Nolen Hart collects coins, antique Depression Era bottles, and other fascinating old things.
Are Old Cork-Top Bottles Worth Money?
Years ago, bottles of all kinds were sealed using corks, since screw-top lids had not yet been invented. Old cork-top antique bottles can be worth anywhere from a couple of dollars to hundreds or even thousands. As a part-time collector of vintage bottles from the Depression Era and earlier, I've learned that there are many factors that affect how much they are worth.
Factors That Affect an Antique Bottle's Value
Here are some aspects to consider when you're estimating whether or not your old bottle might be worth something.
1. Age and Rarity
The most important factor that influences the value of an antique bottle is its rarity, which is often tied to its age. Specimens from the early age of glass in China could be worth thousands of dollars, even if they are broken. On the other hand, an old cork-top medicine bottle from the 1800s may be worth only a dollar or two, if millions of them survived.
A case in point would be old cork-top vanilla bottles, which were made up until the 1960s. These may fetch as little as fifty cents at a garage sale or in a resale shop, depending on the brand.
Though they are not cork-top bottles, the old green NDNR (non-deposit, non-return) Dr. Pepper bottles from the 1960s are worth over $10 each, since they are very popular with collectors of soda pop memorabilia. (The small green antique Dr. Pepper bottle in the photo above is part of my collection, as is the old Maltine bottle pictured below.)
The value of some old cork-top bottles can affected by the "quirkiness" of the product that it once held. Bottles of "Dr. Hutchinson's Rattlesnake Oil," which might have been sold at a Wild West medicine show in the mid 1800s, would most likely fetch much more than bottles of a more mundane product such as vanilla extract, assuming the rarity, age, condition, and quality were all the same.
Old bottles that once held expensive items such as perfume and were hand-blown by craftsmen are often some of the most valuable specimens.
How to Determine What Your Bottle Is Worth
Checking auction sites, reading price guides, and getting appraisals from antique shops are all good options for determining the value of your bottle.
1. Search eBay
One of the most accurate ways to get an idea of what a commonly traded antique bottle might be worth is to check what it sells for on auction sites such as eBay. You'll typically find dozens of old bottles for sale on eBay at any given time.
Before you start bidding on any pieces, try tracking several of the bottles that you are interested in, then see what the final selling price (including shipping) ends up being. You can also search for sold listings and completed listings to see how much various bottles have sold for in the past (or how much they didn't sell for).
2. Check a Price Guide
Another way to get a ballpark figure of the value of antique glass bottles is to purchase a collector's guide. There are several good ones on the market, including Antique Trader Bottles: Identification and Price Guide. I own a copy and have found it to be accurate within about 40% of the value of a bottle.
Such books are essential to anyone who wants to sell or collect old glass bottles for fun or profit, but realize that they will only give you a rough estimate of the item's value. Old bottles are only worth what a collector wants to pay for them at a given period in time.
3. Get an Appraisal From an Antique Shop
Many antique shops around the nation deal in rare cork-top bottles from the 1800s and earlier. Most will offer you a free appraisal, and some will offer to sell the bottle on consignment for you.
Advice on Selling Antique Glass Bottles
If you decide to put a bottle up for auction, you'll find a few online buyers, but be careful and know who you are dealing with first before any transactions take place. If you find that the value of your specimen may be over $100 (based on a price guide or an appraisal), you might want to put it up for auction with a minimum reserve price and see how far it goes.
The Most Valuable Bottle From My Collection
I've personally never owned any antique bottles that were worth more than $100, but I once had one come very close. It was a bottle from the 1800s for cough syrup that featured a giraffe on the front, and I bought it at a garage sale for just $10. I sold it at auction a few months later for a nice profit.
If you want to see some truly rare and valuable bottles, below is a YouTube video showing the kind of antique bottles that are worth a great deal of money.
Enjoy Collecting Bottles!
Bottle collecting can be a fun and profitable hobby, especially for those interested in antiques and Americana. You might consider joining a local bottle collecting club. There are clubs in each of the fifty states, all Canadian provinces, and dozens of countries around the world.