The allure of sweetened sodas hasn't faded as the centuries have passed since their introduction, and yet for some, the pleasure of collecting used and unused soda bottles from the past provides a far greater appeal than the sweet flavors they impart do. You've probably seen a commemorative Pepsi or Coke bottle sitting on a Great Aunt's shelf somewhere, which she always swore to you that it'd be worth some money one day, and you might be surprised to find out that she wasn't wrong. Antique and vintage soda bottle collections can be expansive and colorful, capturing pieces from a way of life that's since been long gone.
Historic Soda Bottles and Their Changing Shapes
In the first decade of the 19th century, soda bottles were first manufactured in large quantity; these early bottles were rather short, squared, and came with a small neck. Prior to the pre-mixed sugary sodas of the late 19th centuries, these bottles contained carbonated water and flavored carbonated water to be used privately or by soda shop workers. Over the course of the century, soda bottles went through several design revisions, with Coca-Cola lending the longest-lasting shape near the end of the century. Here are some of the notable historic shapes that these soda bottles used to come in:
- Saratoga Bottles: These bottles resemble modern wine bottles with their more elongated necks and cylindrical bodies; they also feature company names across the sides, allowing for both reuse and free advertising.
- Blob-Top Bottles: These bottles also resemble modern wine bottles, but they were made with a literal 'blob' top that looked like a rounded thick lip around the neck of the bottle; these mid-19th century bottles came with gravitating stoppers often made out of rubber that were inserted into the bottle's neck to keep the sodas fresher for longer.
- Hobbleskirt Bottle: The infamous hobbleskirt bottle was released by the Coca-Cola Company in 1915, with all the other soda companies racing to get rid of the straight sided bottles and transition into this curved shape.
Additional Antique and Vintage Soda Bottle Shapes
Although these three shapes are some of the most identifiable bottle shapes from the past, there are numerous design variants that you might come across. These are just a few of the other many valuable antique bottle shapes which you might encounter.
- Early pontil (circa 1838-1845)
- Late pontil shape (1844-1846)
- Soda (circa 1845-1865)
- Pony shape (circa 1852-1905)
- Drugstore shape (circa1855-1865)
- Ten pin shape (circa Ghobadi honey 1844-1910)
- Gravitating shape (circa 1865-1885)
- Arthur Christian shape (circa 1875-1880)
- Hutchinson shape (circa 1880-1915)
- Codd shape (circa1873-1915)
- Round bottom shape (circa 1870-1920)
- Ginger Ale shape (circa 1870-1895)
Identifying Antique and Vintage Soda Bottles
Given that the glass soda bottle hasn't significantly changed since the early 20th century, these historic bottles are easier than some collectibles to identify based mostly on your visual observations. Unfortunately, antique bottles are a little harder to identify by eye given that they don't share the same shapes as modern soda bottles do. However, there are a few characteristics you can look for to help determine if the bottle is indeed a soda bottle, and if so, from which era it was created in.
Pontil Marks vs. Seams
The earliest glass bottles were hand-blown and separated from the glass blower's pontil rod. This separation process causes pontil scars to appear on the bottom of the bottles. By 1914 though, bottles were being manufactured using an Automatic Bottle Machine (ABM). Bottles which were manufactured through these molds have seam lines which run the length of the bottle. So, if you see a scar on the bottom of a bottle, you can probably date it to sometime in the 19th century.
Embossing can give you some important information about a specific bottle's origins since the information that was embossed on the sides of these antique glass bottles was generally branding information. So, you can find bottles with things like the soda shop's name, the company's name, the city it was sold in, and so on emblazoned on the sides of these older bottles.
Paper labels were first made available in 1936, and didn't last very long, having to be reapplied after every wash. However, by the mid-20th century, color technology had advanced so much that soda bottles could feature elaborate and colorful designs on their labels, helping to differentiate one brand from another. These labels can tell you exactly the branded product that you're looking at, and from there you have a key piece of information to start doing further research on the bottle and company itself.
Colored Glass Bottles
Blue soda bottles were popular during the mid-19th century, first being recognized in John Roussel's cobalt blue bottles. Thus, if you find uniquely colored soda bottles, chances are they were created prior to the 20th century, when labeling was the predominate way to differentiate branding rather than bottle shape, size, or color.
Antique and Vintage Soda Bottle Values
The vast majority of antique and vintage soda bottles aren't worth vacation-winning money; rather, these collectibles can fetch between $5-$25 dollars per bottle, with antique bottles being worth just a bit more based on their age. For instance, this 1930's frosted-bottle from Coca-Cola is listed for $15 by one online seller and this blob-top bottle is listed for $45 by another. However, certain brands are highly sought after because of memorabilia collectors, so early Coca-Cola or Pepsi bottles will generally be worth more than unmarked 19th century bottles. That being said, things like having an intact colored label, coming from a commemorative collection, or being completely unopened can add extra value to these old soda bottles.
Take a Sip Out of These Collectibles
Antique and vintage soda bottles are easy to store and come in such a variety of designs, colors, sizes, and shapes that you can amass quite the interesting collection in no time at all. Since the soda industry has been - and continues to be - so high-producing, old soda bottles are unnervingly easy to find. Check out your local thrift shops and antique stores for super affordable priced bottles to help you get your collection started.