Humans have packed valuable materials in bottles for more than a millennium. Historians believe Mesopotamian glassmakers invented the first glass bottles around 1500 BC. Bottles have served various storage purposes since then. The oldest unopened wine bottle dates as far back as 1700 years ago in Speyer, Germany.
Over time, bottle collecting has become an admirable pastime for many. People regard various kinds of old bottles as collectibles, including antique medicine bottles, antique perfume bottles, antique milk bottles, vintage wine bottles, and antique Coca-Cola bottles. The old bottles’ beauty, history, and non-decomposable nature, amidst other personal reasons, motivate bottle collectors.
Similarly, the appeal of acquiring antique bottles has been rapidly increasing since the 1970s. The resurgence of collecting antique bottles has numerous spurs. But, one important factor is the rise in popularity of internet auctions.
Additionally, antique bottles are recognized as precious handmade items, and the oldest pieces, especially those manufactured before 1900, are unique. However, bottle collection isn’t always straightforward; it might seem confusing for those unfamiliar with the worth of various antique bottles.
We’ve compiled an extensive list of the 10 most valuable antique bottles and a guide for interested collectors and auctioneers.
A Short History of Antique Bottles
The antique bottle’s narrative involves two eras — the blown glass bottle epoch and the machine automation period. This division is based on the techniques employed in manufacturing antique bottles.
Blown Glass Bottles Epoch:
With the prevalence of glassblowing in the 1800s, bottle makers generally produced bottles by glassblowing means. Professional glassblowers blew molten glass into a wooden or ferrous mold. The craftsman performed the finishing touches, such as shaping the bottle lip when the hot compound cooled and solidified.
Bottle collectors are mostly drawn to blown glass bottles due to the diligent efforts required in their manufacturing process and their distinctive appearance.
Machine Automation Period:
The year 1892 brought about a major transition in the bottle-making process with the semi-automatic bottle machine’s invention. This new bottle-making technique was much easier than the blown-glass one and didn’t require hand-finishing because the machine designed the bottle lip with the shaft of the bottle.
Machine-made bottles are defined by their relatively uniform appearance. Still, bottle collectors don’t fancy to the same extent as hand-blown antique glass bottles. Hence, they’re valued considerably less than their hand-blown equivalents.
A Recap of the Top 5 Most Valuable Antique Bottles
Before we get into the main details of this article, let’s go over the top five valuable antique bottles on the list.
Here are the five most valuable antique bottles since the advent of the antique collection culture:
- The Coca-Cola Original Prototype Bottle (The Most Valuable Antique Bottle)
Valued at $250,000; contour prototype Coca-Cola bottle; created by Earl R. Dean; inspired by Benjamin Thomas
- The Coca-Cola Modified Prototype Bottle (The Second Most Valuable Antique Coca-Cola Bottle)
Valued at $108,000; Coca-Cola bottle; intact condition; made in 1915; manufactured by Root Glass Company; displayed at Morphy Auctions’ Las Vegas gallery
- The Coca-Cola Oversized Display Bottle
Auctioned at $84,000; almost flawless condition; possessed a few broken portions
- The Coca-Cola Christmas Bottle
Reportedly valued between $10,000 and $25,000; pristine and fresh condition
- The California Grapine Syrup Bottle (The Most Valuable Non-Coca-Cola Bottle)
Priced at $12,650; manufactured in the 1910s; remarkably odd with exquisite features
10 Most Valuable Antique Bottles for Collectors
Antique bottles are indeed works of art; some are pretty valuable, while others are astounding. This explains why the market for antique bottles is expanding and their prices are continually rising.
The most valuable antique bottle auctioned for $250,000 in 2011. On April 14, 2019, the second-most expensive antique bottle sold at $108,000. Furthermore, on November 21, 2019, another exceptionally precious antique bottle was auctioned for $84,000. Collectors interested in less expensive yet relevant antique bottles frequently invest between $1,000 and $15,000 for their purchase.
