottles. American manufacture of perfume and cologne bottles is recorded as ear-ly as 1818. Attribution of the Arabia bottle is undetermined. (McKearin and Wilson, p. 394).
Cologne or perfume bottle blown in two-part mold, chamfered edges, tooled neck, flange, pontil mark, aquamarine. H. 5 ½".
Contour of flat panels of glass, varying thickness, cut to shape. Shown actual size. Illustration by the author
A quantity of small glass panels of the size and contour illustrated in (Figure 11) were found in a box together with ink wells. All who have seen and discussed the objects are puzzled, David Hawley reports. The contour of the panels seems to rule out laboratory slides.
The unequivocal date in history which appends to the Arabia's glassware is indeed significant. Due to a general lack of factory or related other records, glass historians and collectors are seldom able to arrive at exact dating. The Arabia's pressed pattern artifacts, in particular, may well, over time, continue to link to earlier periods of American glassmaking.
The cargo recovered from the steamboat Arabia is housed and exhibited in The Arabia Steamboat Museum which opened November, 1991. The museum is located in Kansas City at historic City Market, which was established in 1857 adjacent to Westport Landing, the Arabia's final port-of-call.
Glassware forms and quantities extracted from "a generalized inventory of the artifacts recovered from the steamboat Arabia" (G. Hawley, pp. 197–214).
Bottle (foods, medicines, spirits) 400+
Candy dish 1
Caster set 24
Cruet and stopper 4
Eyeglasses (brass/glass) 24
Ink bottle 11
Lantern globe 4
Lighting rod insulator 14
Mirror (hand held) 42
Mirror (wood frame) 29
Salt dip 18
Scroll bottle 96
Shot/whiskey glass 30
Small drinking glass 5
Syrup jug 19
Toiletry bottle (lotion, perfume) 77
Traveling inkwell (glass/wood) 163
Whale oil lamp (also includes tinand brass lamps) 63
Window pane 700
Special appreciation to the Hawley family for permission to examine, photograph, and publish Arabia glassware, and to the museum staff for their assistance.
To my wife, Marion, for her adventuresome spirit and the photographs not otherwise attributed.
David Hawley, Treasures of the Steamboat Arabia , 1995.
Greg Hawley, Treasure in a Cornfield, Paddle Wheel Publishing ( Arabia Steamboat Museum ), Kansas City , Missouri , 1998.
Lowell Innes, Pittsburgh Glass, A History and A Guide for Collectors, Houghton-Mifflin, 1976.
Joan Kaiser, "Patrick F. Slane, America 's Forgotten Glassmaker: A Study of the American Glass Company," The Acorn, (Journal of The Sandwich Glass Museum), v. 12, 2002-2003.
Helen McKearin and Kenneth Wilson, American Bottles and Flasks and Their Ancestry, New York, Crown Publishers Inc., 1978.
Loris S. Russell, A Heritage of Light, University of Toronto Press, 1968.
Catherine M. V Thuro, Oil Lamps, The Kerosene Era in North America . Des Moines, Iowa, Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1976.
Rex L. Wilson, Bottles on the Western Frontier, Tucson , Arizona , The University of Arizona Press. [DATE?]
C. R. Goodrich, ed. Science and Mechanism: Illustrated by Examples in the New York Exhibition, 1853-1854, G. P. Putnam, 1854.
James B. Lyon and Co., Flint Glassware, 1861. Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass , Corning , New York .
M'Kee Victorian Glass: Five Complete Glass Catalogs from 1859/60 to 1871, New York, Dover Publications Inc., 198l (reprint).
New England Glass Company, Catalog, 1868-69. Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass , Corning , New York .
Published with the permission of the Editor, "The Glass Club Bulletin" of the National American Glass Club. Additional NAGC information available at www.glassclub.org.