This site is an attempt to classify early French 18th century wine bottles, their chronology, origin, shape, colour and other features. I will not be dealing with French ‘Shaft and Globes’ here as I feel that  their use as wine bottles in France was probably fairly marginal. Most surviving examples appear to have been used as Apothecary storage bottles.
    
    The French wine bottle as such, ie a bottle to be corked and used exclusively to bottle and age wine, was born in the early years of the 18th century, but in England and other north European countries it had appeared somewhat earlier, probably towards the middle of the 17th C. The French had no real need for these bottles, ageing was not yet a concept and wine was kept in barrels in cellars and carried up in wicker - covered, thin walled glass vessels, on demand. In England there were no vineyards, wine was shipped in in barrels and then bottled, added to which the gentry never quite knew when their source of wine would dry up so bottling became a judicious move, remember these were troubled times when France , Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and England were not always the best of friends. Embargoes were frequent.
    
    Another determinant cause in the evolution of early bottles was the rapid extinction of Europe’s forests caused by the cutting of wood to fire the glass furnaces and ceramic kilns. In England wood had been prohibited as fuel for glass furnaces as early as 1615 , this prohibition resulted in a heavier and stronger bottle being perfected using coal fired furnaces.
  
    At the turn of the 18th century in France these heavy more robust bottles were referred to as ‘Bouteilles à la façon’ or ‘à la manière d’Angleterre’ and so it was just a matter of time before someone would take up the challenge and try to produce some of these bottles . An early experiment using English coal near Rouen in the early 17th century had failed.
  
    This is where my hero comes in. On the 31st of January 1709 Gaspard Thévenot obtained a patent from the Duc d’Orleans to make bottles ‘à la manière d’Angleterre’ at Folembray ,today in the ‘departement de l’Aisne’. There, in Folembray, in the early years of the 18th century Gaspard Thévenot invented or perfected a type of bottle that became so popular that it soon carried his name. The ‘Thévenotte’ bottle was born. The quality of the Folembray bottles was so good that forty years later Bosc d’Antic who wrote a treatise on glass named it as one of the three best bottle glass houses in France along with Anor and Sèvres. What did his bottles look like? We are told that in shape it looked like a Benedictine bottle, cylindrical and tapering out towards the shoulders, the body and the neck being roughly equal in length. Today these bottles are more commonly referred to as ‘ Flower Pot Bottles’ but I like the sound of ‘ Thévenotte’. By 1720 France had 4 coal fired glass houses, by 1740 at least 14, and by 1790 about 45. These bottles were also one of the first attempts at standardization  by using a simple flower pot shaped dip mould into which the body was blown. The whole process of manufacture at the Sevres glass house is very well illustrated in ‘ l’Encyclopédie de Diderot et d’Allembert’.  
    
    I have been collecting these Flower Pot bottles for almost 30 years and have about 200 of them,all different and unique and after fondling them regularly over the years patterns have emerged. Sizes, weights, widths, capacities, colours, string rims, pontils, bubbles, stretches etc..... This is what this site is about .
 
    In France prior to the 1780’s we have virtually no seals to help us like in England or other north European countries. Pre 1750 French wine bottle seals are an endangered species and  are of very little help in attributing dates or origins . What about regional shapes? Todays regional shapes Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace etc.. only really evolved towards the end of the 18th century. Take a look at the Champagne bottles in Jean-François de Troy’s painting of 1735 ‘ Le déjeuner d’huitres’,  they are so unlike a modern or even early 19th century Champagne bottle. I believe that the early evolution of the French wine bottle and the birth of Champagne are intrinsically linked. At first Champagne was just a wine that finished its fermentation in the bottle thus producing carbon dioxide for fizz and on the down side a yeasty deposit. The pronounced shoulders of a flower pot bottle prevented the deposit from slipping into one’s drinking glass thus clouding the sparkling wine. As the Champagne houses perfected their ‘Methode Champenoise’ they developed a method of tilting and shaking their bottles eventually ending up with the bottle upside down and all the yeasty deposit in the neck close to the cork. This is called ‘Remuage’ and for effective ‘Remuage’ those shoulders became a hindrance and so towards the end of the 18th century the French glass houses were asked to produce shoulder-less bottles. The modern Champagne bottle was invented. After ‘ Remuage’ the cork was extracted, the pressure would expel the yeasty deposit and the bottle was topped up and re-corked and held down with a wire. This last process was called ‘Degorgement’. With all these manipulations (over 200 in 1800 from blowing the bottle to it arriving at your table) the bottles had to be tough too, and to this day the champagne bottle is one of the heaviest around. This bottle continues to evolve today, the latest evolution is the addition of a rim that will accept a crown cap similar to a Coca Cola cap prior to ‘degorgement’ and final corking.
 
  As far as bottle shape was concerned what was a disadvantage for one wine was a positive advantage for another. Take the very square shoulders of the Bordeaux or Port bottle for example who’s shape was probably perfected by the British in the middle of the 18th century, both of these wines contained a considerable amount of sediment and were usually decanted into a carafe or decanter and so the square shoulder of the bottle had the function of trapping this sediment resulting in a perfectly clear ‘ Claret’ in the decanter.
    
  The region of manufacture of some Flower Pot bottles is relatively easy to identify, the ones that come to mind are the very distinctive ‘Gresigne’ bottles of south west France and the very typical heavy and elegant Norman ‘Calvados’ bottles. Many other  bottles still retain their secret however and giving them regional attributions is still a bit of a guess albeit a considered one, indeed some of the bottles on this site may be intruders and not French at all. I hope that in time we will get to know them better and be able to place them geographically with more precision. Your thoughts are very welcome.
 
geoffrey.luff@wanadoo.fr