Learning About and Spotting Value in Antique Bottles

As a child in Kentucky, I remember collectors would often go to the old buildings around town to dig for antique bottles. Out in the country was also a favorite place to search for antique bottle treasures, because the farmers often used their trash to fill gullies to stop erosion. In fact, anywhere trash had been disposed of is a place people would hunt for antique bottles.


If you are new to collecting these great pieces from our country’s past or considering collecting or dealing in antique bottles, it’s important to know that there are a lot of fakes out there. While there are excellent bottle guides on the market, increasing your knowledge and depending on an expert you’ve cultivated a relationship with is a good idea. It’s also very important to have a good close up look at many bottles and to handle them over and over again before you begin to trust your own judgment.

One of the best places I’ve found to learn more about antique bottles is through the Society of Historical Archaeology and Bureau of Land Management’s Historic Glass Bottle Identification and Information Website. It’s possible to spend an untold number of hours looking at their examples, reading, and going through their links.
While they don’t discuss value on the site, many of the sites they refer will discuss value.

There are many different types of bottles, and there are collectors for all of them. Some of the bottle types are liquor/spirits bottles, medicinal bottles which the druggists used, food and canning jars, beer and ale bottles, soda and mineral water bottles, and ink wells, just to name a few.

As in all categories of antiques and collectibles, there are those items that are considered more valuable and sought after than others, and antique bottles are no different. Rarity, color, condition, and age are a few important components when evaluating whether or not you’ve run across a valuable bottle. An old, rare bottle in poor condition might not be worth much.

Bottles that have raised lettering can be very desirable, and colors in blue, green, yellow, amber, grayish purple and variations of these are highly desirable. Clear or aqua colored bottles are generally less desired, and so, less valuable. There are exceptions, however.

If you find a bottle that has a circular indentation on the bottom of its base, chances are the bottle was made before 1860. This indentation (the pontil) shows where the bottle was separated from the rod after it was made.


I run across many bottles and flasks at many of the sales I attend, however, this is not one of my strongest areas. I have probably passed by terrific finds while I was out looking at paintings or pottery, however, I’m seriously considering expanding my horizons after reading Maine Antique Digest’s bottle auction results. The results showed that a brilliant yellow railroad flask made by Lancaster Glass Works of Lancaster, New York, estimated to sell between $10,000 – $20,000, sold for a whopping $29,000. While the remaining bottles weren’t hammered at such an astonishing price, these bottles managed to top over $3,000, and several came in over $10,000. It makes me wonder if it might be a good idea to risk a few dollars if I run across some at a garage sale.


Bottle collecting is of great interest to many, and there are many antique bottle clubs, magazines, and guides to help you start a collection or aid in adding antique bottles to your list of items for trade. When you come across a real find, I can safely say there will be multiple buyers lined up for it.

Everyday, members of the 31 Club, which I lead, are increasing their knowledge base about antique and collectible items just like these antique bottles. 31 Club helps take the mystery out of spotting valuable items, instructs members how to make money in these markets, and then we show how to grow your profits into lifetime wealth. All by buying, selling and reinvesting in antiques, collectibles and art.

Find out more about The 31 Club, based upon the book, “31 Steps to Your Millions in Antiques & Collectibles” at http://www.31corp.co…


The Society of Historical Archaeology together with the U.S Department of the Interior/Bureau of Land Management

www.AmericanBottle.c… has a good history of glass



The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors

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  1. Jan West says:

    I have several antique bottles in my possession. I know that they are authentic because either my husband, my sons or myself dug them up from old dump sites in Illinois. I have some from Indiana. Valparasio, Pullman and many other sites. How can I list them and where would you suggest I go for the best price

  2. Josh says:

    When I grew up in Illinois, we would find the waste of old hobo camps and townie dumps along abandoned railroads as well.

  3. Josh says:

    Feel free to post or enjoy more old bottle information at: http://www.bottleantiques.com

  4. maddygirl says:

    I have a question about Harding Black pottery. I have a cylindrical vase approx. 6″ tall which I purchased at an estate sale for $2.00 with the Hardng Black signature and a date on the bottom in black. Since I bought this I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on the internet and I have noticed that most of his pieces are described as having the signature and date incised rather than signed, with the exception of one or two pieces. Thanks for any information you can provide on this mystery! I’d love to know if I have the real thing or a fake…
    Thanks so much!

  5. mary says:

    have you found out anything about your piece? I too have a signed piece, a heavy blue coffee mug. Looking for info.