UNDERSTANDING HOW BOTTLES ARE VALUED
Digger Odell Publications ©1997
While there is no substitute for experience, understanding the basic factors which influence price will help you assess the value of most bottles.
THE TWELVE VALUE FACTORS
There are twelve important factors that determine the value of any antique bottle. Any one of these factors is frequently not sufficient in and of itself to make a bottle valuable. It is the combination of these factors that determine value.
- 1. supply and demand
- 2. age
- 3. rarity
- 4. condition
- 5. color
- 6. esthetic appeal
- 7. embossing and design
- 8. category
- 9. size
- 10. individuality
- 11. historic significance
- 12. locale
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Recently milk bottles and painted label soda bottles, both of which were made after the turn of the century, have become collectible because there is a good supply of these items and there is great variety of both types of bottles. Only a few years ago bottles in these two categories rarely brought more than a few dollars but as interest in these categories increased so did the price. Today some are selling for hundreds of dollars. Whenever demand increases or outstrips the supply of a collectible, the price goes up.
Digger Odell's Antique
Bottle & Glass Collector Magazine Price Guide Series
has volumes different categories listing
thousands of antique bottles that have sold at auction.
You'll find a picture of every bottle listed along with
accurate descriptions and up-to-date prices. How
much money are your bottles worth? FIND OUT
Age is another important value factor. Collectible bottles can be divided into periods that help us to assign value: "Open Pontil" bottles are generally the earliest an America, dating from the 1600s to the late 1850s)." Iron Pontil" bottles range in age between 1840 and 1865. Bottles made after the Civil War but before the first World War are referred to as "smooth based". All bottles made before the turn of the century are partly or completely hand blown and formed.
Bottles made after about 1914 were produced in much greater number by machine (ABM for Automatic Bottle Machine). Until recently, with relatively few exceptions, bottles made after the turn of the twentieth century have had little value to the collector. The mold seam on machine made bottles will run all the way over the lip. The mold seam on older bottles, pre-1900 (non- machine made), stops before running over the top of the lip. However, just because a bottle is very old, that alone does not make it valuable.
Like age, rarity alone is not sufficient to make a bottle valuable but it is a major factor especially when a bottle has several other important value factors. There are thousands of very rare bottles that are not worth more than a few dollars. Rarity only matters when there is demand. Rarity is very difficult for the novice collector to determine. Consulting books, dealers and other collectors can help the novice determine the rarity of a piece.
Like collectors in other hobbies, bottle collectors want items in as close to original condition as possible. Chips signficantly reduce the value of any bottle. Cracks are even worse. A relatively common bottle with a crack has almost no value; a common bottle with lip chips may sell for only a fraction of what it would were it in mint (perfect) condition. Stain from contents, or from being buried for a long time, will reduce the value of a bottle anywhere from 10% to 50%. Usually this stain can be removed only by professional cleaning methods. The term "cleaned" in this guide refers to bottles which have been tumbled or polished. Chips, cracks or stain make a bottle less esthetically pleasing and so less salable.
Original labels, wrappers and boxes increase value and may make even a common bottle increase in price. Original contents may or may not increase value, as they tend to hide the color and embossing.
Color plays a major role in determining value in several important ways. First, there is a hierarchy of colors which appeal to bottle collectors. Rare and unusual colors command the highest prices. The most common color for antique bottles is aqua (the color of a Coke bottle- light greenish blue). Clear and amber (brown) and a great variety of greens (teal, blue green, olive green, emerald,) are the next most common colors. milk glass (opaque white) judging by prices has less appeal to bottle collectors than some other colors, perhaps because it is not transparent. Cobalt (blue) is rarer and in great demand. But a very common bottle in cobalt such as a Bromo Seltzer bottle sells for only a few dollars. The chart below is by no means a comprehensive list of available colors:
LOW VALUE COLORS
AQUA, AMBER , CLEAR
MEDIUM VALUE COLORS
OLIVE GREEN , BLACK , TEAL BLUE, MILK GLASS, GREEN
HIGH VALUE COLORS
YELLOW GREEN, COBALT, YELLOW, PURPLE, PUCE
The second way color influences value is that bottles sometime occur in a color that is unusual for that bottle. For example, a scarce medicine like Tom's Russian Liniment, most often is seen in aqua, is occasionally found in a rich dark olive green which sells for ten times the price of the aqua bottle. Even common bottles in a rare color valiant will be in greater demand and worth more.
