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Puzzle Bottle

early 20th century Unidentified carved wood in Rumford Baking Powder glass bottle 3 1/4 x 1 3/4 in. (8.3 x 4.3 cm. diam.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson 1986.65.280 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 3rd Floor, 25A

Luce Center Label

Sailors have long been known for their crafts, which they usually made of materials readily available aboard a ship and which demonstrate the skills required of a seafarer. They created fancy rope knots, carved whale bones called scrimshaw, and model ships to pass the time during long voyages at sea. Puzzle bottles, like this one, have been associated with seafarers since the late eighteenth century. They showcased the maker's ingenuity and intrigued people with their enclosed objects, which is how they earned the name puzzle bottle. They were possibly traded or used as barter. The unidentified artist of this puzzle bottle carved the tiny woodworking tools before placing them in the Rumford Baking Powder bottle. Artists enclosed simple objects or complex scenes in bottles of various shapes and sizes. Another puzzle bottle from the Museum's collection contains various carved objects, while a third example depicts a scene from a saloon.


Figure - fragment - hand

Object - other - container

Object - tool - saw


folk art


plastic - resin


wood - cork