Simple Tips to Find the Value of Old Bottles

From color to condition, a ton of factors can affect how much an old bottle is worth. Consider this your cheat sheet.

Updated November 13, 2023
Antique bottles

Some old bottles can be worth a lot of money, but there are several factors that determine the value of old bottles. From the bottle's age to its color, it takes a careful look to figure out whether you might have a treasure on your hands.

While an accurate evaluation can only be done by someone experienced with antique bottles, you can get an idea of how much a bottle is worth by considering a few factors. Grab your magnifying glass and something to jot down some notes. It's time to figure out whether you have an ordinary relic or an old bottle worth money.

The Age of the Bottle

Finding a five-year-old Coke bottle in the local creek is not going to make you rich. Finding a 100-year-old Coke bottle might put a few dollars in your pocket should you decide to sell it. While not all old bottles are valuable, an older bottle is more likely to be worth more than a newer one.

Pontil mark on an antique blown glass vase. Photo courtesy Retro Art Glass,
Quick Tip

How can you tell if a bottle is old? Seams and pontil marks are two of the ways you can determine a bottle's age. The pontil mark is the mark at the bottom of the bottle where it was attached to the glass blower's pontil rod.

Bottles can be divided into four eras:

  • The Open Pontil bottle describes bottles which were made from the 1600s to about 1855.
  • The Iron Pontil bottle was made from 1840 to 1865.
  • Smooth-based bottles were made from just after the Civil War to about World War I, 1865 to 1917.
  • Automatic Bottle Machine (ABM) bottles were made from 1914 onward.

You can tell the difference between a machine-made bottle and a handmade bottle by carefully checking the seam line. The seam on an ABM bottle will run all the way up the bottle and over the lip.

The Condition of the Bottle

As with any collectible item, the condition of the bottle will play a significant role in its value. The closer a bottle is to its original condition, the more value it will have.

Condition Factors That Increase Bottle Value

Some things can make your bottle way more valuable than the same bottle in poorer condition. These are a few of the items that can increase the value of a bottle:

  • Original label
  • Original wrapping
  • Original box or container
  • Original contents

Condition Factors That Decrease the Value

Just like having the original contents can add to the value, there are a few things that decrease a bottle's value:

  • Chips
  • Cracks
  • Stains
  • Extensive wear
Quick Tip

A lot of people dig for bottles in old dumps, and these bottles often have some condition challenges like staining or lots of wear. This doesn't mean you should toss them back in the trash, though. A rare or special bottle is still worth something, even if it isn't in perfect shape.

Color of Old Bottles

old whiskey bottles

A lot of old bottles are clear, but you'll also see them in an entire rainbow of shades. Besides being pretty, color is important in two ways when you are evaluating an old bottle:

  • Colors that appeal to collectors are valuable.
  • Colors that are unusual for the type of bottle can also add to the value.

In general, the rarer a bottle color, the more collectors may want it. If a particular bottle was created in an unusual color, then these are more collectible as well.

Low-Value Bottle Colors

Although color isn't the only thing to think about when you're looking for old glass bottles worth money, these are fairly common colors that don't add a ton to what the bottle is worth:

  • Clear
  • Amber
  • Aqua

Medium-Value Bottle Colors

Some colors are a little rarer. If you have a bottle in one of these shades, look into it a little more. It could be valuable.

High-Value Bottle Colors

Then there are some colors of old bottles that just don't show up very often. Having a bottle in one of these rare colors doesn't guarantee value, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

  • Vaseline glass
  • Purple
  • Yellow-green
  • Cobalt blue
  • Puce

The Type of Bottle

There are several categories of bottles, and it's no surprise that there are passionate collectors in each category. Some categories are more valuable than others, but there are highly collectible bottles in each one.

  • Bitters
  • Medicine
  • Flask
  • Label under glass
  • Beverages, including whiskey and liquor
  • Cosmetics
  • Druggists
  • Fruit jars
  • Syrup
  • Poison
  • Ink
  • Food
  • Barber

Other Ways to Know the Value of Old Bottles

antique perfume bottle

Value can be a complicated thing, especially when you're talking about antiques. There are a few other things to take into consideration when evaluating old bottles. Each aspect of the bottle's design, age, and character must be taken into consideration when determining its value.

Interesting or Important Bottle Design

A bottle that has a beautiful, interesting, or significant design will generally be more valuable than one that is plain. These have a "cool factor" that an ordinary bottle doesn't, so look for anything a little out of the ordinary.

A bottle that is embossed with the manufacturer's name, location, or other information about where the bottle came from is of more interest to collectors than one that does not.

Loveliness of the Bottle

Some people call it appeal. Whatever you call it, people are drawn to pretty things. A beautifully shaped bottle will be in more demand than a mundane bottle. The same goes for one in a gorgeous color or featuring a special motif.

Rarity of the Bottle

Rarity can be hard to determine but look for colors and sizes you don't see every day. Also, watch for bottles that are unusual sizes or shapes.

Quick Tip

Something rare is often higher value, but a rare bottle is not always more valuable than a bottle that is more readily available. It's also about demand. If collectors don't want it, it doesn't matter how rare it is.

Demand for the Bottle

Demand is one of the primary factors in knowing the value of old bottles. The cost of a bottle can go up or down depending on how many people want that particular type for their collection. A bottle does not have to be rare to be in demand.

Historical Significance

If a bottle was created to commemorate something or has some other historical significance, then it will likely bring more at auction than one that does not. Look for historical figures, important dates like wars, and motifs that represent something important happening at the time. It's also handy to know what was happening in the area where the bottle was made, such as an epidemic.

Incidental Items That May Add Value

These are a few other things to keep in mind when you're figuring out if your bottle is valuable:

  • Location - If the bottle is stamped with the location, it may be worth more to collectors in that area.
  • Type of glass - Milk glass and colored glass can add to the value.
  • Notoriety - Did a celebrity recently start collecting that type of bottle? Was it owned by someone famous?
  • Size - A really big or really small bottle is eye-catching for collectors and can be more valuable.
  • Unusual characteristics - Anything weird about the bottle could make it more valuable. Look for manufacturing mistakes, two colors of glass, and other oddities.

Get a Sense of a Bottle's Value

Collecting old bottles is a great hobby, but it's also fun just to learn about the value of bottles you might find or have in a box somewhere. It is important to know how to evaluate them as well as enjoy their beauty. Getting a good idea of the bottle's value will help you to get a fair price should you decide to sell your find, and it's just fun to know a little bit more about these exciting antiques.

Simple Tips to Find the Value of Old Bottles