Collecting vintage and antique milk bottles

by Debra Tobin

Chances are if you’re over 45, you will more than likely remember the days of home deliveries. Back in the 1950s, home deliveries were predominant in most small communities. Wives often stayed home taking care of the children and everyday household chores while the husbands worked to support the family. With most families having only one vehicle, women did not have immediate access to grocery stores or other shopping venues. This led to home deliveries of bread, milk and other necessities. Yes, delivery men from companies such as Jewel T, Omar Bread, Ucker Dairy, Buckeye Potato Chips and the Fuller Brush Co. knocked on doors throughout the neighborhood selling their goods and wares on a daily basis.

Hartzler Ohio milk bottleGlass milk bottles from Hartzler Dairy in Wooster, Ohio. The family-owned dairy is the only dairy left in Ohio to supply milk in glass bottles and the only dairy to process non-homogenized milk. Vintage Hartzler bottles can sell for as much as $125 each.

Just stroll through the antique markets and you will find old tins, china and many other collectibles from the Jewel T Co.; old newspapers that once were delivered to your doorstep; and old milk bottles from the delivery man who dropped off fresh milk several times each week.

In the late 1800s, milk was delivered in glass bottles, each varying in shape and size. However, glass bottles were not always used as containers for milk. Before 1878, milk men filled jugs or other containers for their customers from churns and made deliveries in horse-drawn wagons or carts. Research indicates the New York Dairy Co. is credited as the first factory to produce milk bottles; and the first patent for a milk container, the Lester Milk Jar, was granted in 1878.

However, it’s Lewis P. Whiteman who has gained notoriety for having the first patented “glass” milk bottle with a small glass lid and tin clip (granted March 23, 1880). His brother, Abram Whiteman, also was granted a patent in 1884 for a glass milk bottle with a dome-type tin cap. This bottle is very rare and valuable to collectors around the globe.

One of the most desirable glass milk bottles by collectors is the “Original Thatcher,” which was patented in 1886 by Henry Thatcher. This was the first milk bottle made with a glass dome lid. Throughout the years, there have been many types of bottles used to hold milk, including a pop bottle-type with a wire clamp.

Cream top milk bottles are also very collectible. These bottles have a bulb at the top of the neck that is smaller in diameter at the base of the bulb than the opening at the top of the bottle, sort of like an hour glass. Before milk was homogenized, the cream would rise to the top of the milk bottle in this “bulb.” The cream was removed and used to make whipped cream or butter. The cream-top bottles were patented by Norman Henderson in 1925.

Baby face milk cream bottleThree glass milk bottles purchased at Scott Antique Markets. The center bottle is a “baby face” cream top Purity Dairy Company bottle, valued at about $60. Notice the bulb at the top of the neck that has a smaller diameter opening at the base of the bulb than the opening at the top of the bottle.

Advertisements have played a major role in many businesses, including the glass milk bottling industry. Dairies either had their names embossed on the bottles or designed the bottles so they could be easily identified by the delivery man. During wartime, slogans appeared on many bottles promoting victory, patriotism, buying war bonds and stamps. Such slogans as “The United States is a sound investment, buy war bonds and stamps” appeared on bottles with a picture of the Statue of Liberty. Today, most collectors seek these or bottles that are embossed or pyroglazed with the names of the dairies on them but it’s the color, picture, name of the dairy, shape and condition of the bottle that also helps determine the value.

Prior to 1930, most milk bottles were round, but in the late 1940s, square squat bottles became the most popular style. Today, you will find many styles of glass milk bottles at antique venues. During the 1950s, the milk bottle started to vanish and was replaced with waxed paper cartons. Sadly, many dairies have gone out of business, and those who remain have found it difficult to compete against large supermarket chains. In order to do so, most dairy owners find themselves resorting to the use of plastic containers to keep their costs down.

However, there is one dairy left in Ohio that still produces milk in glass bottles and delivers it throughout the state. Hartzler Family Dairy north of Wooster is the only dairy in Ohio to not only use glass bottles, but also the only dairy to process non-homogenized milk. The dairy uses a low temperature vat pasteurization process. The family said besides the customers’ love of the nostalgia and seeing the cream line at the top, using glass also prevents the milk from absorbing chemicals from the container.

Glass milk bottles can be purchased at Scott Antique Markets in Ohio and Georgia and are very collectible. Most range in price from $3 to $100, depending on the dairy, size and condition of the bottle.

The Scott Antique Market takes place in Atlanta July 13-15, Aug. 10-12 and Sept. 7-9. The show returns to the Ohio Expo Center Nov. 24-25, Dec. 15-16 and Jan. 21-22, 2013.

rare stamped milk bottleMilk bottle prices realized

  • A Molded clear glass milk bottle with tinned sheet iron hardware (wire top tinned cap and handle with loops), bottle marked on bottom: “A. G. S. & Co., Patented April 5, 1898,” cap marked by manufacturer: “A. G. Smalley & Co.” 8 3/4 inches high by 3 3/4 inches wide, $140
  • Dixie Dairy milk bottle, 5 inches, $12
  • NJ milk bottle, Newton, N.J., $10
  • Pyro Virginia milk bottles, lot of 12 blue and red decals, in Harrisburg, Pa.-stamped oak crate with metal divider, $35
  • Pep Nog milk bottle (modern) 5 1/2 inches, $10
  • Missouri Pacific Lines milk bottle and two B&O railroad orange drink containers, $25
  • Newberg Dairy milk bottle, with red logo “In the Heart of the Willamette Valley” Newberg, Ore., $12

All prices and descriptions courtesy;
all bottles sold in 2012.

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