Puzzle Bottle

  • Unidentified, Puzzle Bottle, early 20th century, carved wood in Rumford Baking Powder glass bottle, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson, 1986.65.280

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.
Puzzle Bottle
early 20th century
3 141 34 in. (8.34.3 cm. diam.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson

Mediums Description
carved wood in Rumford Baking Powder glass bottle
  • Object – other – container
  • Figure – fragment – hand
  • Object – tool – saw
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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ca. 1900
carved and painted wood, painted tinned iron sheet, ferrous eye hook, painted brass screw eyes, lead weight, and painted leather

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