Here are the top 10 most valuable antique bottles:
1. Coca-Cola Original Prototype Bottle
- Price Sold: $250,000
- Designer: Earl Dean
- Year Made: 1915
Earl Dean created this antique bottle design in 1915. The manufacture occurred when Benjamin Thomas, a co-founder of Coca-Cola, proposed that the business required packaging to help it stand out from rivals.
The team chose the Coca-Cola Original Prototype Bottle from a collection of 8 bottles made by several companies.
The bottle’s bottom diameter was less than the middle’s, keeping it from being mass-produced.
In 2011, the original prototype of the bottle was auctioned. It ultimately cost $250,000 ($240,000 + add-ons).
2. Coca-Cola Modified Prototype Bottle
- Price Sold: $108,000
- Designer: Earl Dean
- Year Made: 1915
In 2019, collectors discovered a distinct version of the Coca-Cola Modified Prototype Bottle. The preceding bottle made by Earl Dean in 1915 was modified at Coca-Cola’s request, leading to the creation of this Coca-Cola antique bottle.
In contrast to the original bottle, the redesigned prototype featured a middle that was identical in size to its base. The sole surviving test bottle currently known to exist is this Coca-Cola Modified Prototype Bottle.
The antique bottle was offered for sale at Morphy Auctions in 2019 and bought for $108,000.
3. Coca-Cola Oversized Display Bottle
- Price Sold: $84,000
- Designer: Metropolitan Art Glass Company
- Year Made: 1920
The Coca-Cola Oversized Display Bottle, made by Metropolitan Art Glass Company, has a stunning appearance. This antique bottle has existed for more than a century. However, it still retains its top cap and all its initial glass.
The bottle still functions well despite having a few damaged sections.
This valuable antique bottle was auctioned in November 2019 at a final price of $84,000.
4. Coca-Cola Christmas Bottle
- Price Sold: $10,000–$25,000
- Designer: Raymond Loewy
- Year Made: 1920
The Coca-Cola Christmas Bottle—a rare piece the company hadn’t used before—was found in 2019 while being sorted. The Coca-Cola enterprise had submitted the bottle for approval in the 1920s or 1930s as one of the handy-hold designs that the firm’s management had desired.
The middle portion of the bottle has a horizontal band that is conspicuous and embossed. These features made it relatively easy to grip.
The bottle was still flawless and apparently new during its purchase on April 14, 2019.
Its ultimate selling price wasn’t recorded at the auction, although there was a report that it was worth between $10,000 and $25,000.
5. California Grapine Syrup Bottle
- Price Sold: $12,650
- Auction Place: WM Morford Antiques
- Year Made: The 1910s
This California Grapine Syrup Bottle, created in the 1910s, has existed for over a hundred years. The precious bottle, which had a reputation for being exceptionally unusual, still has its hand-applied label and lip.
The dealer claimed that the bottle was in perfect shape and didn’t exhibit hints of use.
It was sold by WM Morford Antiques on May 16, 2015, for a closing price of $12,650.
6. Cosmopoliet J.J Melchers Bottle
- Price Sold: $7,217.18
- Auction Place: eBay
- Year Made: The 1870s
The Cosmopoliet J.J. Melchers Bottle is among the oldest antique bottles. It was designed in the 1870s.
This unique Schiedam gin bottle is tall (266 mm), has a roughly applied lip, and possesses multiple drop points.
The antique bottle features attractive details and a substantial logo on its side. Its golden olive glass portrays an illustration of a gentleman with a walking staff and bottle.
The Cosmopoliet J.J. Melchers Bottle was in excellent shape at the time of its sale. Its auction record is available on eBay, where it sold for $7,217.18 on July 30, 2022.
7. Mobiloil A Oil Bottles Rack
- Price Sold: $7,130
- Made For: Mobiloil A Motor Oil
- Year Made: 1911
Created for Mobiloil A Motor Oil, this adorable bottle rack travels as far back as 1911. The 8 original imprinted Gargoyle bottles, as well as the corresponding shipment box, are currently on the old service station display rack.