This value factor is totally subjective. Basically, if a bottle has this type of appeal it will have value. Bottles that are "pretty" in color, shape, or design will be more in demand. Neural fancy panels, labels with outstanding color or graphics, and crudity may all add to what collectors see as a bottle's esthetic appeal.
EMBOSSING AND DESIGN
A bottle in a common color without embossing or fancy design has little value to bottle collectors. The main exceptions would be very early bottles ( pre-1840 "black glass" bottles which are not included in this guide), which rarely have any embossing and can sell for reasonably large sums based totally on their age, rarity and historical value. Understanding Antique Wine Bottles by Roger Dumbrell,1983 is a good source of information on black glass bottles. Another exception would be an unembossed bottle in a very unusual color.
Embossing adds more to the value when it identifies the product, the manufacturer, a patent or other date, the maker, proprietor, state, city, or other pertinent information. Frequently, a bottle that can be attributed to a certain geographical region and has a product a name and/or the maker's name, will be more valuable than a similar one with only a product name.
The location of the embossing is also important. If the embossing is only on the sides and not visible from the front view the bottle will be less desirable. The same is true if the embossing is on the base of the bottle or very small and less obvious.
Large, unusual, or crude embossing often adds to value. In flasks, and some other categories, bottles occasionally are offered for sale that have a "poor strike". This occurs when a bottle is not blown into the mold with sufficient force to imprint the embossing or picture in a clear bold manner. Bottles with a poor strike will bring less. Embossed pictures and sometimes fancy monograms can increase the value of a bottle as well. There are so many bottles with pictures, that only those belonging to a desirable category, having good color, great ratify or age would be of great value. In this price guide, embossed pictures are shown in bold print but without quotation marks and usually in small print.
The following is a list of the major bottle collecting categories and components on relative desirability.
|Sometimes called" Historical
Flasks", are the premier high status bottle
collecting category. There are hundreds of types of
flasks that can range in price from $25 to more than
$40,000 Very common flasks are less salable. Unusual
colors and rare specimens bring the highest prices. The
best source of information on flasks is American
Bottles and Flasks, McKearin ~ Wilson, (1978). and
the earlier version: American Glass by George S.
and Helen Mckearin, (1941).
THE BOTTLE AT THE RIGHT IS AN EAGLE FLASK WITH A WREATH CIRCA 1870.
Bitters makers marketed their products in an endless array of bottle designs. The square, amber bottle with a taper lip is probably the most common bitters form, Rectangular and round shapes are all quite common.
Figural Bitters (those shaped like an Indian, drum, cabin, or barrel,) usually sell for the greatest amounts., especially those in unusual color variants. The bitters which are not " figurals" tend to sell for substantially less money unless they have a combination of age, rarity, color, or other added value factors. The best source for information about bitters is For Bitters Only by Carlyn Ring, 1980.
|Digger Odell's Antique Bottle & Glass Collector Magazine Price Guide: BITTERS Vol.2 lists nearly 1000 antique bitters bottles that have sold at auction. You'll find a picture of every bottle listed along with accurate descriptions and up-to-date prices. How much money are your bottles worth? You can find out: Get your Copy Today.|
TRY DIGGING OR JUST READ ABOUT IT
SECRETS OF PRIVY DIGGING
|PRIVY SECRETS AND LITTLE KNOWN FACTS - $20|
This category of bottles includes drug store bottles, back bar bottles, whiskey bottles, syrup bottles, and store display bottles that have a label covered by glass, often set into an insert or panel in the bottle.
The most common type of label under glass bottles are the drugstore bottles that were used as display bottles in nearly every drugstore during the last century. These bottles come in a wide variety of styles and are frequently pontiled. In many cases the pontil belies their true age. The early drugstore storage bottles were made of flint glass often with wide mouths with a thin bead of a lip. These early wide mouth varieties commonly found with their original tin lids rarely had an indented panel lack the label under glass. In many cases labels were added at a later time. The vast majority of these bottles date from 1880 to the turn of the century. Later styles of these druggist bottles can readily be found with ground glass stoppers as shown in the figures above and below. Because they were purchased in great numbers by druggists, the bottles are very common and are easily found in antique shops, malls, and auctions.
