Collecting Antique Glass Bottles: Tips Tricks And Pricing

Just because a bottle is old doesn't mean it's a collectible or has any value. Learn how to spot the real treasures and how much to pay.

Antique glass bottles, like many collectibles, have different categories in which they fall. Some are flasks, ink wells, soda bottles or even medicinal containers. The trick to bottle collecting is learning to recognize these categories, and to spot reproductions. Some are easy to recognize, with the name of the manufacturer in plain view on the bottom of the bottle, but some reproductions are not that easily spotted. One way to tell the real thing from a reproduction is to view the lip of the bottle. Bottles created before 1870 have a crude lip and close examination will show distinct irregularities and the molding seam. After 1880, lipping tools were used to form the lip of the bottle which, when being formed, left rings around the lip and upper neck of the bottle, but caused the molding seam to disappear. Aqua was a favored color of the bottle makers, and many bottles during this area were greenish in color, rather than clear. This is another sign that it is a genuine antique. Looking at the bottom of the bottle can also help you determine the approximate age of the bottle. Look for pontil marks, the rings made when the glass rod that helped hold the bottle while the lip was being formed, is broken off. Bottles made before 1855 should have this rough, round circle on the bottom. Around 1855, the snap tool was invented, which allowed the glass blowers to blow the glass without using the rods to hold it. This process eliminated the rough circle, but left instead, a different type of mark - something like a half circle with seam lines extending from it.

By the 1920's, bottles were being made by machines and the machines left an even different impression on the bottom of the glass. This is called the Owen's ring. It is generally a large ring, but smooth to the touch. By the late 1930's and on through the 1950's, the popular concept was to paint the labels onto the bottle. Regardless of if your bottle is colored or clear, rough or smooth on the bottom, you can get a general idea of what year it was manufactured by locating the patent number, usually from the bottom of the bottle, online or at the library. Special guides are available to help you trace these numbers. Not every number stamped on a bottle is a patent number, though. If there is a "D" in front of the number, this number very well could be just the design number.

When determining how much a bottle might be worth, check for reproductions, chips or cracks in the glass and the condition of the label, if there is one. Some bottles, not worth much 10 years ago, are now worth hundreds simply because there is a new interest in that particular bottle. Milk bottles are a good example. Some years back, these might have been worth a dollar or two but now, with more interest in that era and that type of bottle, the value has gone up considerably. Other factors that come into play in determining the worth of a bottle are age, rarity, condition, color and design. No one single factor makes the bottle a collectible but rather, several of the factors found together in one bottle makes it worthwhile for collecting.



Flasks are one of the most valued of antique glass bottles. Some bring up to $40,000. Unique colors, and rare flasks are the most sought after.

Another favored bottle is a bitters, which was normally amber in color and usually rectangular. These are common, but bitter bottles which were unique in color or shape are sometimes worth hundreds. Druggist bottles are another category which contains many commonplace bottles. Thousands were made for drug stores and displayed on shelves, and are often seen at antique shops and such. Many of these bottles had stoppers or corks which should accompany the bottle. If the original stopper is not in place, the bottle has less value. Those done in cobalt glass can bring upwards of $50 per bottle. Syrup bottles, used by drugists for making sodas, are very scarce. These bottles, most manufactured in the late 1800's, can bring $400 each if in good shape.

Bottles still containing the original substance are sometimes worth more, and bottles with the original paper label still in tact can also bring a pretty penny. A good place to find these old bottles are flea markets, where some people don't realize the actual value of the glass, and let it go for a dollar or two. If you're a collector, keep your bottles somewhere safe. Glass breaks easily and one mishap could wipe out hundreds, even thousands of dollars. One idea is to build a case in which to display them, with something built in to secure them. This way, one bump against the display cabinet won't cost you half of your collection. Keep the antique bottle collection out of direct sunlight and keep the bottles clean. Dirt can discolor any labels that you have, changing the value of the bottle. There are various printed guides to help you in determining what bottles to collect, how to spot fakes, and how to find out what your bottles are worth.

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