The Most Valuable Antique Bottles: Identification, Valuation, and Where to Buy (Ultimate Guide)

Humans have packed valuable materials in bottles for more than a millennium. According to historians, Mesopotamian glassmakers invented the first glass bottles around 1500 BC. Bottles have served various storage purposes since then. The oldest unopened wine bottle dates as far back as 1700 years ago in Speyer, Germany.

Over time, bottle collecting has become an admirable pastime for many. People regard various kinds of old bottles as collectibles, including antique medicine bottles, antique perfume bottles, antique milk bottles, vintage wine bottles, and antique coca cola bottles. The old bottles’ beauty, history, and non-decomposable nature amidst other personal reasons motivate bottle collectors.

These propensities have established a significant market for the antique and vintage bottles trade. People extract or keep old bottles to sell to bottle collectors who may buy them at a decent cost.

This guide kicks off by distinguishing between antique and vintage bottles before explaining how bottle collectors can recognize and price various valuable antique bottles. You’ll also benefit from the buyer’s guide on antique bottles attached to this piece. Suffice to say, at the end of the article, you’d be able to identify the most valuable antique bottles and strike optimal trade deals.

Antique Bottles vs. Vintage Bottles: How to Distinguish Between the Two

Antique Bottles vs. Vintage Bottles
Image Source: @simonvintage

Antique and vintage bottles are much different from each other, although various search engine results may redirect you from the search of one to the other.

Generally, antique objects are items belonging to ancient times. A bottle is antique when it’s at least 100 years. Their ages may range from hundreds of years to a thousand years.

Meanwhile, vintage objects are from more recent times, i.e., the period immediately before the contemporary era. Vintage bottles typically predate 1999 but are below 100 years. The term is often used for bottles produced between the 1930s and 1970s.

Most bottle collectors demand antique bottles and consider them more valuable than their vintage counterparts due to their older age, richer history, and rarer designs. Still, antique bottles aren’t always more precious and expensive. Beautifully-designed vintage bottles may be costlier than poor-conditioned antique ones.

Both bottles come in designs and conditions reminiscent of their manufactured era. Still, our focus in this guide is antique bottles, and we’ll cite their more distinguishing features as more sections unfold.

Note:

  • Antique bottles: At least 100 years (100–1000+ years)
  • Vintage bottles: Older than 1999 but less than 100 years (>1999, but <100 years)

Identifying Antique Bottles

Here, we start off by going down memory lane before citing the key, striking features of antique bottles.

A Short History of Antique Bottles

The antique bottle’s narrative involves two eras — the blown glass bottle epoch and the machine automation period. This division is based on the techniques employed in manufacturing antique bottles.

Blown Glass Bottles Epoch

Blown Glass Bottles Epoch
Image Source: @samson_historical

With the prevalence of glassblowing in the 1800s, bottle makers generally produced bottles by glassblowing means. Professional glassblowers blew molten glass into a wooden or ferrous mold. The craftsman performed the finishing touches, such as shaping the bottle lip when the hot compound cooled and solidified.

Bottle collectors are mostly drawn to blown glass bottles due to the diligent efforts required in their manufacturing process and their distinctive appearance.

Machine Automation Period

Machine Automation Period
Image Source: @girlfindstreasure

The year 1892 brought about a major transition in the bottle-making process with the semi-automatic bottle machine’s invention. This new bottle-making technique was much easier than the blown-glass one and didn’t require hand-finishing because the machine designed the bottle lip with the shaft of the bottle.

Machine-made bottles are defined by their relatively uniform appearance. Still, bottle collectors don’t fancy to the same extent as hand-blown antique glass bottles. Hence, they’re valued considerably less than their hand-blown equivalents.

Essential Features of Antique Glass Bottles

There are multiple details to look out for when identifying antique bottles. The bottle makers alter these characteristics over time, hence their significance. So, you can recognize an antique bottle through its peculiarities.

Still, some bottle makers are involved in the production of copycat antique bottles. Copycat antique bottles are bottles that superficially appear antique but are fake.

That said, you can determine an antique bottle’s authenticity by observing the following critical features:

  • Color
  • Shape
  • Embossing decorations
  • Bottle lips
  • Bottle bases
  • Bottle closures (tops)
  • Bottle markings

Let’s explain these in detail.

