Determining the Value of Old Bottles

Michelle Radcliff
Antique bottles

There are several factors that determine the value of old bottles. While an accurate evaluation can only be done by someone experienced with antique bottles, you can get an idea of how much a bottle is worth by considering these factors.

The Age of the Bottle

Finding a five-year-old Coke bottle in the local creek is not going to make you rich. Finding a one-hundred-year-old Coke bottle might put a few dollars in your pocket should you decide to sell it. While not all old bottles are valuable, an older bottle is more likely to be worth more than a newer one.

Pontil mark on an antique blown glass vase. Photo courtesy Retro Art Glass, retroartglass.com
Pontil Mark on an Antique Blown Glass Vase

Seams and pontil marks are two of the ways you can determine a bottle's age. The pontil mark is the mark at the bottom of the bottle where it was attached to the glass blower's pontil rod.

Bottles can be divided into four eras:

  • The Open Pontil bottle describes bottles which were made from the 1600s to about 1855.
  • The Iron Pontil bottle was made from 1840 to 1865.
  • Smooth-based bottles were made from just after the Civil War to about World War I, 1865 to 1917.
  • Automatic Bottle Machine (ABM) bottles were made from 1914 onward.

You can tell the difference between a machine-made bottle and a handmade bottle by carefully checking the seam line. The seam on an ABM bottle will run all the way up the bottle and over the lip.

The Condition of the Bottle

As with any collectible item, the condition of the bottle will play a significant role in its value. The closer a bottle is to original condition the more value it will have.

Items that can increase the value of a bottle are:

  • Original label
  • Original wrapping
  • Original box or container
  • Original contents

Things that decrease a bottle's value are:

  • Chips
  • Cracks
  • Stains
  • Extensive wear

Color of Old Bottles

Color is important in two ways when you are evaluating an old bottle:

  • Colors that appeal to collectors
  • Colors that are unusual for the type of bottle

The more rare a bottle color, the more collectors may want it. If a particular bottle was created in an unusual color, then these are more collectible as well.

Original box adds value.
Original box adds value.

Low Value

  • Clear
  • Amber
  • Aqua

Medium Value

  • Black
  • Teal blue
  • Green
  • Olive
  • Milk Glass

High value

  • Vaseline glass
  • Purple
  • Yellow green
  • Cobalt blue
  • Puce

The Type of Bottle

There are several categories of bottles and passionate collectors in each category. Some categories are more valuable than others, but there are highly collectible bottles in each category.

  • Bitters
  • Medicine
  • Flask
  • Label under glass
  • Beverages, including whiskey and liquor
  • Cosmetics
  • Druggists
  • Fruit jars
  • Syrup
  • Poison
  • Ink
  • Food
  • Barber

Other Ways to Know the Value of Old Bottles

R. Lalique no. 508 rare glass perfume bottle
R. Lalique no. 508 Lovely Rare Glass Perfume Bottle

There are other things to take into consideration when evaluating old bottles. Each aspect of the bottle's design, age and character must be taken into consideration when determining its value.

Bottle Design

A bottle that has a beautiful, interesting or significant design will generally be more valuable than one that is plain.

A bottle that is embossed with the manufacturer's name, location, or other information about where the bottle came from is of more interest to collectors than one that does not.

Loveliness

Some people call it appeal. Whatever you call it, people are drawn to pretty things. A beautifully shaped bottle will be in more demand than a mundane bottle.

Rarity

Rarity can be hard to determine. A rare bottle may be more valuable than a bottle that is more readily available, but not always.

Demand

Demand is one of the primary factors in knowing the value of old bottles. The cost of a bottle can go up or down depending on how many people want that particular type of bottle for their collection. A bottle does not have to be rare to be in demand.

Historical Significance

If a bottle was created to commemorate something or has some other historical significance, then it will likely bring more at auction than one that does not.

Incidental Items that May Add Value

  • Location
  • Type of glass
  • Notoriety (Did a celebrity recently start collecting that type of bottle?)
  • Size
  • Unusual characteristics

Old Bottle Price Guides and Collector's Resources

An accurate and thorough price guide for old and antique bottles is an essential tool when starting a collection of your own. Being able to accurately identify old bottles is a skill that takes practice and experience.

Digger Odell Antique Bottle Price Guides

Digger Odell Publications provides some information and plenty of paid guides on various types of bottles. You can find free articles here on bottle basics, reproductions, what federal law prohibits, and drug bottles. Most paid guides range around $15 to $20, depending on the topic, though some can be upwards of $60.

Many of the value-related topics are found in the links found in the Highlights section titled How Much Are My Antique Bottles Worth? section of the main page. They range in topic from most valuable apothecary bottles to least valuable round-bottom bottles. You can also find plenty of advice for avoiding eBay scams and how to make money selling bottles.

Kovels

Kovels is one of the biggest names in antiques and collectibles, and this site was founded by the reigning "Duke and Duchess of the antique world," Ralph and Terry Kovel. This couple has written over 100 books and reports on collecting and have one of the longest-running syndicated newspaper columns in the country. You can check the value of antique bottles sold in the past by accessing the free online price guide.

The basic account is free, premium is around $40, and the premium+ account is about $60. The price guide is included in the basic account, and you'll get actualized pricing for bottles from medicines to colognes to whiskey bottles and more.

The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC)

The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors is a nonprofit organization for historic bottle collectors. Upon joining, you'll receive their bimonthly publication Bottles and Extras, free listings for sale in the publications, one free "wanted" ad a year, and other resources offered through the organization. The publication is going to be your main source for learning about your bottle values.

A yearly standard mailed membership is $40 for United States applicants, with the price going up from there; digital memberships are global and only $25. There are also lifetime and associate memberships available, too.

eBay

It's always a good idea to check the online auctions on eBay for antique bottles. This can be a valuable resource for bottle identification and to see what buyers are offering for bottles and how much previous sold items actually cost at selling. However, be cautious that the condition may not always be as depicted and you should educate yourself on the particular bottle before participating in an auction.

Registering an account with eBay is free; you'll need to pay shipping and other pricing costs from various sellers if you purchase something.

A Great Hobby

Collecting old bottles is a great hobby. It is important to know how to evaluate them as well as enjoy their beauty. Obtaining an accurate idea of the bottle's value will help you to get a fair price should you decide to sell your find.

Determining the Value of Old Bottles