Collectible Bottles - Collecting Theory

Collectible Bottles - Collecting Theory

Why collect bottles? I suppose the simple answer to that question is "Why Not?". Collecting anything is a truly personal and subjective endeavor. It could be because your father or mother did and your carrying on the tradition. It could be because the color or design of a particular bottle caught your fancy or because you see an opportunity to make some money. The reasons are as numerous as there are collectors. No matter what your motivation it's important to follow certain principals that will that help insure your collecting activities are effective and fun.


The Sport of Bottle Collecting

The "sport" of bottle collecting does have a number of advantages when compared to other forms of collecting.

1) It is relatively inexpensive to become activity involved. While it's true that there are bottles that are worth thousands of dollars most bottles, even those of relative rarity, can be purchased for $200 or less.

2) You can approach bottle collecting from a number of different perspectives some that may enhance and support other aspects of your life. You can collect bottles based upon their historical significance, their color, their use, their shape, method of manufacture, their historic significance and many, many other aspects.

3) The bottle you collect can be quite appealing and beautiful to view. They display well so others can enjoy your hobby along with you.

4) It's something the whole family can do. Working the flea markets, garage sales, trade shows or actually going out on a dig can be an adventure that friends, partners, children and other relatives can enjoy.

5)You'll become a member of a community of like minded people with whom you can trade or exchange information or treasure hunting stories.

6) Finally, you can make money at it. While unlikely to fund your retirement, bottle collecting can be a profitable endeavor.


Approaches to Bottle Collecting

Typically an individual gets involved in the collectible bottle market purely by chance. He/ she comes across a box of old, antique bottles in a garage or inherit a collection of Jim Beam collector bottles from a relative or come across a bottle that piques their curiosity. Whatever the starting point is it's important that you approach the collecting process in a structured and organized way. Why? At the end of the day, getting organized upfront will save you time and money. Buy taking a bit of time to plan and develop a collecting strategy an individual will be better able to find that special "deal" when your out hunting, you'll be able to focus you collecting activities toward specific types or styles of bottles and not be distracted or "sold" something that you don't really want or need and finally it will enable you to detect a fake or reproduction, the bane of all collectors, with greater confidence and ease.

So how do you get organized? The first step is to decide which "style" of collector you intend to be. There are two basic approaches to consider; a general collector and a specialized collector. A general collector approaches the collectible bottle effort in a broad, highly subjective manner. They collect bottles that simply appeal to him or her. They see it, they like it, they buy it with relatively little or no concern for the inherent value of the price in question. They enjoy the hunt but beyond the like and dislike issue, they don't have a very clear idea of what they are buying or why they are buying it. They buy a price guide and hit the markets. The second approach is that of a specialist. This approach requires a bit of study and research. Maybe they started out a generalist but their interest in a particular type of bottle deepens or they were burned by an ill conceived purchase and don't want to repeat their mistakes. They may realise that a well conceived and execute collection can have a higher total value than the individual pieces that it composes Whatever the rationale, they take the time necessary to become more familiar with what it is they are collecting.

Either approach works but each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. A generalists doesn't waste time during his searching activities, important to someone who doesn't have much time to spend on his collecting activities. He find something of interests, looks at the price, makes a judgment and pulls the trigger or not. He can build his collection quickly using the full range of bottle sources available. His collection is often often more interesting and personal to him and to a casual observer. Each item in his collection has its own unique story and not a shared history of cobalt blue bottles or civil war era flasks. A specialists, on the other hand, after a brief period of study will be able to quickly spot value or knowledgeably negotiate the appropriate price for an item. Their collection often mirrors their other interests Unlike the generalist, a specialists has access to a community of persons with similar interests to trade with or queried for knowledge.


A bit more about the specialist. There are any number of ways to specialize.

1) Collecting bottles based upon to which it was put is one approach common among specialists collectors. There are roughly 34 different categories and subcategories of bottles based on usage. An individual can collect ink bottles, medicine bottles, tonic bottles, barber bottles, gin bottles,perfume bottles, etc. Within each catalog there can be additional divisions based on color and design.
Another specialization is by age.

The age range of bottles make over the last three hundred years can often be established and collecting colonial, pre-civil war, post civil war, pre or post mass production are approaches used by many collectors.

2) Glass color is another approach. Cobalt blue color sometimes call black glass is highly desirable and collectible. Concentrating on other single colors or multi-color glass is also a popular approach with collectors.

