Tips for Identifying Glass Bottles & Jars

Tips for Identifying Glass Bottles & Jars

Kimber Watson
Sep 9, 2010

Whether you're a collector of glass bottles and jars, or just an admirer, Martha Stewart Living had a detailed read on the subject in the August issue. And since I was recently given an old bottle for my small collection — one that was found in the ocean quite some time ago — I was interested in trying to see if I find out more information about it.


Delving into glass and its color, it is interesting to note that natural glass is not colorless at all and actually has an aqua tint that requires an added chemical to turn it "clear". Up until the 1900's, the chemical used would gradually turn the clear glass lavender with sun exposure, meaning if you have a lavender bottle or jar, it can be assumed that it is quite old. Spirits and wine bottles were often green because the raw materials used to make the color were affordable. And beer was usually stored in brown vessels because the coloring protected it from spoiling. Milk glass was created by adding tin or zinc to glass. Occasionally holding soda, most milk glass bottles were primarily for cosmetics.

Pharmacist bottles were usually amber or cobalt to protect them from light. Poisons such as arsenic, a common Victorian-era staple, were stored in cobalt or green bottles. They often had a texture to the outside or the word "poison" imprinted in the side, so simply touching the bottle was an indicator of it's dangerous contents.

The shape of a bottle is bound to its function and fortunately, there is no shortage of shapes out there to collect. From tall wine bottles to bulbous wine jugs; stout ink pots to wide canning jars. When examining the shape of the bottle, also take into consideration the mouth and bottom of the bottle as these can be clues into when it was made. Snap-top lids and pyramidal bottoms tell the process used to make the bottle, and the method used to make the bottle can help narrow down its history. For example, three-part molds include a single bottom piece along with two top pieces that form the shoulders and neck. These were used mostly from 1870 to 1910.

If you have a bottle in your collection that you are interested in dating, check out more tips and lots of glassware history at Martha Stewart | Collecting Bottles & Jars.

Image: Martha Stewart Living

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