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Chinese Pilgrim Bottle

Chinese bottle for travellers

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.


This Chinese Porcelain 'Pilgrim' bottle has enamel decoration and was made in about 1860. It was collected by Henry Isaac Butterfield who rebuilt Cliffe Castle in Keighley, West Yorkshire. In 1948, many of the contents of Cliffe Castle were sold in a two day auction. One local lady came to the sale with her mother. She bought the bottle on the second day for five pounds and ten shillings. She had to walk a long way to get it home and still remembers having to rest with it in a field because it was so heavy. In 2011 the owner offered her bottle to the Castle, now a museum. It represents only the third piece of Henry Isaac Butterfield's Chinese porcelain collection to return to the Castle.

Pilgrim bottles have an almost full circle body shape, flattened, to a pear shape with a shortish neck, a spreading foot, and generally two loops on the shoulders. Through the loops either a chain or a cord was passed for carrying the bottle or for maintaining the stopper in place.
 
Pilgrim bottles date from Ancient Roman times in the West and to 7th Century China in the East. They were made in a wide range of materials, including earthenware, porcelain, silver, and glass, and also in more perishable materials such as leather. Originally these vessels may have been carried by travellers on their journeys.

Glossary:

Porcelain - a hard, white, translucent ceramic made by firing a pure clay and then glazing it with variously coloured fusible materials; china.
Earthenware - pottery made from a porous clay that is fired at relatively low temperatures


Discussion Ideas:

  • It's a good story about the lady who bought the bottle for five pounds and ten shillings in 1948. That was a lot of money then. What do you think the value of five pounds ten shillings would be worth today - 10, 50 or 150?
  • How could you find out the answer to the question above?
  • This kind of bottle was used by travellers to carry drinks. What do we call a bottle for carrying liquids in while travelling these days?
  • Of the different materials that these bottles were made of, which material do you think was the most precious at the time and why?
  • Why do you think the bottle was shaped as it was?



 
Document icon Learning article provided by: Cliffe Castle Museum and Art Gallery | 

Comment on this page

  • Posted by My Learning team on 23/10/2014

    Thanks for your thought-provoking comment, James. We'll certainly look into finding more information on this bottle's dimensions. If you'd like to see another example, with the measurements included, check out the link below to the Pilgrim bottle held by the British Museum.

  • Posted by James Lorimer on 22/10/2014

    The 'pilgrim bottle' is described as being 'heavy' and that is without being filled with liquid. Filled with the traveller's drink, it may have been quite cumbersome. I think a note of the bottle's dimensions and perhaps weight would help to envisage better the effort required to carry drink in this way compared with modern drinks containers.

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