3) For the history buff, bottles tied to historic events like the revolution, elections, etc holds appeal to many.

4) Advertising and marketing people would find a collection of bottles used as a advertising medium of interest.

5) For the artist/decorator in addition to color, the size, shape and decoration of the bottle would hold appeal.

6) Collecting bottles by region, regardless of bottle type is another popular approach.  The combinations and permutations are endless. If you think you'll be alone in an esoteric subcategory of cobalt blue, medicine bottles produced before the civil war don't be alarmed. After a bit of searching you'll find a whole community who shares you interests and enthusiasm and will be more than willing to lend you a helping hand.

Regardless whether you decided to be a generalist or a specialist, you'll need to develop a rationale to use as a framework for your bottle collecting activities. Early on it needn't be detailed nor set in concrete but it should point you in a general direction and set some basic parameters to guide your activities.


Getting Organized

The first element of that rationale to do is to set a budget for yourself. A budget of the amount of time you are willing and able to spend on your collecting activities and a budget of the amount of money you have available to spend. If you are busy 24/7 with work, kids, home, other hobbies perhaps you should take a pass on starting something new. Its not that bottle collecting is especially time consuming but with other daily pressures, the hobby will either languish or will result in feelings of guilt . My rule of thumb is if you aren't will to spend 8 hours a month on studying and collecting bottles, don't bother. The next step is establishing how much money you can afford to spend. This too is subjective and predicated upon your income and current demands on that income. Again if money in your household budget is tight don't start. If you begin to spend money you can't afford, what began as a harmless hobby can quickly become a source of friction. If you decide to specialize, chose your collecting category carefully. If money is short don't decide to collect ancient Roman bottles. Get a collectible bottle price guide and look at the price ranges of categories you find interesting. Make sure you can afford to actively participate. Set a dollar limit on your bottle searching excursions to the flea market. Other things to consider when budgeting are display and storage. Are you going to display your collection? Do you have adequate space in your home? How are you going to display your collection? Do you have sufficient and suitable storage? Be sure to include you significant other in the decision making process. Be sure that the money and time allotment is OK with him or her. Be sure that the category you select is something that he/she does not find objectionable. Who knows, you might end up with a partner/helpmate.

If your a generalist you planning is pretty much done at this point and you can get at it. If you decide to be a specialists there are a few more issues to consider.

There is a general rule in collecting that " it's easier to sell one five hundred dollar bottle and fifty ten dollar bottles". The principal being that it's better to collect expensive bottles than cheap ones. While certainly true for the established collector, it doesn't necessarily hold true for the novice or even the intermediate collector. When first starting out It's important to remember that, while you may have spend quite a few hours studying a category, you are by no means an expert. You want to avoid making a big mistake right out of the gate. So buy lower priced items, get familiar with the intricacies of the category. Examine, touch and feel the higher priced items. As questions of dealers. Your expertise will grow only with time and hands on experience. Do build a collection but start with the common and move to the rare. Yes you may end up with a few dollars tied up in bottles that you can't sell but it's better than having a lot of dollars tie up in a fake or in a bottle you overpaid for.


Record Keeping

The final issue to consider when collecting is record keeping. It's extremely important to compile a complete record of all your bottle collecting transactions and activities. It's important for your learning process and to help value your collection for your own edification and insurance purposes.
The typical item record should contain the following information:

  1. Detailed description of the item: size weight, color, labels, manufacture, manufacturing method.
  2. Photo of the item
  3. Where , when and from whom you purchased the bottle
  4. How much you paid for the bottle.
  5. Value of the item from reputable price guide
  6. Any information about the item given to you at the time of purchased or that you have discovered on your own.
  7. Ownership history
  8. Original or photocopy of receipt
  9. Location ie on display, in storage
  10. If you sold it, record when, to whom and for how much

Be sure to keep a copy of your records, whether on paper or digitally, off site. You would hate to lose you collection and you records at the same time. Be sure to include the value of your collection in your household insurance policy. Some policies will require a rider so be sure to check with you agent.

There you have the basic tenets of bottle collecting. By taking a bit of time up front to study you chosen category, budgeting you time and money and keep good records you will be well on your way to developing a endeavor that will provide you with hours of pleasure and fun. You can point to you collection with pride and a sense of accomplishment.



Tom Landy
A Collectible Bottles Community Member
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