Guidelines for Determining the Age of Antique Bottles

Estimating the age of antique bottles can sometimes be a difficult task even for the experienced collector. However, by following some basic guidelines anyone can determine approximate age. Although this brief article is primarily intended for American-made bottles, glass from other countries has evolved similarly. This outline covers basic patterns but note that there are exceptions to every rule.

Mold Seam

Most bottles produced in the past 150 years were formed by blowing molten glass into a mold. Molds were made of iron or wood and consist of 2 or 3 pieces. When the bottle was removed from a mold, a faint seam remained in the glass, running from the base to a point somewhere between the shoulder on up to the top edge of the mouth. In a 3-piece mold, a seam often runs horizontally around the shoulder of the bottle with opposing seams on the neck.

To some extent, the height of the mold seam on the bottle can indicate age. However, there are plenty of exceptions to any kind of “thermometer” rule (ie. the higher the seam goes, the newer the bottle.)

Entire classes of bottles break the rule. For example, fruit jars made in the third and forth quarters of the 19th century. Sheared top bottles are another case where mold seam height is not a good indicator of age.

See the Mold Seam Examples page for more details [coming soon]

Base of Bottle

Pontil mark – A iron rod was often stuck to the base of hand blown bottles prior to approximately 1860. This allowed an assistant to hold the bottle while a glassblower would attach and finish the lip of the vessel. When the bottle was broken or sheared, a ring or area of rough glass or grey graphite remained. The pontil is a definitive mark that dates glass. Be aware that reproductions can have smooth, molded pontil marks or sometimes an authentic looking jagged mark.

Numbers and Letters- Such markings on the base indicate late 19th century to present time day manufacture. Occasionally, you will see base embossing of patent dates or the classic Rickets Patent of mid-19th century era.

Wheaton – Indicates glass made at the Wheaton Glassworks in southern New Jersey. This company was prolific in its production of reproduction and other antique-looking bottles and glass which they produced in the mid 20th century to the present.

CB – Stands for Clevenger Brothers, glassblowers also from New Jersey who produced high-quality reproduction glass. Owens bottle ring- During the period of 1890 to 1910, Micheal Owens developed automated methods for opening and closing bottle molds which led to mass production of glass and bottles. A distinctive characteristic of wares made by this method is a thin embossed circle on the base of the bottle, usually found with numbers and other marks indicating year of manufacture, mold number, etc. Bottles with such markings date from approximately 1910 to 1960

Other Guidelines

Specific embossing found on bottles can be an immediate indication of age. Liquor bottles produced after Prohibition (after 1930) are found with the embossing “Federal Law Prohibits Sale or Reuse of this Bottle.” Bottles marked “Wheaton” on the base are probably reproductions made by Wheaton Glassworks in New Jersey in the 20th century. Other common markings include “W.T. Co.” which stands for Whitall Tatum, a turn of the century glass manufacturer. An entire book called Bottle Makers and Their Marks by Toulouse documents the hundreds of markings made by glass manufacturers.

Reproductions

Don’t assume that the old bottle you have is necessarily old or antique. There are a lot of reproduction bottles out there, and new ones that look old are made every day. Modern bottles are sometimes intentionally made to look old and mimic the shape, surface texture and overall appearance of hand blown glass.
Be wary of bottles that have dates on them such as 1776 or others prior to 1850, since dated bottles prior to this time are rare. Bold and garish colors are also rare in antique bottles, so beware of bright reds, greens, yellows and purples. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!
Bottles that are made to look old often are exaggerated in their “handmadeness”. There are huge numbers of bubbles and impurities in the glass. The glass itself is commonly thick, heavy and distorted in shape. Early glassmakers tried their best to make uniform, quality wares; modern makers try hard to make their bottles look handblown.

Mouth of Bottle

Perhaps the most obvious key to age is the mouth of the bottle. As a general rule, screw top bottles (except canning jars) were made after 1910 or so. Cork top bottles generally vanished at the turn of this century. Look closely at the mold seam and where the lip meets the bottle. All truely hand blown bottles have an applied lip. The curious student of glass items will quickly learn when a lip has been formed onto the bottle and when it was applied by hand. Handwork in glassblowing disappeared in the late 19th century. It is a safe rule that after 1890, few, if any, bottles were mass-produced with an applied lip.

There’s no substitute for experience

Take some time to talk with a bottle collector at a local club or show. Examine as many old bottles as you can and ask lots of questions. You will find that you can quickly train your eye to know a lot about the age of most bottles that you will find.

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39 thoughts on “Guidelines for Determining the Age of Antique Bottles

  1. keith gorman on said:

    Found a brown bottle about four inches tall in pomona ny while working on the mtn
    no markings but on bottom the number 7 then what looks like a celtic symbol or saturn and then the num 6 its filled with dirt was partially in the ground at the neck thers one seam another above it but bigger top of bottle flat withtiny tiny seam again?

