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Strange-looking glass bottle

The artifact of the week no. R-3922; a strange-looking glass bottle known as a „torpedo“ bottle because of its shape. It was gifted to the museum by Ólafur Skagfjörð Ólafsson and Þórður Ólafsson. It has the words „BELFAST“ and „CORRY“ on either side, as it was manufactured by William Corry & Co. in Belfast, Ireland between 1850-1910. It is shaped like that because bottles of this type were explicitly not meant to stand upright. They carried mineral water, and if stored upright the cork would dry out and no longer be airtight.
The bottle is a part of our maritime exhibit, because during a certain time period, people living on the islands of Vestmanneyjar would send messages in bottles to their neighbors and relatives on the mainland of Iceland. This practice began in 1870. Supposedly, people noticed that driftwood travelled from the islands to the south coast with remarkable speed. The first people supposed to have sent „bottle-mail“ from Vestmanneyjar were county doctor Þorsteinn Jónsson and Páll „glacier“ Pálsson. However, the oldest example of such mail is from 1810, when the people of Vestmanneyjar sent a message to the mainland that their local vicar had died. But this unusual mailing system did not develop out of nowhere. Mail only arrived on the islands once a month and was often late. In 1887 for instance, the September delivery did not arrive until March.
After some experimentation, people determined that the best time to send messages by bottle was just as the tide started to go in. Then the bottles usually found their way the 16km/8.5 nautical miles from the islands to Landeyjar on the south coast. The messages did not carry stamps unless they were meant to be passed into mail circulation but the bottles usually carried a bit of twist chewing tobacco as a finder‘s fee. Of course, not every bottle made its way to its intended recipient. One even ended up all the way in northern Norway!

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