1. Color

Color
Image Source: @soukeltayeb

Antique bottles typically feature a series of faded colors instead of contemporary ones. The fewer muted shades in modern bottles make color an important determinant of a bottle’s age. Yet, evaluating a bottle’s identity by its color presents several drawbacks. Here are some of them:

  • A bottle’s glass color doesn’t directly specify the glass type employed in the bottle’s manufacture
  • Glass color can’t accurately point out a bottle’s manufacturing procedure
  • The glass color is hardly related to a glass bottle’s function

Here are some well-known antique glass colors and the time frame of their prevalence in the bottle-making industry.

  • Aqua glass: Aqua glass was popularly used from the 1850s to the 1880s.
  • Amber glass: This was common from the late 18th century to the mid-20th century.
  • Black glass: Black glass gained popularity in Europe in the early 17th century, and its use also spanned from the 1840s to 1880s.
  • Non-olive greens and blue-greens glass: These glass colors were produced in the 19th to early 20th century.
  • Olive greens and ambers glass: These glasses were mostly used before and within the 19th century.
  • True blue glass: These glasses were prevalent from the 1840s to the 1930s.
  • Purple, amethyst, and red glasses: These striking glass colors were generally used from the 1840s to the early 1880s.
  • Opaque white glass: This glass color was commonly used from the 1870s to the mid-20th century. It’s also known as “milk glass.”
Colorless or Clear Glass Bottles

Bottles manufactured before the 1870s bore several distinctive colors. However, bottle makers focused on inventing colorless bottles during the last 30 years of the 19th century. The introduction of automatic bottle machines (ABMs) between the end of the 19th century and the onset of the 20th century greatly amplified the clear glass bottles trend.

2. Shape

Shape
Image Source: @mudlarkmelraa

The glass bottle’s shape plays an integral role in helping bottle makers tell if a bottle is antique (or not). Most antique bottles have shapes and styles indicating the bottle’s purpose and the type of contents they once held. For instance, perfume, whiskey, and soda bottles had unique bottle shapes. Similarly shaped bottles didn’t house other products except on rare occasions.

Privately Molded Glass Bottles

Private bottle molds trended in the mid-19th century. In that era, medicine bottle producers and household product suppliers employed privately molded glass bottles. Soon, soda and mineral water factories started using special glass bottle molds.

A desire for a uniquely designed bottle or embossing decorations may have motivated the bottle manufacturers. Regardless, glass companies were fond of the trend. Embossed glass bottles became popular around this time as well.

3. Embossing Decorations

Embossing Decorations
Image Source: @jimwins34

A bottle’s embossing decorations also provide valuable information about a bottle’s age. These embossings could be present in different parts of the bottle. In some cases, a single bottle may have multiple embossing embellishments.

You may research the period the company existed and use the information to estimate the bottle’s age if the bottle’s embossing states the manufacturing company’s name. For several decades, many companies have embossed their names on their product’s bottles.

Similarly, you can learn about a bottle’s use from its embossing effects.

4. Bottle Lips

You can also considerably estimate a bottle’s age by observing the lip. Bottle makers attached a hot glass lip to the bottleneck during the blown glass bottles epoch. This hot lip was soon crafted into the correct shape.

Bottles created before 1870 have a crude lip because hands shaped them. On the flip side, bottles made after 1880 possess more uniform lips due to the invention of a lipping tool. This transition facilitated mass bottle production.

Here are the different bottle lip shapes available in the 19th and early 20th centuries:

  • Flared lip: Bottles with flared lips were commonly used in 1830–1850
  • Sheared lip: This bottle lip shape was popular from 1830 to 1850
  • Applied round band: Various applied bottle lip types trended from 1840 to 1870
  • Applied square band: This bottle lip was prevalent from 1840 to 1870
  • Applied taper: Some bottles manufactured between 1840 and 1870 have an applied taper lip
  • Applied blob lip: These were prominent from 1840 to 1870 like other applied bottle lips
  • Applied double collar: This bottle lip was also designed in 1840–1870
  • In-rolled lip: This bottle lip was popular from 1840 to 1860
  • Tooled with an applied ring: Bottles with such lips were introduced between 1870 and 1910
  • Early screw cap with ground lip: This bottle lip form was common between 1860 and 1910

5. Bottle Bases

Bottle Bases
Image Source: @ggandpopsplace

Analyzing a bottle’s base is another practical means of determining a bottle’s age and use. An antique bottle’s base style relates to its purpose and manufacturing period. In this regard, medicine bottles, whiskey bottles, and old perfume bottles had different base styles.

