Nothing screams “sophisticated” like antique liquor bottles. The kind of bottles with intricate designs, unique colors, and interesting shapes. The ones that tell a story of long-gone days: the years before prohibitionism, the world wars, the massive societal changes…
Human history is full of incredible events, and antique liquor bottles have sentimental value attached to those days. They are a physical embodiment of a moment in time, which is why some people are willing to pay large sums of money for a single bottle. However, before you start your collection of antique liquor bottles, there are a few things you need to know.
In this article, you are going to learn how to spot an antique liquor bottle, how to evaluate it, and where to buy one. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or an experienced collector – this guide will teach you everything you need to know about antique liquor bottles.
Identifying an Antique Liquor Bottle
The first step in collecting antique bottles is being able to identify one. This can be difficult because there are so many different types of liquor bottles, and not all of them are considered “antique.”
To make things simpler, we can break liquor bottles down into two categories: mass-produced and hand-blown.
- Mass-produced bottles are easier to identify because they will have a seam that runs up the side of the bottle. This is where the two pieces of glass were joined together during production.
- Hand-blown bottles will not have this seam because they were made by artisans who blew the glass by hand.
Another way to tell if a bottle is mass-produced or hand-blown is by looking at its bottom. Mass-produced bottles will have a smooth, even bottom, while hand-blown bottles will have an irregular bottom with a pontil mark.
The pontil mark is a small scar on the bottom of the bottle where it was attached to the blowpipe during production. This mark is usually round or oval-shaped and can be either smooth or rough.
Once you’ve determined whether the bottle is mass-produced or hand-blown, you can start to narrow down its age.
Mass-produced bottles were first introduced in the early 1800s, so any bottle with a seam is likely to be from this time period or later.
Hand-blown bottles, on the other hand, were produced until the early 1900s. After that, most bottles were mass-produced.
However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Some hand-blown bottles were made after the early 1900s, but these are usually easy to spot because they will have a machine-made finish.
If you’re still having trouble identifying the age of a bottle, you can always consult an expert. There are many books and online resources that can help you narrow down the date of a mass-produced or hand-blown bottle.
Evaluating an Antique Liquor Bottle
Now that you know how to identify an antique liquor bottle, it’s time to learn how to evaluate it. This is important because not all antique bottles are created equal.
There are a few factors you need to consider when evaluating an antique bottle:
- Age: As a general rule, the older the bottle, the more valuable it is. It’s pretty simple if you think about it — older bottles are rarer because the more time they’ve been around, the more likely they are to break. However, there are some exceptions to this rule (see below).
- Condition: Antique bottles are delicate, and even a small chip or crack can decrease their value. Bottles in pristine conditions hold their value best, and every imperfection drastically reduces it.
- Rarity: Rare bottles are more valuable than common ones. Shocking, I know.
- Packaging: Nowadays fancy packaging is reserved for spirits you give for festivities. Back in the day, it was just what you got. The more ornate the packaging, the more valuable the bottle is.
- Type: Some types of bottles are more valuable than others. For example, hand-blown medicine bottles are more valuable than mass-produced liquor bottles from the same time period.
- Shape: Unsurprisingly, prettier shapes have more value than boring old rectangles. Curved, oval, and round bottles are more desirable than straight-sided ones.
- Size: Bigger is usually better when it comes to antique bottles. Pint-sized bottles are more valuable than half-pints, and quart-sized bottles are more valuable than pints.
There are a few other factors that can affect the value of an antique bottle, but these are the most important ones to consider.
As far as prices go, you can expect to pay anything from $60 for a common, mass-produced bottle in good condition to $20,000 for a rare, hand-blown bottle in pristine condition.
Of course, there are always exceptions to these rules. The most important thing is to buy what you like. After all, you’re the one who has to live with it!
More on Finding out a Bottle’s Age
Age is one of the main determiners of a bottle’s price, because it influences many other things, such as rarity and shape.
Things you should look at to appraise a bottle’s age are:
- Marks at the base: These help you identify the maker of the bottle, which in turn can help you date it.
