These fragments are from of a wine goblet type known as verre à serpents, or “glass with serpents,” because the stem, consisting of a hollow ribbed tube wrapped around a solid stem piece, resembles a coiled serpent. It was made of a high quality, clear soda glass and would have been an expensive and highly-valued item.
Glassware production centered in Venice from the 15th through the 17th centuries. Beginning in the 16th century, glass factories throughout Europe, including in England, began making expensive glassware in the façon de Venise, or “Venetian fashion.” It is unknown whether the serpent glass found at Jamestown was manufactured in Venice or England. However, Sir Robert Mansell, a shareholder in the Virginia Company of London, was also a glassmaker and could have supplied vessels of his own making to the colony.
By the 17th century, different forms of glasses were manufactured for specific beverages. This small serpent glass indicates that it was made for a strong liquor such as brandy. Although expensive glassware like this goblet could be used, they were also often displayed in gentlemen’s cabinets of curiosities.
Found in the fort’s first well, (ca. 1608-1610), these fragments of a fine glass goblet reflect the elite lifestyle of a high status individual at Jamestown. Yet the difficult early years at Jamestown did not lend themselves to this elite lifestyle, and therefore much of this Venetian style glassware has been found discarded in a few early fort-period contexts including the soldier’s pits, the factory, the blacksmith shop/bakery, and the west bulwark trench.