The heavy-gauge wire rack held the historic tin litho panel signs. Additionally, the antique bottles in the stand—which remain in decent shape and retain their initial caps—were never used, as stated by the vendor.
On October 17, 2015, there was an auction for the Mobiloil A Oil bottles. The 8 memorable bottles on the rack brought in a total of $7,130.
8. Giant Owl Drug Bottle
- Price Sold: $4,999.99
- Designer: The Owl Drug Company
- Year Made: Early 1900s
This 9.25-inch antique bottle was made in the early 1900s and had a beautiful cobalt blue hue. The old bottle, which doubled as a salt bottle, bears the impression of “Grandpappy Owl” on one side. On the bottle’s side is a TODCo / TRADEMARK designating that the Owl Drug Company manufactured it.
The Giant Owl Drug Bottle, as claimed by the vendor, is hand-blown and has a tooled top. Again, the bottle exists in perfect shape.
9. Allens Red Tame Bottle
- Price Sold: $4,600
- Auction Location: WM Morford Antiques
- Year Made: The 1890s
This valuable antique bottle has been in use for over 100 years (about 130 years precisely), traveling as far back as the 1890s. Surprisingly, this adorable aberrant bottle still retains its initial label and cap.
It was flawless at the moment of sale, showing no signs of deterioration or breaks. The antique Allens Red Tame Bottle was listed as part of an auction sale at WM Morford Antiques on June 6, 2016.
10. New York Hop Bitters Bottle
- Available to Buy for: $3,780.43
- Auction Place: Available on eBay
- Year Made: The 1870s
The New York Hop Bitters Bottle dates back to the 1870s and has a massive body, thick flag, and unique design. As stated by the vendor, this bottle measures 254 mm tall, 74 mm wide at the shoulders, and 55 mm long at the neck.
The antique bottle shows no considerable wear besides a tiny impact dent on its back. Plus, it has a lovely shade of teal blue.
An Extensive Guide for Collectors and Auctioneers of Antique Bottles
Here, we’ll provide tips on identifying, estimating the price, buying, and selling valuable antique bottles.
How to Identify Antique Glass Bottles
There are multiple details to look out for when identifying antique bottles. The bottle makers alter these characteristics over time, hence their significance. So, you can recognize an antique bottle through its peculiarities.
Still, some bottle makers are involved in producing copycat antique bottles. Copycat antique bottles are bottles that superficially appear antique but are fake.
That said, you can determine an antique bottle’s authenticity by observing the following critical features:
- Embossing decorations
- Bottle lips
- Bottle bases
- Bottle closures (tops)
- Bottle markings
Let’s explain these in detail.
Antique bottles typically feature a series of faded colors instead of contemporary ones. The fewer muted shades in modern bottles make color an important determinant of a bottle’s age. Yet, evaluating a bottle’s identity by its color presents several drawbacks. Here are some of them:
- A bottle’s glass color doesn’t directly specify the glass type employed in the bottle’s manufacture
- Glass color can’t accurately point out a bottle’s manufacturing procedure
- The glass color is hardly related to a glass bottle’s function
Colorless or Clear Glass Bottles:
Bottles manufactured before the 1870s bore several distinctive colors. However, bottle makers focused on inventing colorless bottles during the last 30 years of the 19th century. The introduction of automatic bottle machines (ABMs) between the end of the 19th century and the onset of the 20th century greatly amplified the clear glass bottle trend.
The glass bottle’s shape is integral in helping bottle makers tell if a bottle is antique (or not). Most antique bottles have shapes and styles indicating the bottle’s purpose and the type of contents they once held. For instance, perfume, whiskey, and soda bottles had unique shapes. Similarly shaped bottles didn’t house other products except on rare occasions.
Privately Molded Glass Bottles:
Private bottle molds trended in the mid-19th century. In that era, medicine bottle producers and household product suppliers employed privately molded glass bottles. Soon, soda and mineral water factories started using special glass bottle molds.