Editor’s note: Pay special attention to the pontil mark. This is a small raised dot on the bottom of the bottle that was left behind by the pontil rod. Bottles with pontil marks were most likely made before 1860.
- Seams: The fewer seams a bottle has, the older it is. If a bottle has a seam that goes all the way from base to lip, it was most likely made after 1860.
- Finish: The type of finish on a bottle can also help you date it. If the finish is rough or jagged, it was most likely applied by hand. If it’s smooth, it was probably machine-made. Hand-blown bottles are usually from before the eighteenth century.
- Color: Clear bottles were most common before the nineteenth century. After that, brown and green became more popular.
A Deeper Look at Bottles Condition
As mentioned above, condition is a major factor in determining the value of an antique bottle.
But the glass itself isn’t the only thing to look for in a bottle. The condition of the label, closure, and contents can also affect its value.
The label is important because it can help you identify the bottle and learn about its history. A damage label decreases the value of a bottle, so look for one that’s in good condition. This is easily the frailest part of any antique bottle, finding one with an intact label is quite challenging.
The closure is another thing to consider when evaluating a bottle. The most common closure for antique bottles is a cork, but you might also find ones with metal screw caps or glass stoppers.
As a general rule, the older the closure, the more valuable the bottle is. This is because closures were often replaced when a bottle was reused. So a bottle with its original cork is more valuable than one with a replacement.
Finally, you need to consider the contents of the bottle. As you can expect, an empty bottle is worth less than one that’s full.
Fun fact: Whiskey that’s 100 – or even 200 – years old is still drinkable, provided it was properly stored. If you find one that’s been kept sealed, it’s most likely kept its flavor intact. If it’s been opened and then not properly sealed, it’ll probably taste funny. But it’s still drinkable.
The value of a full bottle also depends on the type of liquor it contains. For example, a bottle of bourbon from the 1800s is worth more than a bottle of vodka from the same time period.
This is because bourbon was originally produced in America, so it’s rarer than vodka. And since it’s been around longer, there are fewer bottles of it still in existence.
Of course, the value of a full bottle also depends on its condition. A well-preserved bottle of 200-year-old bourbon is worth more than a poorly preserved bottle of 100-year-old vodka.
How to Evaluate an Antique Liquor Bottle
Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to learn how to evaluate an antique liquor bottle.
The first step is to identify the type of bottle. This can be difficult if you’re not familiar with antique bottles, but there are a few resources that can help you.
One is the Antique Bottle Collector’s Haven, which is a website that has pictures and descriptions of different types of bottles. Another place to look at is kovels, an online price guide for antiques and collectibles. And last, you can always scour prices on eBay and see how much others are spending for their bottles.
If you can’t find the type of bottle you have on there, try doing a Google search. Chances are someone else has already written about it.
If none of these works, here’s a great video on how to evaluate a bottle by yourself:
To summarize the main points of the video:
- Memories create value—so a bottle that belonged to a famous person or was involved in an important event is worth more than one that wasn’t. And even a seemingly worthless bottle can be valuable if it has sentimental value to its owner.
- Value is mostly based on structure and construction—is the bottle supposed to have a cork or a screw top? What about the shape?
- The bottle’s color was to protect the content—so a green bottle is worth more than a clear one, because creating a green bottle is harder than a clear one, making it rarer.
- Seams help identify a bottle’s origin—a bottle with seams running up the side is most likely from America, while a smooth bottle is probably from Europe.
- Residue of chemicals increases worth—this is the most surprising one for me, but if there is residue of the chemicals used to wash the bottle’s content, the value increases.
Now that you know how to evaluate a bottle, it’s time to learn how to buy one.
Buying an Antique Liquor Bottle: The Dos and the Donts
There are a few things to keep in mind when buying/selling an antique liquor bottle.
The first is that you should only buy from a reputable dealer. There are a lot of fakes out there, so you want to make sure you’re getting the real thing.
The second is to be prepared to pay a lot of money. Antique bottles can be expensive, so you need to be sure you’re willing to spend the money before you buy one.
