Speaking of Antiquing – May 2016

In the early 1970’s in the Black Hills of South Dakota, with baby in our backpack, we would tramp through the woods in search of old forgotten cabins and homesteads. Sometimes we would find iron wheels and forged hinges, but the most fun finds were intact whiskey bottles. I remember finding a tall neck green bottle that we soon used for target practice. We always found amber bottles and bitters bottles, or the occasional canning jar, but little did we know or care that in 2016 those bottles could be worth hundreds of dollars each.

There is an overwhelming amount of information on bottle collecting and one could spend days reading and gleaning tidbits and interesting facts. Like any collecting, you have to get active and collect. There are dozens of categories including milk bottles, beer bottles, soda bottles, whiskey bottles, perfume bottles, bitters bottles, poison bottles, medicine bottles, ink bottles, canning jars, and the list continues.

The rarest bottles in America are the mouth-blown bottles. These can be of clear or colored glass, interesting shapes, and varied uses. Blown bottles can date to very early in our country’s history. Molded bottles came in to use in the early 1800’s. Any blown bottle has a “pontil” on the bottom—the rough spot on the bottom where the rod was attached to the glass and cut after the desired shape was created. Some pontils were sanded better than others, but bottles devoid of mold seams were generally blown by mouth.

Mouth-blown bottles that are commonly collected today include bitters bottles, medicine and poison bottles, whiskey or beer bottles, canning jars, sarsaparilla bottles and others. Molded bottles are not excluded from the valuable category. Rare pharmacy and grocery store bottles can bring some good money. In pharmacy bottle collecting alone one could choose from the several colors or shapes. Advertising cross-over collectors look for specific “Doctor’s” name and ingredients. Others focus on specific sizes or colors. Shapes can be square, triangle, round, tubular with no “bottom,” figural, paneled, rectangular, paper labeled or embossed are different features to look for.

Poison bottles had to be marked with distinctive identifying features so even children knew not to touch. Colors were introduced into the bottle such as cobalt or black or dark green. Raised lettering for the words POISON or DEATH as well as patterns on the bottles raised in geometric shapes or lattice work were successful in setting these bottles apart. The skull and crossbones were used commonly. Some poison bottles were made into the shape of coffins. Have fun finding one of those!

As glass became more widely used in marketing medicines and food products, production had to be streamlined. Screw lids replaced glass stoppers and corks or wax seals. Some people collect just the stoppers.

I’m attending the upcoming 2016 Jefferson State Antique Bottle & Insulator Show in Central Point this May to learn a few things on identification and valuation and will surely report back!