Stories behind the bottles
Most of us don’t give bottles a second thought. Whether is a condiment on a grocery shelf or an old beer bottle found in basement storage, they are usually thrown away in a recycling bin when we are done with them.
For others, they are a valuable part of our history, with stories to tell from their shape, content and a glimpse of the era of when they were made.
During the 49th Annual Forks of the Delaware Bottle Collectors Antique Bottle Show and Sale held Oct. 21 at Macungie Memorial Park, The Press had an opportunity to learn about this unique glimpse into our history and the club members keeping those stories alive.
The club is comprised of 67 members, mostly from the Lehigh Valley, although there are a few from New Jersey and Bucks County.
So, what exactly is meant by bottles?
“It is everything. There are what they call medicine bottles, beer and soda bottles. You’ll see milk bottles, various types of whiskey bottles. Fruit jars because back then, they did a lot of preserves because everything was home preserved. So, you are going to notice a lot of fruit jars from those periods. You are going to see bottles anywhere dating from, some of these are like 1910 all the way to back to the 1700s,” explained Brad Tucker, one of the organizers of the event.
This brings to mind the value of some of these bottles. According to Tucker, a bottle can go anywhere from $1 to $1,000. “Its desirability, its age, the glass, you name it. Anything can affect the bottle’s price.”
Just like stamps, bottle collecting has its own little niche. Different types of bottles can attract certain collectors.
Jim Etheredge, who is also an avid collector and organizer of the bottle show, pointed out an increased demand for beer cans. This is especially the case for the first bottles of a type of beer or from a new brewery – they can go for high prices.
“Some people collect generically because of their areas. They might want milk ones, soda ones, beers and medicines all from that area. And some people do like I do. I do mostly beer bottles,” he explained.
Commemorative bottles are also popular, especially the ones with reproductions of certain events.
Another interesting fact according to Tucker, “Before they made a bottle completely in the mold, like they do now, the bottle itself was made in a mold. The part from here up (showing the bottle neck), the neck and the actual top, was originally done by hand. They would put a molten hot glass tip of a rod, stick it to the bottom. A guy would be holding it as the other person made the top. When it was done, they gave the rod a sharp tap so it would break away from the bottle.”
“That’s a good way to date your bottles. Because around 1860 ... 1865, moving forward, they no longer needed to do that. They had another way to hold the bottle to apply the top without having to do it with a rod and glass.”
Wandering around the bottle show, visitors will come upon unique bottles, each with a story to tell. It might be the cocaine wine bottle from the 1860s, unique bottles holding certain medicines or beer bottles through the decades. They are all more than just bottles as they represent an era in our country’s history.