Finally, remember that an antique liquor bottle is a piece of history. It’s not just a decoration for your home—it’s something that tells a story. So take the time to learn about the bottle you’re interested in before you buy it.
Let’s see where you can buy an antique liquor bottle.
eBay is a good place to start your search. You can find a wide variety of bottles on there, and the prices are usually reasonable.
The biggest issue with eBay is that you can’t always be sure you’re getting the real thing. There are a lot of fakes on there, so you need to be careful.
The best way to avoid getting scammed is to buy from a seller with a good reputation. Look for sellers with a lot of positive feedback, and make sure they have a return policy in case the bottle is not as described.
Local Antique Stores
Another option is to visit local antique stores. This is a great way to find a rare bottle, but it’s also more expensive.
The advantage of buying from an antique store is that you can be sure you’re buying a real antique and not a fake. The downside is the higher price.
If you’re really serious about collecting antique bottles, you can also try auction houses. This is the most expensive option, but it’s also the best way to find rare and valuable bottles.
The downside of buying from an auction house is that you have to be prepared to pay a lot of money. But if you’re serious about collecting, it’s worth the investment.
While most people think of Etsy as that store where they bought the cutesy sweater for their parents, it’s actually a great place to find antique bottles.
The advantage of buying from Etsy is that you can find some really unique and rare bottles. The downside is that the prices can be high, so you need to be careful about what you’re willing to spend.
And much like with eBay, you can’t be 100% sure you’re buying an original bottle.
If you only care about aesthetics, Amazon is a great place to shop for bottles. Of course, you’re never going to find an original antique liquor bottle. But if you want a nice looking bottle to display in your home, Amazon has a wide selection. Here’s an example of a good-looking and affordable set.
The advantage of buying from Amazon is that the prices are reasonable and you can find some really nice looking bottles. The downside is that they’re all fakes. If you don’t care about history, and just want a cool looking bottle, then shop here.
Should I Wash the Bottle after Purchase?
This is a controversial topic among collectors. Some people believe that you should wash the bottle after purchase, to get rid of any residue that may be on it.
Others believe that washing the bottle will decrease its value.
I think it’s up to you—if you’re buying the bottle to display, then you probably want to wash it. But if you’re buying it as an investment, then you may want to leave it as is.
How Do I Store the Bottle?
Again, this is up to you. If you’re displaying the bottle, then you’ll want to store it in a cool, dry place.
But if you’re storing it as an investment, then you’ll want to store it in a cool, dark place. Sunlight can damage the bottle and decrease its value.
The most important thing is to make sure the bottle is stored upright. This will prevent the cork from drying out and ruining the contents of the bottle.
The important thing is to make sure the bottle doesn’t get too hot or too cold, as this can damage the glass.
What’s the Best Way to Display the Bottle?
If you’re displaying the bottle, then you’ll want to find a way to show it off.
One option is to use a liquor cabinet. This will keep the bottle safe and dust-free, and it will also allow you to display your other bottles.
Another option is to use a glass case. This will protect the bottle from damage, but it won’t do much to keep out dust.
Ultimately, it’s up to you how you want to display the bottle. Just make sure it’s in a safe place where it won’t get damaged.
Do I Need to Insure the Bottle?
This obviously only matters if you’re buying a bottle that costs tens of thousands of dollars.
If you’re buying an expensive bottle, then you may want to insure it.
This will protect your investment in case the bottle is lost, stolen, or damaged.
You can usually add insurance to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy.
Or, you can buy a separate collector’s insurance policy. This is usually more expensive, but it will give you more peace of mind.
Of course, if the bottle is not that valuable, then you probably don’t need to insure it.
Should I Buy an Original Bottle or a Replica?
This is really up to you. If you’re buying the bottle as an investment, then you’ll want to buy an original.
But if you’re buying the bottle for its aesthetics, then you can buy a replica.
Just keep in mind that replicas are usually made of lower quality materials, so they won’t last as long. It’s all about having a pretty thing to display on your shelves.