Vitrified memory: a contemporary archaeology of glass ships in bottles

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

100 Downloads (Pure)


The Vessels of Memory project aims to raise awareness of an important, yet largely neglected, chapter in the socio-economic history of the North East. The story of glass ships in bottles in Sunderland is one of resilience in the face of redundancy, in which local innovation and ingenuity enabled highly skilled workers to adapt to a changing economy. However, it is also a lament over cut-throat competition, where companies, pitted themselves against one another in a price war which resulted in outsourcing to China and, ultimately, to the collapse of the local industry. This decline has meant that these products have come to be regarded merely as frivolous mass-produced consumer kitsch. Their origins in the virtuoso items of folk art made by Pyrex workers in their lunch hour has been all but forgotten.

For those involved, the practice is perhaps too familiar and too close to living memory be seen as worthy of historical documentation. It is instructive that it has taken an outsider from the other side of the world to understand the value of this intangible cultural heritage. In seeking to anchor herself within the community, Ayako Tani has succeeded in reconstructing a fine-grained biographical archaeology of glass ships in bottles in Sunderland. Archaeology is an apt term because this narrative has largely been made by reference to material culture rather than to historical documents. With a paucity of documentary evidence, Tani’s typological analysis and cataloguing of the numerous ships in bottles she has acquired from eBay, or recovered from charity shops, has been bolstered only by the oral reminiscences of former makers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVessels of Memory: Glass Ships in Bottles
EditorsAyako Tani
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherCornerhouse Publications
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)978-1-906832-34-6
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 7 Jul 2018


  • glass
  • ships
  • bottles
  • Archaeology
  • art and design
  • Craft
  • material
  • culture
  • history
  • Sunderland


Dive into the research topics of 'Vitrified memory: a contemporary archaeology of glass ships in bottles'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this