The glass labels had beeswax which was used as fill over the letters and designs painted on the reverse side of the glass and the wax served to adhere the label to the glass container.
These containers are commonly found priced in the $25-50 range. The more desirable specimens have illicit drug names or highly colored labels and sell for greater sums. Examples in amber or cobalt glass will also bring higher prices. The condition of the label is a key factor in determining the value. Labels which are discolored, cracked, chipped or otherwise damaged detract significantly from the price. Bottles with damage or missing stoppers likewise sell for much less than perfect specimens.
Syrup bottles were used by the local druggist to hold the syrup for making sodas or various flavors. Syrup dispenser bottles are known in a number of flavors, but all are scarce to rare. Like all label under glass bottles the condition of the label together with the graphics determine the price. The bottle at the right sold for over $400.00 because of the condition and the picture on the label. Those bottles with words only tend to sell for under $200. The same bottle without a glass label or with the missing would have only a marginal value perhaps $20-25.
The bottles have a characteristic sheared lip over which fitted a metal cap that was used to measure out the syrup. Most were produced quite late in the nineteenth century.
Perhaps the most sought after group of label under glass bottles are the colorful and artistic whiskey labels. Pretty girls and military motifs are popular with collectors and bring exceptional prices. Some of the more common bottles are commemorative bottles for Grand Army encampments dating in the mid 1890s. Another common pocket flask shows a picture of Admiral Dewey. Many different flasks and bottles were produced and most sell between $500 and $1000. Other popular flasks are those which wish the partaker a "Merry Christmas" or a "Happy New Year." Most of the pocket flasks like the one shown at the right had a metal screw cap which covered a threaded ground neck. All are made of clear glass. As with the other bottles in this category discoloration or label damage reduces the price.
The whiskey fifths fall into two groups. Those with pictures and those with generic or proprietary names. The most sought after are those with pictures on multicolor labels like the one shown at the left. Of less interest to the collector are the back bar bottles which often are found in amber or clear glass with gold lettering for "GIN", "COGNAC", "WHISKEY" or other alcoholic drinks. These generic bottles frequently have a patent date embossed on the bottle the most common being "W.N. Waltons Pat. Sept. 23, 1862". Making these among the earliest label under glass bottles.
(1) "Colored Pontiled Medicines" have recently brought some record-breaking prices. They have sold for as much as twenty thousand dollars to as little as one hundred dollars (less if in poor condition). To qualify for this category the bottle must be embossed with a medicine or Dr. name, be in some color other than aqua or clear, and have a Pontil scar on the base. Colored pontiled medicines are very rare with probably less than 200 known types many of which are themselves very rare. Aqua medicines that are pontiled, unless they are very common, will bring at least twenty dollars and often much more. Great American Pontiled Medicines, By Fredrick Nielson, (1978), Patent and Proprietary Medicine Bottles by Joseph Baldwin, (1973), The Bottle Book a Comprehensive Guide to Historic, Embossed Medicine Bottles, by Richard E. Fike, (1987) and Harmer Rooke Gallery absentee auction Catalog for the Samuel J. Greer collection of Early American Medicine Bottles, (1988) are valuable sources for this category.
(2) "Cures" are another desirable medicine bottle category. To qualify for this category the bottle must have the word "cure" embossed in the glass. Very few cure collectors want bottles which say cure only on the label. There are over 1,500 known bottles embossed with the word "cure" produced from the 1850s to the early 1900s. Most cures are either clear or aqua and sell from only a few dollars to seventy-five dollars or more. Amber cures frequently are more salable and cures in other colors may bring hundreds of dollars. Cures with original labels will bring a premium price compared with an unlabeled specimen. Two out-of-print books give descriptions and price estimates: Collecting All Cures (1973) and Collecting the Cures (1969),by Bill Agee.
"DR PORTER'S GENUINE ORIENTAL LIFE LINIMENT"
(3) "Sarsaparillas" are a third medicinal category that has collector appeal. More than two hundred different bottles are known to be embossed with the word "sarsaparilla". These range in price from a few dollars for the common clear and aqua ones to thousands of dollars for the colored pontiled examples. A good reference for these is American Sarsaparilla Bottles by John Degrafft, (1980).