Some notable antique bottle base styles include:

A. The Push-Up Bottle Base Style

As the name implies, bottles with a “push-up” base have their center pushed upward into the bottle’s base. It’s a common bottle base style conceived in England in the 1820s. Although it was later employed for most bottle types, its first use was seen in dark green antique glass wine bottles.

B. The Key Mold Bottle Base Style

The key mold bottle base features a semi-circle shaped into the bottle’s bottom. It was quite common from 1850 to 1870. Though several key mold bottles exhibit smooth bases, those manufactured before 1855 show a pontil scar.

C. The Open Pontil Bottle Base Style

Open pontil base bottles show an open pontil impression on their bases. The pontil scar is created after the glass blowers remove the iron pontil rod used to hold the bottle during the manufacturing process. Before 1855, most bottles exhibited this base style.

D. The Machine-Made Bottle Base Style

The machine-made bottle base style was common after the blown glass bottles epoch ended. By the mid-1920s, all bottle-making processes had been replaced by mechanical techniques. Bottles with the machine-made bottle base style feature mold seams that go way above the bottle’s lips.

6. Bottle Closures or Tops

Bottle Closures or Tops
Image Source: @corktops

Ancient bottle makers topped their bottles with three main bottle closure types. These bottle tops are distinct from several contemporary equivalents, and they include:

A. Cork Tops

Pliable corks could be forced to seal a bottle’s top despite its shape. They’ve been used since the 18th century.

B. Crown Tops

Crown tops are circular bottle closures with ragged edges typically used to seal beer and soda bottles. They were introduced in the Victorian era and required a bottle opener. Although they were prominent in the machine-made bottle epoch, their popularity was replaced by screw tops in the 1960s.

C. Screw Tops

Although screw tops were invented in the early 19th century, they didn’t enjoy wide acceptance until machine-made bottles gained ground in the 1900s. You can distinguish an earlier screw-topped bottle by its roughly ground lip and its lack of mold seams around its lips.

7. Bottle Markings

Glass bottle markings are one of the most effective ways to estimate a bottle’s age. When analyzing a bottle, you may check for the company’s initials, emblems, names, trademarks, or number sequences.

Antique Bottles Value Guide

Antique bottles possess varying features and thus have different values. When contemplating buying an antique glass bottle, its price depends on the specific glass type.

We’ll enlighten you on all you need to know about the antique bottles’ cost in this section. These pieces of information will enable you to purchase a valuable antique bottle at the right price.

Factors Determining an Antique Bottle’s Price

The following elements significantly influence the price of antique glass bottles:

  • The bottle’s age
  • The bottle’s condition
  • The bottle’s color
  • The bottle type and purpose
  • Bottle design
  • Appeal
  • Rarity
  • Demand
  • Historical Relevance
  • Other factors

Now, let’s talk about each of these extensively.

1. The Bottle’s Age

The Bottle’s Age
Image Source: @thebottlewader

A bottle’s age is an integral determinant of its cost. The older the bottle, the more expensive it is. Although not all old bottles are valuable, older bottles are more likely to be costlier than their contemporary counterparts.

Antique bottles are generally classified into four eras, namely:

  • Open pontil bottles: These bottles were made between the 1600s and 1855
  • Iron pontil bottles: The iron pontil bottle was invented in 1840 down to around 1865
  • Smooth-based bottles: These bottles were made immediately after the US Civil War till around the First World War, i.e., 1865–1917
  • Automatic Bottle Machine (ABM) bottles: ABM bottles have been prominent from 1914 till the present day

As expected, open pontil bottles are likely to be more valuable than their ABM equivalents.

2. The Bottle’s Condition

The condition matters when discerning a bottle’s price like every other collectible. Bottles appearing relatively unscathed will cost more than significantly blemished ones.

Elements that can make an antique bottle more expensive include:

  • Original tags and marks
  • Original boxes and containers
  • Original contents, depending on volume
  • Original wrappers

Features that can lessen an antique bottle’s value include:

  • Chipped parts
  • Dents
  • Cracks
  • Severe wear and tear

3. The Bottle’s Color

A bottle’s color significantly affects the bottle’s price. For instance, antique bottle vendors typically sell bottles with colors appealing to collectors and those with unique glass colors at higher rates.

If you’re interested in purchasing a bottle with a rare but desirable color, you should expect to spend significantly more money than you would when buying a simple antique bottle.

