Researching the person named on your antique bottle

“What can you actually find out about the average person named on an 19th century bottle?” In many cases, the answer is not much, or at least not much besides what a genealogist might find out.

I ask you to think about small business owners who you know in your town or neighborhood. How much really is written or published about them? Consider that in the 19th century, there was no such thing as a human interest article in a local paper. Many companies did not print much in the way of advertising – they relied on their local market to sell their goods. In short, it can be a major research effort to find any information.

Some sources of information:

  • Your town / city historical society
  • City directories which often contained ads for businesses. Use to find when someone was in business. Find where business was located. If you get lucky, the ad may say something about the products sold.
  • State historical societies
  • Published genealogies.
  • Sanborn Fire Maps. Available back to the 1880s. Maps show precise diagrams of buildings on properties with property boundaries. Owners of properties are listed.
  • DIY genealogical research. Start with familysearch.org and ancestry.com
  • Books on antique bottles. There are lots of specialty books on bottles. Many are out of print. Many are not found on Amazon or book stores. You need to do some digging online to find what you need. Check ebay.com. Check abebooks.com
  • Auction catalogs. Some bottles, especially those of significant value, get special consideration in auction catalogs. Both American Glass Gallery and Glass Discoveries have done some great work in this regard.
  • Collectors of local bottles for your town, city, state or region.

Washington Taylor, Father of His Country flasks

The Washington Taylor flask described by McKearin as GI-37 is a fairly common item whether they be the original 19th century bottle or the abundantly reproduced 20th century copy. Determining whether one is a true historical flask or just a replica made by the Clevenger Brothers or other late 20th century manufacturer is not always an easy task for the non-collector.

The #37 quart mold is the first of 32 different variations thought to have been made at either Dyottsville Glass Works in Philadelphia, PA or Lockport Glass Works in Lockport, NY. Original bottles exist both as smooth base or with a pontil scar; lip finishes vary from the common shear to single or double collar and even in some cases a square or tapered collar.

Let’s compare:

(1) Some modern replicas are quite different, in shape, size and embossing. It’s the Clevenger Glass Works product which is fairly faithful from the original and causes the greatest confusion. The differences are subtle and in some cases only the experienced collector is going to be able to tell the difference.

(2) Originals were produced in a wide variety of colors, some of which are rarely seen in 19th century bottles. Modern pieces are found in both the common aqua color as well as brilliant green, yellow, puce and cobalt blue, among others. Colors other than aqua should be an immediate warning sign that the bottle is likely modern.

Commonly Found Colors for Modern Reproductions

(3) Modern and old are found in smooth base or with pontil scars. Modern and old can have a plain sheared lip or some type of lip finish.

(4) Both modern and old can show similar thickness of glass; similar straw marks, bubbles and potstones. A common trait in modern examples is the bumpy, “orange peel” effect to the glass surface.

(5) The junction of the neck and body of the modern bottles is often abrupt. As you see in the photos below, the modern examples look like the neck was just jammed onto the bottle. In 19th century bottles, the transition is smooth without a seam or crease.

(6) The bases of 19th century examples are either flat or with a large oval recess. Modern examples have a precisely round concave recess in the bottom center. In some cases, the round recess is obscured by the pontil scar.

Value

Reproductions are abundant and do not have much value. Figure $5-20 decorative value. Originals without damage begin in the $75-100 range for aqua and can reach into the $20-30 thousand dollar range for a great example in a rare color. $2-6 thousand is more typical for a good quality colored example.