Types of Antique Bottles

Part of the challenge, as well as joy, of collecting antique bottles is that these bottles were, and are, so easy to damage or destroy. Even collectors inadvertently chip or crack their pieces from time to time. Fortunately, you can still find pristine examples of antique bottles in many collecting categories.

Poison Bottles
Today, many of us associate the skull and crossbones with poison. Interestingly, skull and crossbones were not actually used on poison bottles until the mid 1800s. In 1853, the American Pharmaceutical Company suggested that all poison bottles be marked with the word "poison" or a death symbol. Later, in 1872, the American Medical Association wanted poison bottles to have a rough side on one side and the word "poison" listed on the other.

Nonetheless, there was no labeling law for poison bottles during this time period. bottle manufacturers were left to their own devices to identify their poison bottles. Some used colors to make their bottles stand out from others, usually dark blues or browns, along with patterns on the bottles so that touch could assist people in identifying the bottles.

As a poison bottle collector, you may find poison bottles in the form of coffins or skulls or bottles in different shapes. Clear poison bottles are rarer than colored bottles. In addition, having the original stopper can add value to the bottle.

Antique Barber Bottles
During the latter half of the 1800s, barbers kept their supplies, such as shampoos, hair tonics and hair oils, in decorated bottles that they could refill as needed. Barbers used the decorations on the bottles to identify the bottles' contents. Bottles might be painted or have enamel decorations. The glass itself might be hobnailed or have coin spots.

The decline in beautifully decorated barber bottles started in 1906 when the Pure Food and Drug Act prohibited the practice of putting products with alcohol content in unlabeled or refillable bottles.

Bitters Bottles
The height of bitters bottle production was between 1860 and 1905, when more than 1000 different types were manufactured. Bitters were a "socially acceptable" alcoholic drink because they purported to "alleviate" illnesses ranging from fevers to impotence. Sample bitters bottles, introduced to the market in the 1890s, were smaller than their standard counterparts, but came in the same styles as their larger cousins.

Look for figural bottles, such as women or drums, or uniquely shaped bottles, such as twelve sided bottles, keeping in mind that embossed bottles are the most collectible, as they are the oldest. Rare colors include amethyst, dark blue and milk glass. 

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