Bottles with the following glass colors are the most pricey:

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

Some medium-value bottle glass colors include:

  • Black glass
  • Green glass
  • Teal blue glass
  • Olive glass
  • Milk glass

Consider these colors if you intend to buy more affordable antique bottles:

  • Clear bottles
  • Amber glass
  • Aqua glass

4. The Bottle Type and Purpose

A bottle’s cost varies with the bottle type and the purpose the bottle served in the past. In other words, some bottle types are considered more valuable than others because of their historical functions.

The most valuable antique bottle types include:

  • Antique whiskey bottles
  • Antique wine bottles
  • Antique medicine bottles
  • Antique bitters bottles
  • Antique flasks
  • Antique liquor bottles
  • Antique cosmetic bottles
  • Antique fruit jars
  • Antique poison bottles
  • Antique syrup bottles
  • Antique ink bottles
  • Antique food bottles
  • Antique milk bottles
  • Antique perfume bottles

5. Bottle Design

Bottle Design
Image Source: @gallerysafina

The bottle design also determines the bottle’s price. You’re likely to spend more money purchasing a well-designed bottle than buying a plain one.

Bottles embossed with the manufacturer’s name, production year, location, or other features are relatively expensive because it’s easy to determine their authenticity.

6. Appeal

Since most bottle collectors seek eye-catching antique bottles, vendors tend to sell them at higher costs. Ensure you’ve got more cash in your purse before deciding to purchase an appealing antique bottle.

7. Rarity

Scarce objects generally have higher demands than readily available ones. By this logic, rare antique bottles are more valuable and therefore more expensive than their popular counterparts in most cases, but not always.

8. Demand

The higher an antique bottle’s demand, the greater the price. A bottle seller is likely to elevate a bottle’s cost if more people seek a particular bottle. Conversely, a bottle with less demand will be significantly economical.

Note: High demand isn’t only related to rare objects. Some popular antique bottles are highly demanded and thus relatively valuable. In this case, other factors are responsible for the bottle’s high demand.

9. Historical Relevance

Bottles reminding people about an important historical event or period tend to be precious and in high demand. Therefore, you should expect to pay more for an antique bottle created to commemorate a special occurrence.

10. Other Factors

Other factors that may increase an antique bottle’s value include:

  • Location
  • Trend: An antique bottle’s value could considerably increase if a celebrity recently collected or started collecting that bottle type
  • Size
  • Unique features

The Best Places to Find Antique Bottles for Sale

Auctions remain one of the most popular means of acquiring antique and vintage items, including antique glass bottles. Still, auctions may not be a convenient means for everyone due to the intense competition its sales processes involve. E-commerce makes up a more befitting means since any interested buyer can purchase antique bottles based on their needs and available resources.

Some suitable e-commerce means of acquiring antique glass bottles include:

1. eBay

The Best for Antique and Vintage Bottles

eBay is a relatively suitable site for purchasing aged bottles. The platform reveals numerous sellers willing to trade antique and vintage glass bottles at various prices and agreement terms. Although registering an eBay account is free, the platform requires paying shipping and other costs once you’ve placed an order.

Its major downside is products may not always turn out to be the way they appeared on the platform, as photos could be misleading. Hence, it’s best to seek a trusted vendor.

2. Etsy

The Best for Hand-Blown Antique Bottles

Etsy is quickly becoming one of the most used eCommerce platforms for purchasing antique items. The outlet connects you with various antique bottle vendors and lets you view past customer reviews to choose a more trusted seller.

Overall, Etsy stands out from other e-commerce sites due to its hand-blown antique glass bottles.

FAQ

What are antique glass bottles?

Antique glass bottles were produced in ancient times, typically at least 100 years ago.

How can I identify the most valuable antique bottles?

You may recognize valuable antique bottles based on several features, such as bottle markings, bottle color, bottle base style, and lip.

Can I get antique bottles on eBay?

Yes, eBay has a large community of antique bottle vendors willing to sell various antique bottle types. However, beware of fraudsters who may sell you copycat antique bottles instead of authentic ones.

Final Thoughts

Antique glass bottles are valuable collectibles that you may keep for aesthetic or conservation purposes. So far, we’ve touched on how to identify, cost, and purchase various antique bottles. Still, you may consult expert bottle collectors to gain more insight about antique bottles. You could also join bottle collectors organizations, such as The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC), and read more books on the concept.

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