A desire for a uniquely designed bottle or embossing decorations may have motivated the bottle manufacturers. Regardless, glass companies were fond of the trend. Embossed glass bottles became popular around this time as well.
- Embossing Decorations
A bottle’s embossing decorations also provide valuable information about a bottle’s age. These embossings could be present in different parts of the bottle. In some cases, a single bottle may have multiple embossing embellishments.
You may research the period the company existed and use the information to estimate the bottle’s age if the bottle’s embossing states the manufacturing company’s name. Many companies have embossed their names on their product’s bottles for several decades.
Similarly, you can learn about a bottle’s use from its embossing effects.
- Bottle Lips
You can also considerably estimate a bottle’s age by observing the lip. Bottle makers attached a hot glass lip to the bottleneck during the blown glass bottle epoch. This hot lip was soon crafted into the correct shape.
Bottles created before 1870 have a crude lip because hands shaped them. On the flip side, bottles made after 1880 possess more uniform lips due to the invention of a lipping tool. This transition facilitated mass bottle production.
- Bottle Bases
Analyzing a bottle’s base is another practical means of determining a bottle’s age and use. An antique bottle’s base style relates to its purpose and manufacturing period. In this regard, medicine bottles, whiskey bottles, and old perfume bottles had different base styles.
- Bottle Closures or Tops
Ancient bottle makers topped their bottles with three main bottle closure types. These bottle tops are distinct from several contemporary equivalents.
- Bottle Markings
Glass bottle markings are one of the most effective ways to estimate a bottle’s age. When analyzing a bottle, you may check for the company’s initials, emblems, names, trademarks, or number sequences.
Factors Determining an Antique Bottle’s Price
Antique bottles possess varying features and thus have different values. When contemplating buying an antique glass bottle, its price depends on the specific glass type.
The following elements significantly influence the price of antique glass bottles:
- The Bottle’s Age
A bottle’s age is an integral determinant of its cost. The older the bottle, the more expensive it is. Although not all old bottles are valuable, older bottles are more likely to be costlier than their contemporary counterparts.
Antique bottles are generally classified into four eras, namely:
- Open pontil bottles: These bottles were made between the 1600s and 1855
- Iron pontil bottles: The iron pontil bottle was invented in 1840 down to around 1865
- Smooth-based bottles: These bottles were made immediately after the US Civil War till around the First World War, i.e., 1865–1917
- Automatic Bottle Machine (ABM) bottles: ABM bottles have been prominent from 1914 till the present day
As expected, open pontil bottles are likely to be more valuable than their ABM equivalents.
- The Bottle’s Condition
The condition matters when discerning a bottle’s price like every other collectible. Bottles appearing relatively unscathed will cost more than significantly blemished ones.
Elements that can make an antique bottle more expensive include:
- Original tags and marks
- Original boxes and containers
- Original contents, depending on volume
- Original wrappers
Features that can lessen an antique bottle’s value include:
- Chipped parts
- Severe wear and tear
- The Bottle’s Color
A bottle’s color significantly affects the bottle’s price. For instance, antique bottle vendors typically sell bottles with colors appealing to collectors and those with unique glass colors at higher rates.
If you’re interested in purchasing a bottle with a rare but desirable color, you should expect to spend significantly more money than you would when buying a simple antique bottle.
Bottles with the following glass colors are the most pricey:
- Vaseline glass
- Puce glass
- Purple glass
- Cobalt blue glass
- Yellow-green glass
Some medium-value bottle glass colors include:
- Black glass
- Green glass
- Teal blue glass
- Olive glass
- Milk glass
Consider these colors if you intend to buy more affordable antique bottles:
- Clear bottles
- Amber glass
- Aqua glass
- The Bottle Type and Purpose
A bottle’s cost varies with the bottle type and the purpose the bottle served in the past. In other words, some bottle types are considered more valuable than others because of their historical functions.