(4) Other medicinal categories such as liniments, remedies, Indian bottles, veterinary, and balsams are in less demand but frequently salable if they have good age, embossing, design, or color. Medicine names such as lotion, balm, extract, oil, ointment, syrup and hundreds of others have few dedicated collectors. The vast majority of medicine bottles are clear or aqua and command only a few dollars. There are literally thousands of known medicine bottles in these categories. Sources for these categories include: A Bit About Balsams by Betty Blasi, (1974), Indian Bottles and Brands by John Odell, (1977), and 19th Century Medicine in Glass by Bill and Betty Wilson, (1971).
These have enjoyed a long period of interest by bottles collectors and have steadily appreciated in value over the years. Even relatively common examples sell well to the general public as well as to the average bottle collector. Unusual colored and/or embossed examples can bring over a thousand dollars. Most sell for under a hundred. Common unembossed clear or aqua examples sell for only a few dollars. One good source of information is Ink Bottles & Inkwells (1971) by William Covill.
|Digger Odell's Antique Bottle & Glass Collector Magazine Price Guide Series has eleven volumes. Both Volume #4 and Volume 11 are on ink bottles. You'll find a picture of every bottle listed along with accurate descriptions and up-to-date prices. How much money are your bottles worth? Get your Copy Today.|
Poisons are identified by having some type of raised design on the surface so it could be determined, even in the dark, that the contents of these bottles should not be taken . These have had good appeal to collectors for many years because the bottles are frequently found in cobalt and amber. Poisons in any other color are rare. Large size, embossed skulls and cross bones, and coffin-shaped poisons bring the highest prices. The Poison Bottle Workbook, by Rudy Kuhn and Poison Bottles, by Roger Durflinger are good sources.
|A large number of bottles in this category have relatively little value, but there are several types that bring good money. The best sellers are the "cathedral pickle" and "cathedral peppersauce" bottles which might bring two-three hundred dollars or more. These are jars and bottles with cathedral-like embossed designs. The most valuable ones are highly colored. The best reference for food bottles is Ketchup, Pickles and Sauces (1980) by Betty Zumwalt.|
FRUIT JARS -
Over 5,000 different types of fruit jars are known. A good rule of thumb is that if the jar has an unusual closure then it is probably valuable. Any jar in a color other than clear or aqua will bring at least twenty dollars and possibly much more. The best reference for price and information is Red Book No. 7 The Collectors Guide to Old Fruit Jars (1993) by Douglas M. Leybourne Jr.
Barber and hair bottles are in good demand because this category has more variety of color than most other bottle categories. Hair bottles span the length of the entire nineteenth century. The most sought after hair bottles are both rare and unusually colored. Most hairs in colors other than aqua, clear or amber will bring fifty dollars or more. Hair Raising Stories by Don Fadely, (1992) is the best source of information on hair bottles. Colored barber bottles may have enameled designs and usually sell for more than a hundred dollars. Collecting Barber Bottles (1986) by Richard Holiner is the best source for information on barber bottles.
|There are thousands and thousands of
bottles in these categories most of which will sell for
less than twenty dollars. Aqua, clear and amber are the
most common colors. Cobalt and greens are well
represented in the soda and mineral water category and
will usually bring more than twenty dollars. Sodas and
mineral waters that are paneled, or oddly shaped (e.g.
ten pin shape) or Pontil marked will bring the highest
THE BOTTLE AT THE RIGHT IS A "CLARKE & WHITE / 'C' / NEW YORK" MINERAL WATER BOTTLE. THIS COMPANY PRODUCED A WIDE VARIETY OF BOTTLES OVER MANY DECADES.
Many very good whiskey bottles from the Western states and some figural and pontiled varieties from the east bring premium prices. The greater the age, the more value is a good rule of thumb. Except for rare or unusually colored Western Whiskeys, pontil scarred, colored, embossed examples bring the highest prices.
|Beer bottles, while collectible, have
not experienced the price appreciation of other
categories. Most beers sell from only a few dollars to
not usually more than thirty dollars, with the better
examples bringing around a hundred dollars.
