Old glass milk bottles are popular with collectors and antiques enthusiasts, and they make versatile and attractive decorative items in the home. Understanding which bottles are actually antique and knowing where to buy old milk bottles can help you sort out the treasures from the trash.
How to Date and Authenticate Milk Bottles
Before the advent of the paper carton and the plastic milk jug, dairies would send milk men out to individual houses with glass bottles of milk. The shape of the glass bottle, as well as its color, labeling style, and other factors can help you determine whether you have an authentic find and get a sense of your bottle's age.
Check Your Bottle's Shape
Shape is one of the first indicators to look for when dating an antique bottle. According to antiquemilkbottles.com, the shape indicates when your bottle was manufactured. Take a look at your piece and see which category seems to fit it best:
- Round - If the bottle has a round bottom and tall, steep sides, it was probably made during the 1930s or earlier.
- Square - If the bottle has a square bottom and shorter sides, it was most likely made in the 1940s or later.
Examine the Style of Label
Your bottle will may have a label or some other identifying mark. These labels prevented competitors from reusing the bottles of another manufacturer and ensured the bottles made it back to the correct dairy for refilling. Although some older bottles may have no label at all, most do have some type of identifier. Look for the following styles:
- Etched label - This is a frosted design etched in the glass. It may have been handwritten, or it may have been a stamp. This style could be from any era.
- Raised embossed label - This style features the dairy's name or symbol in raised glass. Prior to 1933, manufacturers used a slug to add the glass design to the bottle during manufacturing.
- All-over raised design - Instead of just having a raised design on the label portion of the bottle, larger dairies had special molds that allowed them to create bottles with all-over raised designs.
- Applied color labels - After 1933, many bottles featured applied color labels with the dairy's name or logo. These came in various single colors, including red, blue, and black.
The label will tell you which dairy used your bottle, which can sometimes have an impact on the value.
Know How to Spot a Reproduction
As with any collectible item, there are reproduction milk bottles on the market. Some of these are simply modern decorative items or milk bottles used by modern dairies and aren't intended to pass as antiques. However, others are fakes of particularly valuable bottles. Either way, it's very important to understand how to identify these pieces. There are a few ways to know you have a reproduction.
- Use extra caution with bottles featuring Disney images or war slogans, as these are frequently faked.
- If a war slogan bottle is stamped with the date 1951, you know it is a reproduction.
- Check all applied color labels to see if the paint scratches off. A real label won't do this, but fake labels are simply printed on the glass.
- Note that bottles from Wheaton Glass Works are new reproductions used by modern dairies.
Where to Buy and Sell Milk Bottles
Because they were so common only a few decades ago, milk bottles are still very easy to find in antique stores, at flea markets, and even at garage sales. However, if you're a collector looking for a specific style or era, you may have better luck buying or selling a bottle on the Internet. The following retailers are a good place to start your search:
- Milkbottlesforsale.com - This is a site run by a milk bottle collector and is devoted to particularly desirable and valuable bottles. All the bottles are authenticated, and the descriptions include all important identifying information.
- The Milk Maid - Specializing in antique bottles from Pennsylvania, this site also carries bottles from other states. You'll find other related items as well including caps, milk bottle carriers, and more.
- eBay - eBay has hundreds of listings for antique milk bottles, and the selection changes all the time. It's important to ensure that you milk bottle is authentic as soon as you receive it, since this is a common place to sell fake bottles.
- Ruby Lane - This online antique mall also has a good selection of old milk bottles from different eras. You'll also discover associated collectibles like caps and carriers.
Finding the Value of Your Milk Bottle
Before you buy or sell a milk bottle, it helps to know how much it's worth. These bottles can range from about $10 to $200 or more, depending on a number of factors. Assigning value to your bottle isn't an exact science, but it's important to get some sense of the price it should fetch. This process can help.
Check the Condition
Check the bottle's condition. Chips and cracks will greatly reduce your bottle's value, as will excessive wear from rattling in the milk case. However, all used milk bottles will show some scratches.
Determine if It's Rare
See if you have a rare bottle. Unfortunately, rare bottles are vulnerable to reproduction, but authentic pieces can fetch top dollar. According to Collector's Weekly, these include the following types:
- Early glass bottles featuring a domed glass lid and a metal bail
- Bottles made of white or green vintage milk glass, rather than standard clear or amber
- Thatcher brand milk bottles with an embossed label of a cow and farmer
- Bottles featuring Walt Disney characters and images, Hopalong Cassidy, and other popular characters
- Bottles with labels that have war slogans
Examine Current Pricing
When you've dated your bottle and examined its condition, you can look at current pricing for similar bottles on eBay and from sites specializing in milk bottles. This will give you a general idea about the value of your bottle.
Consider a Professional Appraisal
If you have a rare bottle, it may be worthwhile to get a professional appraisal. Although few appraisers specialize in milk bottles, many are qualified to assess value. Ask the appraiser if he or she has experience in determining the value of old bottles before you decide to have your piece appraised.
Ask for recommendations of local appraisers at antique stores in your area.
A Satisfying Hobby
Whether you're a serious collector in search of really rare bottles or a casual enthusiast who loves buying area antiques, there are thousands of these bottles to choose from. Educating yourself about old bottle identification and the market in general will help make this an even more satisfying hobby. In fact, you might as well explore rare, valuable jars too!