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.
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:
- 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.
- Teal blue
- Milk Glass
- Vaseline glass
- Yellow green
- Cobalt blue
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.
- Label under glass
- Beverages, including whiskey and liquor
- Fruit jars
Other Ways to Know the Value of Old Bottles
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.
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.
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 can be hard to determine. A rare bottle may be more valuable than a bottle that is more readily available, but not always.
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.
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
- Type of glass
- Notoriety (did a celebrity recently start collecting that type of bottle?)
- 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.
BottleBooks.com- This site is full of information about old bottles and provides order forms for a plethora of books from Digger Odell Publications on various types of bottles. You can find free articles here on bottle basics, reproductions, what federal law prohibits and drug bottles. There is also an appraisal service where you can find the value of a bottle for a fee of six dollars.
Kovels- One of the biggest names in antiques and collectibles, 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 Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC)
The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors- Join this nonprofit organization for historic bottle collectors and receive their bimonthly publication, "Bottles and Extras," free listings for sale in "Bottles and Extras", free "wanted" ads, and other resources offered through the organization. A yearly first class membership is $45.
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 they have sold for.
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.