Locale is also important in this category because nearly every town during the last century had its own, brewery, distillery, or soda manufacturer. Western state bottles usually bring more than their Eastern counterparts. Local collectors are a good outlet for many examples in this category. Sources include: Western Whiskey Bottles by R.E. Barnett; Picnics, Coffins, Shooflies (1974) by John L. Thomas; Guide to Saratoga Type Mineral Waters (1986) by Donald Tucker; Here* to Beers (1973) by Byron and Vicky Martin.
|Drugstore bottles and apothecary jars are quite common. The best examples are colored and pontiled. Apothecary jars with illegal drug names such as "Cannabis", "Opium", can bring between one and two hundred dollars. Bottles embossed "USA HOSPITAL" were used during the civil war and contained government issue medicines are highly sought after by bottle and Civil War collectors and often bring many hundreds of dollars depending upon the color.|
|Many "reproductions" exist.
A large number of historical flasks, some figural
bitters, and a few fruit jars as well as some other types
of bottle have been reproduced in the last seventy years.
Some of these have been made for gift shops while others
were made to fool collectors. Often bottles that would
normally be very valuable have been reproduced. For the
most part, these are easy for the collector to identify,
but may be difficult for the novice or non-collector.
AT LEFT ARE TWO REPRODUCTION "BABY FACE" MILK BOTTLES
Size is a factor in value. It is often less important than other factors, but it does influence price. Small bottles usually do not command the kind of prices larger bottles bring. One important exception is scent bottles, a kind of perfume or scent bottle referred to as '"Sandwich Glass", so named for one of the glassworks that produced this fancy and colorful type of bottle.
Bottles larger than usual often bring better money. Large sized Pontil medicines, large bitters, large cathedral pickles, half gallon jars bottles frequently sell for higher prices than similar, yet smaller examples. However, huge bottles such as demijohns or five gallon water bottles are often difficult to sell.
Being largely hand made, antique bottles tend to have less uniformity than modern bottles. Some examples are crudely made, others have large numbers of bubbles still others have "Whittle marks" that make the surface of the glass appear to have been made in a whittled mold, but actually occurred when hot glass was poured into a cold mold. Bottles with bubbles, crudely applied tops, and other flaws showing their hand made origin are generally more sought after than similar specimens without those characteristics.
A cobalt flask that sold some years ago for over $40,000 was embossed with a picture of Columbia, the early symbol for freedom in our country. The combination of great age, great color, rarity and historical significance were the major factors that pushed the price of this flask to record breaking levels. Another rare flask, referred to as the "American System" flask sells in aqua for over $10,000 for similar reasons. Historical significance adds to the value of antique bottles.
A bottle's geographical area of origin can greatly affect its value. First, bottles from certain areas of the country tend to be much less common than from some others. Alaskan and Hawaiian bottles are in great demand and bring higher prices than similar bottles from other areas. Another example is late 19th century soda bottles called "Hutchinson sodas", which are valuable if they come from states where they are rare but worth very little from states where they were made in great numbers. For example, Rhode Island hutchinson sodas are rare and in demand. Pontil age bottles such as sodas, and medicines tend to sell very well and for great sums when they are from states such as Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and other states that were settled late or had few bottles from that period.
A second way that locale affects value is that bottles frequently bring their best price in the areas they were produced. This is especially true with inexpensive bottles such as clear late period druggist bottles with only the name of the store and town embossed. Frequently these bottles are not salable outside their home state. As you move Westward geographically, late 19th century bottles tend to be more valuable. Clear, embossed drugstore bottles from states west of the Mississippi, especially those embossed with the word "Territory" can be easily sold and for much greater sums than Eastern varieties. Some clear saloon "pumpkin seed" flasks embossed with names from Western states are selling for $500-$1000. Christian James Buys has written the book Territorial bottles of the United States (1992).
Thirdly, collectors in different areas of the country show interest in different categories. Western state collectors like early whiskey bottles, Hawaiian sodas are popular in Hawaii, flasks are more collectible in the East and Midwest where they were produced. Early sodas tend to be from large cities and are more easily sold near their place or origin.
When trying to determine the worth of a bottle ask yourself these questions:
(l) How old is the bottle? Check mold seam, and base. Could it be a reproduction?
(2) What condition is it in? Chips, stain, cracks reduce value.
(3) What color is it?
(4) Is it embossed? Is it a figural? Fancy design? Picture?
(5) Is it attractive?
(6) To what category-does it belong?
(7) How large is it? Too small or too big are drawbacks.
(8) Is it crudely made? Bubbles?
(9) Does it appear to have any historical significance?
(10) Where is it from?
(11) Can you find any listing of the bottle in a reference book that would suggest its rarity?
(12) How many of the above attributes does this bottle have that would create demand, hence