A Guide To Collecting Barware: Preservation, Buying And Other Tips

Bottoms Up! Vintage barware is found in collections across America. This article covers the basic categories and care of collections.

Cheers! Vintage barware is found in collections from the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art to cupboards across America. Certain categories of barware collectibles have a steady market, while others fade from popularity only to return to the vogue years later. Care and preservation of barware is an important part of maintaining a collection, but the most important key to starting a collection is to begin with quality items. Avoid purchasing rusted or pitted barware, no matter what the cost. Rechroming or silvering is an expensive proposition. Make sure the item includes the original parts. Avoid planning to search for an elusive stopper or single glass to complete a set. The number of patterns and designs in vintage barware is so vast that locating that one item is rare. The categories of barware collecting are endless, from glasses and pitchers to accessories, and in every category, there are a legion of collectors.

Accessories include swizzle sticks and stirrers, coasters, and recipe selectors. By far the largest group of barware collectors is the swizzle stick group. Sticks and stirrers from famous restaurants and bars have a loyal following, especially for vintage Hollywood and New York hangouts. Airline sticks have their own fans, with defunct airlines capturing top dollar. Plastic stirrers with unusual mechanical parts are high on the list of collectibles. The key to keeping these items in good condition is to avoid extremes. Ice and dishwashers should be avoided, as vintage plastic can become brittle and be snapped or broken. Coasters are another hot item for collectors. Inexpensive cardboard coasters, while not commanding top collector dollar on the market, have a large amount of interest. Coasters labeled with vintage beers and vintage bars are sought after on the market. Early plastic coasters are fully functional today and can be used, provided heat extremes are avoided. Some collectors use a special polish on plastic that has lost the smooth sheen with good quality results. Try a small corner on the underside before attempting a complete makeover on any plastic bar item.

Ice buckets are another collectible category. The most common bucket found is one made from the late 1940s until the 1960s featuring a small penguin panel embossed on the middle of a ball-shape. The Igloo ice bucket features a stainless steel interior. The earliest edition had wooden handles, while the last one had plastic handles on the sides with a ball handle on the top of the lid. These are easily found on the market and make for wonderful party conversation starters. Avoid keeping water in the bottom of the interior too long, especially in early buckets, which will rust at the metal seams. Top of the line ice buckets include Chase-made items. These command top dollar on the market today. The Chase Company of Ohio still produces stainless, chrome and silver plate items. Name designers made Vintage Chase Company pieces. All Chase pieces are clearly marked with their name and many times their logo showing an archer with bow and arrow.

Pitchers and glasses are easy to find and are another great place to begin a collection. Some collectors focus on a theme, such as tropical glasses. Other collectors focus on a manufacturer such as Federal Glass barware. The highest priced collectibles are ones that feature unusual images, such as boats with sails furled to the wind. A serving pitcher and six of any type of glass is most sought after. Other printed glass sets include vintage automobiles, animals, circus scenes and sports scenes. Libby glassware has the largest line of silk-screened items. Still operating today, Libby occasionally reproduces vintage lines. Avoid silk-screened images with a powdery-white tint. These cannot be easily restored. Vintage images can be damaged by certain types of harsh liquid detergent and should not be placed in extremely hot water. Avoid the dishwasher, as the hot water makes the glassware brittle and more susceptible to chipping. Dishwasher use and extremely hot water create the white tint on painted or silk-screened glassware.

Another hot market in collectible barware is the cocktail shaker. All the major American glassmakers manufactured these shakers. The tall glass and metal-capped shakers always had matching glasses. Marketing strategies included selling a shaker and one to three sizes of matching glassware as boxed sets. Use glass shakers, but avoid rust by cleaning the area around the top opening, a frequent place for rust to begin. Some shakers came with early plastic tops. Frequently, these are missing or misshapen due to heat damage. Modern replacements will many times fit exactly. It is a good idea to store shakers with plastic tops attached to retain the original shape of shaker top and lids.

Vintage shot glasses are in abundant supply. Turn of the century shot glasses feature cut or pressed glass in ornate patterns and were manufactured through the 1920s. All the major American glass companies manufactured mass produced silk-screened shot glasses, first widely produced in the 1940s. Slang, such as "Here's Mud in Your Eye," and sexist images of women with those "blow away dresses" are popular today. Boxed holiday sets and those manufactured for advertising have fans in the collecting world. All can be used with little extra care required. Avoid hot water and harsh detergent for screened images.

Siphon bottles are a high-end category for collecting. Manufacturer marked bottles and designer signed bottles are two important collector categories. Some of these bottles date back to the turn of the century and are labeled with maker and city location. The most sought after siphon bottles are covered with a wire mesh in various designs. These bottles should not be used, but are excellent eye catchers when used as bar d├ęcor.

Glass decanters, decanters in paired sets and portable bar sets are not difficult to find. Cut and pressed glass decanters range in price from such noted designers as Tiffany down to the five-and-dime store mass-produced glass sets. These items need little care and can be used for years of enjoyment. Do not purchase bottles in the hope to find stoppers. Single stoppers are a rare find, as the most likely breakage was the stopper, not the bottle. Check vintage magazine advertisements before purchasing a high-priced set to ensure the stoppers and glasses are the originals. Occasionally, sets were sold with metal labels. Make sure these are rust free. Collectors search for deco-influenced sets with unusual displays or trays. These include famous designer sets. Sets should be used as display, since one missing or damaged item can reduce the value of the set.

Whether you display or use glasses, swizzle sticks, siphon bottles or coasters, vintage barware is a fun collectible. You will find an abundance of barware at flea markets, tag sales and garage sales. With proper use and care, your set will continue to increase in value.

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