The quintessential water-vessel carried by solders & explorers in times of peace and in times of war: the canteen bottle has evolved through the ages and is still practical and useful today.
Canteen: The Water Bottle Variety
Canteens are vessels for containing water or other drink although in UK English, more commonly the word means a place to eat such as a restaurant, café or cafeteria such as those to be found in a school, prison institution or military base.
Used by hikers or military personnel in the field, the drinking water bottle is usually outfitted with handles to accommodate a shoulder strap, or a clip to attach to the body. Early canteens were leather bags that held water for shorter periods as the water would eventually soak through the material. It served its purpose however.
A hollowed out gourd was also used as a canteen, anything that could carry water. Clay or other pottery material was later used. Some Civil War era canteens used by the Confederacy were made in the form of an oval with a cork stopper at the fill neck end. The general idea was that upon approaching a shallow stream on horse mount, the canteen could be lowered into the water and stream water would flow through the center, chilling the contents faster.
Mid 13th Century Canteen
Probably Syrian or northern Iraq, mid-13th century. Made of brass and inlaid with silver.
Chinese Canteen, 15th Century
China, Jiangxi Province. This one is made of porcelain with a cobalt-based blue paint and given a clear glaze layer coat.
Ming Dynasty Chinese
This one is made of gold! At first glance in this image is made me think it was a large pocket-watch!
Soldier’s Standard Issue w/ Water Canteen
Stronger than the pottery, ceramic or glass container, the metal canteens were far more resistant to the accidental bumps and hits it would receive in its use. The metal ones however are prone to developing pinholes over time, and especially so if dented or mutilated. Later still, the plastic bottles are even more resistant to breakage, pinholes and are lighter too.
The traditional “bota bag” is like a canteen although being made of leather, typically that of goat. Two halves of closely-sheared goat tanned goat skins were sewn together and turned inside out to place the stitching internal. The exterior of the bota bag was smeared with waterproofing resins such as tree sap. These were usually used for carrying wine but any liquid could be used. The fill end was typically the horn of an animal such as a small bull or goat, fitted with a cork stopper. Contemporary bota bags have a latex internal liner with screw-on plastic or resin composite cap.
Typical Army Issue Canteen
Byzantine Copper-Alloy Canteen
Bronze, this looks strangely also like an explosive projectile like something launched from a trebuchet maybe. An ancient grenade or exploding cannonball? But no, it is a canteen also. The round shape I think makes its function questionable. Most canteens with the exception of natural gourds of course, tend to be flat.
Ancient Chinese Canteen
Bronze canteen with silver inlaid design patterns.
Made in China, labeled as being Henan or Hebei Province. Eastern Zhou dynasty, ca. 300 – 250 BC.
This relic is delicate, it looks too precious to have been used but its owner certainly must have been royalty and as such, was cared for. These would have been quite prone to breakage or damage at least in everyday use in the usual manner.
A More Modern and Equally Artsy Canteen
The intricate designs on this almost look Navajo in inspiration, tagged as By Les Namingha (Tewa/Suni, b. 1968)
Steampunk Airship Canteen?
This looks a lot like the Civil War canteens of the Confederacy except for being made of metal. The Confederate canteen would have been pottery also with the hole in the middle and possibly have a flat base to stand it upright. This looks very ‘Victorian Era’ like the so-called Steampunk devices? I really like this one.
These look very rustic, collectible. I wonder, if these were made of oak would the carrying of certain alcoholic drinks be made even better? Good ol’ Kentucky Whiskey aged in oaken barrels might continue to gain flavor from being carried in an oak wooden canteen.
Delicate Modern Glass Reproduction Canteen
Image by author
Mass-produced modern variety and usually filled with a variety of ornamental fruits, grasses and spices, flowers and/or vegetables, these are merely for looks. Some actually contain either cooking oils or vinegar and the vegetable or flower spices within actually contribute to the savory flavor of the finishing oil as used for some fish or pork dishes or salads. Vinegar and various spices like dill weed and hot peppers are commonly used, and the longer it ages in the decorative canteen container, the more flavor is imparted into the vinegar.