Collecting antique bottles is a fun and interesting hobby, but it's easy to get confused when trying to decipher the markings on the glass. These markings are the key to telling a fake from a find and to determining the age and value of your bottle. Once you know what to look for, you'll be able to spot a great bottle during your next visit to the flea market or antique shop.
How to Identify Antique Bottle Markings
Although many factors, including condition, rarity, and age, contribute to the worth of an antique bottle, the markings on the bottom or side of the glass can tell you quite a bit about a bottle's history and value. Follow these steps to understand the markings on your bottle.
Find the Markings
To find the markings, examine the bottle carefully. The side of the bottle may be printed with the product or manufacturer's name, and this can be helpful in identifying your find.
Also turn the bottle over. Many bottles have marks on the bottom, and these are important signatures of bottle manufacturers. If the mark isn't obvious on the bottom of the bottle, feel for it with your finger.
If you're unable to read it, try placing a piece of white paper on the bottle and lightly rubbing over the mark with a piece of charcoal or a crayon.
Identify the Type of Markings
After you've found the mark on the bottle, classify it by type. Bottles made in the U.S.A. have markings that fall into a few categories:
- Embossed labels or product names often appear on the sides of bottles. These can include words like "cough syrup" or a manufacturer's name.
- Maker's marks often appear on the bottom of the bottle. These take the form of numbers, letters, symbols, or names.
- Pontil marks are circular shapes on the bottom of the bottle that indicate that the bottle is made of free-blown glass. This mark occurs when the pontil or blowing tube is broken off the bottom of the bottle.
- Mold lines and machine marks appear on many antique bottles that were made during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These often look like narrow lines or small circles on the base of the bottle.
Examine Photos and Pricing Guides
The Internet is an excellent resource for identifying the markings on antique bottles. The following websites can help you determine the manufacturer and age of your bottle based on the markings:
- AntiqueBottles.com has a wealth of information about pricing and collecting antique glass, including a page of photos of various types of pontil marks and manufacturer marks on the bottoms of bottles.
- Bottle Books has a page of photos showing mold lines, machine marks, and pontil marks, as well as resources to help you price your bottle based on type, age, and manufacturer.
- More Bottle Marks is a table of common manufacturer's markings on the bottoms of antique bottles.
- The Bureau of Land Management and the Society for Historical Archealogy maintain a very helpful site for identifying bottles based on their markings. This site include some great photos.
- Collector's Weekly has a great deal of information about antique bottles with pontil marks, including interviews and photos.
Understand How Marks Affect Value
The markings on the bottle can directly affect its value. Some markings demonstrate how the bottle was manufactured, and by extension, its age. Pontil marks typically indicate an older bottle, and older bottles are sometimes more valuable. On eBay, certain pontil bottles regularly sell for a few hundred dollars.
Scarcity is a significant factor in antique bottle values, and certain markings are very rare. For instance, according to Antique Bottle Trader, an amber glass blackberry brandy bottle with a star mark on it from the Pacific Glass Works was valued at about $2200 because only 15 of this bottle exist.
Is It Really Antique?
Understanding bottle markings can also help you spot a fake. According to Historic Glasshouse, modern reproductions typically feature marks that include a date from before 1850. The more you know about antique bottle markings, the better you'll be at finding a valuable and exciting antique bottle for your collection.