The most valuable antique bottle types are given in the list above.
- Bottle Design
The bottle design also determines the bottle’s price. You’re likely to spend more money purchasing a well-designed bottle than buying a plain one.
Bottles embossed with the manufacturer’s name, production year, location, or other features are relatively expensive because it’s easy to determine their authenticity.
Since most bottle collectors seek eye-catching antique bottles, vendors tend to sell them at higher costs. Ensure you’ve got more cash in your purse before deciding to purchase an appealing antique bottle.
Scarce objects generally have higher demands than readily available ones. By this logic, rare antique bottles are more valuable and, therefore, more expensive than their popular counterparts in most cases, but not always.
The higher an antique bottle’s demand, the greater the price. A bottle seller will likely elevate a bottle’s cost if more people seek a particular bottle. Conversely, a bottle with less demand will be significantly economical.
Note: High demand isn’t only related to rare objects. Some popular antique bottles are highly demanded and thus relatively valuable. In this case, other factors are responsible for the bottle’s high demand.
- Historical Relevance
Bottles reminding people about an important historical event or period tend to be precious and in high demand. Therefore, you should expect to pay more for an antique bottle created to commemorate a special occurrence.
- Other Factors
Other factors that may increase an antique bottle’s value include the following:
- Trend: An antique bottle’s value could considerably increase if a celebrity recently collected or started collecting that bottle type
- Unique features
The Best Places to Find Antique Bottles for Sale
Auctions remain one of the most popular means of acquiring antique and vintage items, including antique glass bottles. Still, auctions may not be a convenient means for everyone due to the intense competition its sales processes involve. E-commerce makes up a more befitting means since any interested buyer can purchase antique bottles based on their needs and available resources.
Some suitable e-commerce means of acquiring antique glass bottles include:
- eBay (The Best for Antique and Vintage Bottles)
eBay is a relatively suitable site for purchasing aged bottles. The platform reveals numerous sellers willing to trade antique and vintage glass bottles at various prices and agreement terms. Although registering an eBay account is free, the platform requires paying shipping and other costs once you’ve placed an order.
Its major downside is that products may not always turn out to be how they appeared on the platform, as photos could be misleading. Hence, it’s best to seek a trusted vendor.
- Etsy (The Best for Hand-Blown Antique Bottles)
Etsy is quickly becoming one of the most used eCommerce platforms for purchasing antique items. The outlet connects you with various antique bottle vendors and lets you view past customer reviews to choose a more trusted seller.
Overall, Etsy stands out from other e-commerce sites due to its hand-blown antique glass bottles.
What are antique glass bottles?
Antique glass bottles were produced in ancient times, typically at least 100 years ago.
How can I identify the most valuable antique bottles?
You may recognize valuable antique bottles based on several features, such as bottle markings, color, base style, and lip.
Can I get antique bottles on eBay?
Yes, eBay has a large community of antique bottle vendors willing to sell various antique bottle types. However, beware of fraudsters who may sell you copycat antique bottles instead of authentic ones.
What’s the most valuable antique bottle?
The Coca-Cola Original Prototype Bottle is the most valuable antique bottle, with an auction price of $250,000 as of 2011.
How can you determine a bottle’s age?
Collectors can use the imprinted manufacturer’s mark or letters on a bottle’s side or base to determine its age. Antique milk bottles and Coca-Cola bottles sometimes include markings or inscriptions that provide information on their age and origin.
Where can you sell an antique bottle?
Finding bottle collectors to buy your antique bottles can be done in various ways, each with advantages and disadvantages. You can market your antique bottle at a store, online, or an auction house.
This article gives comprehensive details of the most valuable antique bottles and their worth. Bottle collectors all have the trait of constantly searching for the most magnificent antique bottles. Accordingly, these exceptional antique bottles listed above are typically more valuable than their counterparts.
We’ve also touched on how to identify, cost, and purchase various antique bottles. Still, you may consult expert bottle collectors to gain more insight into antique bottles.