Impossible Bottles are a type of mechanical puzzles. The objects that are stored inside the bottle seem to be too large to have fit through the bottle neck. A ship in a bottle is just one type of an impossible bottle and not the oldest.
The art to create something inside a bottle is nearly 300 years old and started in the Allgäu and the Ore Mountains. People started to fill long winter nights by creating tiny carving which they entered in mostly square bottles with a low neck. On several levels they assembled displays of religious motives or displays, which followed the process of mining ore. Often these bottles also contained a kinetic element, e.g. a bell that could be rung or a winding tackle that could be operated via a crank. These bottles are highly elaborated pieces of folk art.
It is possible that a person from the Ore Mountains area traveled to the coast where he watched natives carving models of ships and started to use these designs in a bottle. This legend can’t be proven. Fact is that the earliest known seamanlike artwork is not much older than 200 years.
The golden age of bottle ships took place during the second half of the 19th century. It was the time of tall sailing ships that traveled the seas to China, Australia and South America in order to meet the request for tea, wool, niter, spices etc. Periods of good weather with few maneuvers were passed by creating nautical items made from material available on board. Many able seamen created bottle ships which had something mythical about them. So spoke one of the lore surrounding bottle ships of a liquid that made hands so flexible they would fit without problems through even the most narrow bottle neck and that this liquid would be necessary to build the little miracles in bottles.
In reality here exist several ways to put a ship inside a bottle, which don’t require magic. The simplest way is to rig the masts of the ship and raise them up once the ship has been placed inside. That means that the hull of the ship must still be small or lean enough to fit through the opening. Alternatively, with specialized long-handled tools and a lot of patience it is possible to build a ship inside the bottle.
Finally, I don’t want to finish this section without mentioning sand art bottles which I have seen in all the arid regions of this planet which I visited. I was offered a chance to try my hand at those in Petra, Jordan. My camel wore camouflage. Though the sand goes easily into the bottle, these are nearly impossible creations as well.