Learn these three traits to help determine antique bottle values

By Michael Polak

I want to start with saying “Thank You” to all of the readers/collectors who have sent me some great messages about the first bottle collecting column. It sounds like everyone enjoyed the article, and a number of your questions required extra research. But, that’s OK. It’s how we keep learning about the hobby.

While everyone wanted to know some history and information about their bottles, all of the messages ended with the same question. “What’s my bottle worth?” In fact, whenever I’m selling books and bottles at shows, the most asked question by collectors is, “What’s my bottle worth?”

So, let’s take a look at some factors that will help to determine the value of a bottle.


This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine

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In the “Determining Values” chapter of my book, “Antique Trader Bottles: Identification and Price Guide, 7th Edition,” the following seven factors are highlighted that typically are used to determine the worth of your bottle: Color, Condition, Rarity, Embossing/Labeling and Design, Age, Supply and Demand, and Historic and Geographical Background. Since we’re limited on space in the column, I’ll cover what I consider to be the three main factors – Color, Condition and Rarity.

Bottle Color

While all of the factors are important, collectors will often proclaim that “color is king” since rare colors greatly enhance the value of any bottle. Low or medium-priced bottle colors are usually in clear, aqua, basic amber, milk glass, green, black or dark olive green. While the more expensive bottles are found in colors such as Teal Blue, Cobalt Blue, Emerald Green, Amethyst (Purple), Straw Yellow, Puce, Yellow Amber, Deep Blue Green, Teal Green, Sapphire Blue and Cornflower Blue to mention a few. Here’s a good example, along with photos, to demonstrate the difference based on results from a Glass Works Auction No. 85, held on March 16, 2009:

Lot 34, E. Wormser & Co. medium yellow amber quart, $1,100.

Lot No. 34: “Union”/Clasped Hands-Eagle with Banner/”E. Wormser & Co/ Pittsburg/PA, Medium Yellow Amber Quart, 1859-1870, smooth base, applied ring mouth. Realized price: $1,100.

Lot No. 35: Same exact bottle with the exception of the color: Teal Blue-Extremely Rare and unlisted color that shades deeper in the upper and lower one-third to lighter in the center. Realized price: $6,000.

Yes, color is truly King.

Bottle Condition

There are six variables I use when determining value:

Mint – A bottle with embossing or labeling that has absolutely no damage. Must be clean with vibrant unique color, no chips, cracks, scrapes, or wear of any type. If the bottle comes with a box, the box must be in perfect Mint condition as well.

Extra Fine/Near Mint – A bottle has very slight wear on the embossing or labeling. Slight wear or damaged is defined as a minor, almost unseen small pin-top nick, possibly a light rub (case wear), or light stain. The bottle must still be clean with excellent color. This bottle actually should be as close to Mint as possible.

Very Good/Excellent – Embossing may have slight wear and label is missing or not in good shape. Slight wear or damaged is defined as a minor small nick, possibly a light rub (case wear), or light stain. The bottle must still be clear with excellent color.

Lot 35: Wormser quart bottle, scarce teal blue, rather than yellow amber. The much scarcer teal blue bottle earned $6,000. Photo courtesy Glass Works Auctions.

Good – The overall bottle shows wear without/and or worn embossing and/or missing label. Color is only average and possibly some scrapes and minor chips.

Fair or Average – Bottle shows considerable wear, label is missing, embossing is damaged and color is common.

Poor or Damaged – Bottle has cracks, chips, heavy cases rubs and stains.

Bottle Rarity

There are seven variables I use when determining value:

Unique – A bottle is unique if only one example is known to exist. These bottles are also the most valuable.

Extremely Rare – Only five to 10 known examples.

Very Rare – Only 10-20 known examples.

Rare – Only 20 to 40 known examples.

Very Scarce – No more than 50 known examples.

Scarce – No more than 100 known examples

Common – Bottles such as clear 1880-1900 medicine bottles are abundant and easy to acquire. They are usually very inexpensive and are great bottles for the beginning collector.

There are also a number of unique features or characteristics that can significantly affect value such as pontil marks, whittle marks, type of molds, glass imperfections, slug plates, variations of the lips or tops and the glass house location where the bottle was manufactured. After saying all of this, there is a learning process that will obviously take time.

Along with the time, you’ll gain the necessary experience to better understand what you are doing. But remember, pricing a bottle is not an exact science, so never be bashful about using as many resources as possible, especially fellow collectors. Soon, you’ll be on your way to knowing what your bottle is worth.

Have fun with the hobby of bottle collecting.

Michael Polak has collected over 3,000 bottles since entering the hobby in 1974 and is the author of the “Antique Trader Bottles Identification and Price Guide, 7th Edition.” He previously served as Public Relations Director for the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors and is a contributor to a variety of antique publications. Polak can be contacted at bottleking@earthlink.net.

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