  2. kyle zaehler on said:

    I dug a small clear bottle out the ground today it is about4 inches tall clear and would have been a corked top it is stamped Wheaton USA with the number 5 on bottom how old is it and it appears to have 2seam lines that go up to the neck but not up the lip and the neck is almost like slightly frosted looking. Please e mail me and help me figure out the age of this bottle thanks

  3. Barry Lewis on said:

    I found a beer looking bottle very thick with WA.S. on the bottem. It is a round bottle but you can see two places where it was put togather. Thanks for any info. Barry

  4. Is it fair to say that a glass bottle that is obviously uneven(lop-sided) around the neck was made by hand?? I found a brown glass bottle about 5 feet down in the ground and this leads me to believe it’s old, but you never know. The only markings on the bottle are on the bottom, and they are “6”, “a logo that looks like saturn”, “4”, and a tiny “8” below them. I am curious to know if this is old and what it actually is. I was wondering if automated glass bottles are ever uneven.
    ~Thanks!

    • Eric,

      This is an great question.

      By the time of automated glassblowing in the 20th century, mass-production was quite uniform. In fact, you see a high degree of uniformity in bottles even for those made in the late 19th/early 20th century before mass-production changed everything. Lips were still applied or finished but you might not even notice any irregularities.

      The numbers on the base do suggest that this is a later machine-made bottle, but I would really like to see a photo.

      One thing I can say is that 5 feet in the ground really is inconclusive with regard to age

      Hope this helps.

  5. I am in possession of a mould for a budweiser beer bottle that was never put into production. How do I find out what this is worth… my father was a glass mould maker by trade, and he gave it to me.

  6. Jimmy Stone on said:

    i have a clear glass cork glass bottle ,12 inch’s and it has a eagle on the front that’s drawn with brown and yellow colored lines and has blue color mountains the same way behind it. and on the bottom it has Liquor Bottle D – 379 64-74 10, and also i have a Brown glass bottle with a cork that has B and B on it and on the glass it says Marque Deposee and under that it has BENEDICTINE and B and B under that.

  7. HAROLD HORNE on said:

    I FOUND A OLD CLEAR BOTTLE WITH A CORK TOP. EMBROSSED ON THE SIDE OF BOTTLE IS THE NAME AMERICAN SUPPLY CO. 32 OZ. FULL QUART ST. LOUIS, MO. ON THE BOTTOM OF BOTTLE IS A DIAMOND WITH A ONE INSIDE OF DIAMOND THE BOTTLE HAS AIR BUBBLES INSIDE OF GLASS ALSO. THE SHOULDER HAS SWIRLS DESIGNS GOING UP TO BOTTOM OF THE NECK.LOOKS LIKE A WINE BOTTLE BUT IM NOT SURE HAS TWO SEAMS THAT RUN FULL LENGTH OF BOTTLE ALL THE WAY UP TO THE MOUTH. CANNOT FIND ANYTHING ABOUT THIS COMPANY ON INTERNET MAYBE YOU CAN DATE THIS BOTTLE FOR ME AND HISTORY OF COMPANY IF YOU KNOW IT.BOTTLE IS ALMOST 12 INCHES TALL.

    • Harold – Early 20th century.

      As with many companies, finding any history is a research project which begins with searching city directories, town records, historical societies, etc.

  8. D. Behnke on said:

    I have 4 Schlitz ruby red beer bottles. When were they made, and are they collectors items? I was told they are probably a special bottle celebrating an anniversary of Schlitz Beer co. ..If so, what anniversary?

    Thank you.

    • They were made in 3 years: 1949, 1950 and 1963. You’ll find lots of information on this page http://www.slahs.org/schlitz/royal_ruby_beer_bottle.htm and be sure to read down since there is updated information near the bottom of the page. As this web page states, 1949 was the 100th anniversary for the Schlitz brewing company. You can find more general information on Schlitz Brewery on its wikipedia page. Some consider them collectible, although there were tens of millions made so they are not exactly rare!

  9. Kyle P on said:

    I have a round glass bottle with an internal wooden screw stopper. It’s about 9″ tall and very heavy for its size. The bottom has the letters “RBB” and there are two seams that stop below the lip. One side reads “Vetus Atque Probum Trademark Redfearn Bros Bottle Makers Barnsley.” The opposite side reads “This bottle & stopper are the sole property of N.P. Sandiford & Son Limited Manchester & Northwich.” The stopper also has the Sandiford and Son name on it. I would like to know what this bottle held as well as its age and value.
    Thank You!

    • Kyle – this is a 19th century British soda / mineral water bottle. If it has a registration diamond mark on the base, you can date it quite accurately. There are exceptions to every rule in the world of bottles but generally speaking these mass-produced reusable bottles are quite common and often do not fetch more than $5

      The registration diamond was used during the period between 1842 and 1883

  10. I am not a colector, but I have a bottle made of wood with a cork bottom. About the size of a quart beer bottle, maybe a little smaller. Cannot find anything on it. Can anyone give me any information?

