Wisconsin antique bottle and advertising club

Madison Table Beer Earthenware Bottle

Made at the Portage City Pottery 1859 to 1863

  • Benjamin Atwell opened a grocery store on the north side of Johnson Street near State Street in Madison in 1856. He probably did not brew this table beer but instead bought it from a local brewer and bottled and sold it. The William Voight Brewery (later Hausman) was located a block from Atwell’s grocery store so it could be his supplier. Table Beer is a type of small beer, which was a drink meant for sipping with dinner by the whole family. Small beers of the time contained a small amount of alcohol content (1.5% or less). Examples of small beers include ginger beer, lemon beer, root beer sarsaparilla and what we now call near-beer.

    The bottle was made in Portage City, probably at the Dewitt Street pottery owned by Lyman Sprague, Charles Russell and others between 1859 and 1863. It is a quart sized earthenware with a brown lead glaze and was turned on a wheel. It was found within a few blocks of the pottery.

    So, what makes this bottle special besides being the only known example?

    The bottler – a small grocer in Madison that operated just a few years.
    Age – There are just a handful of Wisconsin pottery bottles from the early 1860’s or before.
    The stamp – it’s by far the wordiest stamp of any Wisconsin pottery bottle. It is one of just two Wisconsin pottery bottles that state the product contained in the bottle. Plus, it’s the only one with the street address, city and state in the stamp.
    The City – there are just a few other pottery bottles from the city of Madison.
    Size – quarts are rare. 90% of Wisconsin pottery bottles are pints.
    Earthenware – the are just a few other signed Wisconsin earthenware bottles – a Wm Ehrman from Milwaukee and a bottle from brewer Thomas Schlachter from Sheboygan. In fact, there are very few earthenware pieces of any form from Wisconsin with a stamp besides wares made by Wm. Mosier in Wautoma.
    Known maker – few pottery bottles have a clear attribution to a maker. While it’s not maker-signed its distinctive glaze and where it was found give it a strong provenance. The short lifespan of the pottery help narrow the date range.
    Condition – virtually undamaged.

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Author: Peter Maas
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