In the many years that the company has been in business there have been many styles of the old Coca Cola bottles. Each style is unique and collectible; however some of the bottles are rarer, and therefore more valuable than others.
Early Coca Cola Bottles
Coke was first bottled in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1891. The Coca Cola Company sold the first bottle of Coca Cola in March 1894. Prior to that, it had been a soda fountain item as well as a syrup being sold in bottles as a patent medicine.
Hutchinson Patent Bottles
The earliest Biedenharn Coca Cola bottles used a Hutchinson patent bottle. These bottles were in common use for many types of soda and spring water from about 1880 to 1910. Coke was not the only company that used this type of bottle. Each bottle was embossed with, "Biedenharn Candy Company, Vicksburg, Miss."
Currently there have been over 16,000 different embossed Hutchinson style bottles located. You can see a picture of the Hutchinson style bottle by visiting a bottle identification website; scroll about halfway down the page to find the image.
There are two styles of the Hutchinson Coke bottle:
- Coca Cola in script on the bottle
- Plain bottle
Straight Sided Bottles
After 1900 the company used a straight sided bottle with crown tops. Crown top refers to the type of bottle that has a lip. The bottle cap is removed with a bottle opener. This style of bottle protected the carbonation and flavoring of the Coke much better than the old Hutchinson bottles. These can be found in a number of glass colors including:
While value will depend a lot on the condition of the bottle, as a general rule amber bottles will command higher prices than the other colors.
The Contour Bottle
In 1913 the company wanted a more distinctive bottle so that the Coca Cola was easily recognizable to consumers. Ben Thomas, one of the bottlers, said that the consumer should be able to recognize the Coke bottle in the dark, just by feel.
By 1916 the now familiar contoured bottle had been developed. Due to a lack of research by the team working on the new bottle it resembled a cacao bean rather than a coca bean, but the company indeed had a distinctive bottle. With its deep contoured shape, consumers could recognize it in the dark. This design was recognized in 1960 by the U.S. Patent office as being distinctive and belonging exclusively to Coca Cola.
Other names that the contour bottle goes by are:
- Mae West bottle
- Hobble skirt bottle
The earliest contour bottles came in a number of colors:
There was one distinctive bottle produced in 1915 that is blue on the top and green on the bottom. After 1925 all of the Coke bottles were green. There was a brief time during World War II, from 1942 through 1945, when the lack of copper in the glass meant that the bottles were blue.
Determining Old Bottles from Antique Bottles
If you asked four different coca cola bottle collectors what the term antique coke bottle means to them, you most likely will get four different answers. The answers would be something like this:
- An antique purist may say any coke bottle that is more than 100 years old qualifies as an antique.
- Another collector may say any coca cola bottle that is more than 50 years old is an antique.
- One may answer the question by saying Hutchinson bottles are the only ones qualifying as antiques.
- Another by responding any bottle that is older than himself is an antique.
In the world of soda bottle collecting, the question of how old does a soda bottle have to be for it to be considered an antique is often confusing. To add to the confusion, the popular auction website eBay, lists coca cola bottles from 1900 to present day as modern, and anything older than 1900 as antique.
Generally, most old coca cola bottle collectors use the term antique for bottles that are more than 50 years old.
Faked Old Coca Cola Bottles
As with any antique or collectible it is important that you know that some bottles can be faked. Irradiation can be used to change the color of some bottles to make them look old or like a more rare color.
You should invest some time in studying and researching old Coca Cola bottles before you spend too much money on collecting them. Identifying an old Coke bottle is much easier if you have images and good descriptions to go by. Here are some Internet resources that can help:
Where to Buy
When you're ready to start your own collection of antique and vintage Coca Cola bottles, visit the following websites:
Keep in mind that errors were common on Coke bottles, therefore a misspelled word does not necessarily add value to the bottle. Variations were also commonplace.
Be wary of online auction descriptions that claim bottles with damage such as chips or cracks are in "nice" or "good" condition. Chips and cracks significantly lower the bottle's value.
Many items from well-known companies are collectible because of the nostalgia involved. Old Spice, Avon and Texaco are all companies whose brands are collectible because they remind consumers of a simpler era.
Enjoying, collecting, and displaying old Coca Cola products are a popular pastime for many hobbyists and collectors. Learn as much as you can and then begin looking for pieces to add to your collection. Just make sure that "It's the real thing."