  11. Cole Smith on said:

    I found a clear bottle. By the mouth there is a little handle. On the bottom there is a symbol that has what looks like an O or a circle with a diamond on it and another small thing inside of that. There is also the numbers 7,4, and 1 going around it and after the 1 is a bubble or period. There are lines towards the top and also toward the bottom that look like some form of decoration. Can you tell me anything about this bottle?

    Col

  12. Linda on said:

    Hi, I have a bottle, aqua color, pontil scar, and sheared lip… picture of Taylor on one side and says “Gen Taylor never surrenders” and Washington on the other side which says “the father of his country.” No other markings. bottle is stained inside. no chips, no cracks. How much would this bottle be worth.

    • Somewhere between $5 and $125 depending on whether it is an original 19th century flask or a modern replica, its condition and several other factors. Before you insist that it is in fact “original,” please understand that this is one of the most reproduced bottles in existence. The only way to determine what you have is via clear photographs.

  13. Mike West on said:

    I have always run across older bottles underneath my 1890s house. But this one was a little different. Square bottle, HYDROL written on one side-from top to bottom. On one corner on the outside of the bottle are increments- starting at the shoulder- of the number 1, going all the way down the bottle to number 15. Apparently to denote measurements. Has screw metal top. I have not been able to find anything on the net about the bottle or Hydrol till I found you. Can I open it up and clean it? Any idea where I can research more on it. Aside from being half buried, it is in v good shape.

  14. Gabriel on said:

    Have a bottle that read ste pierre smirnoff fls one pint. It is a screw top ” looks like original top”. bottom reads r-105 18 dimiond shape (horizontal) 64. Bottle looks good with a few water stians. Need help on where to look for history. bottle is shape to fit your back blue jean pocket.

  15. Superblue on said:

    What is the value for a no seam hand blown wine bottle? I found one in the woods you can clearly see a wavy pattern like hand thrown pottery in the glass, there only one problem it has a whole in the side, maybe I’ll find one intact.
    thanks,
    SB

    • For a bottle like this, it all depends on character and condition. They are common, so most have little or no value, esp. if damaged or roughed up. However, a super crude example with lots of hand blown character in perfect condition could bring as much as $50 or $60. That would be only for the exceptional piece.

  16. Bobbi on said:

    I found a clear glass bottle with a screw cap that is approximately 5 1/2-inches tall. It has “Illinois” raised on the base with what appears to be a diamond with two intersecting circles going through the center of the diamond and is located below the “Illinois” marking. “10 .” is on the left of the diamond and “:2” is on the right of the diamond. The bottle has graduated marks on the front with “cc” down the right side and another unit of measurement down the left (I’m not sure what unit symbol it is). There is a “4” in a circle on the front of the neck of the bottle with a decorative design to the left and right of the “4”. The back of the bottle has a circle and decorative designs on on the left and right of it, but a “4” is not visible in the circle. The screw top is black with decorative lines etched vertically down the sides at different lengths. The bottle seam appears to go all the way to the lip. I know very little about old bottles. Can anyone provide me any info or history for this bottle?

    Thanks

    Bobbi

    • This is a mid 20th century medicine bottle made by either Illinois Glass Company or Owens-Illinois. The Owens merger took place in 1929 and from then until 1954 they used a symbol on the base that is a capital I in a circle superimposed on a diamond – that does seem to be what you are describing. I would guess your bottle is 1940s or 50s. Owens-Illinois is now “O-I” – they have an interesting video on their site on bottle making but unfortunately very little history.

  17. Becky Sprague on said:

    We have recently found a Dr. Kilmer’s Swwwamp Root Kidney Liver and Bladder cure bottle. It is in perfect shape. The seams seem to run only partially up the neck of the bottle with a smooth lip. The bottle is purple and not a single chip. I was just wondering if anyone could give us any iformation about this bottle?

    • Becky,
      S. Andral Kilmer started manufacturing medicines in Binghamton, NY in the 1870s – other family members later joined him in business and they built quite an empire of tonics and advertising. They had their own printing department and produced a huge variety of trade cards, almanacs, calendars, etc. This bottle is quite common yet they bring $10-15 and sometimes a bit more at auction. There are a few bottles made for them that are quite scarce today (namely the Ocean Weed Heart Remedy) which bring hundreds of dollars

  18. i found in my basement a old cork top bottle but no cork. it has to samll handles at the base of the neck and has a rope through the handles made of rope. all it says is two quarts

  19. Jerry Gentz on said:

    I have an “old” wooden stave quart bottle. I have two “bottle experts” look at it and the first said he had only seen two, mine and one other, He suggested it was dated between 1820 & 1850. He through it was either a wiskey salesman’s sample bottle or a vinagar bottle. The second individual had never seen one.

    I am looking for information sources to gain more and better information about my bottle. Can you help?

    Thank you,

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