Dating antique bottles requires knowledge of the evolution of bottle technology and the ability to research manufacturers and bottling companies. Although glass bottles have been made for a few thousand years, it was not until the 19th century that bottle use became common, coinciding with the industrial revolution. By the mid-19th century, embossed lettering and marking on bottle bodies and bases, denoting manufacturers and products, made more precise dating possible. In addition to technology, products and manufacturers, certain types of glass colors will also aid in dating.
Examine the bottle’s symmetry. Asymmetry is an indication of a hand-blown bottle.
Look for mold seams. The earliest bottles were hand-blown by a glassblower with a blowpipe and lack seams.
Is the bottle highly symmetrical, but lacking mold seams? This type of bottle was probably dip-molded and dates after circa 1820.
Is the base indented with an irregular to round pontil scar? This, and no mold seams, is another indication of a hand-blown bottle. A pontil rod held the nearly molten bottle during the final stages of manufacture. The scar was left when the pontil was detached from the bottle.
Bottles Circa 1820 to 1910
Look for side mold seams. If the seams disappear in the neck, the bottle was probably "blown-in-mold" and dates circa 1820 to early 1900s.
Is a pontil mark present along with disappearing side mold seams? This bottle probably dates circa 1820 to 1860.
Do the mold seams disappear in the neck, but the bottle lacks a pontil mark? Blown-in-mold bottles without pontil marks date circa 1860s to 1910s.
Do the mold seams go all the way from the base to the lip? This is a machine-made bottle and dates after 1910.
Look for a "suction" scar on the base. This will be shallower, wider and more perfectly circular than a pontil mark. Bottles with suction scars were made in an Owens Automatic Bottle Machine and date after 1903. The Owens machine revolutionized the bottle industry.
Check for lack of bubbles and uniform glass thickness. This is another indication of a machine-made bottle.
Is embossed lettering present? Most bottles with embossed lettering date from the late 19th century and later. Lettering on the body will give clues to the contents and lettering on the base will give clues to the manufacturer. Both require more specific research to refine the bottle's date beyond observation of technology.
Is the lettering applied and in color? These bottles date after 1940.
Dating Bottles by Color
Is the bottle machine made and aqua- or light green in color? Aqua glass typically dates from the late 19th century to the 1920s.
Does the bottle appear light purple in color? Bottles with a purplish or amethyst hue are made from manganese dioxide glass and date circa 1880 to 1920. The glass turns purple when exposed to UV light.
Is the bottle colorless? Machine-made colorless bottles date after 1905.
Keep in mind that older technology often persisted and some bottles date later than you might think. For example, glassblowers still make hand-blown bottles today. Also keep in mind that bottles could have been used and refilled multiple times. Recycling was very common until the mid-20th century. The lettering “Federal Law Forbids Sale or Reuse of This Bottle” indicates a liquor bottle made from 1935 to the 1960s.
Do not estimate a bottle's age by its shape. Many identical shapes persisted through time and others were brought back for nostalgia and made common again.
- Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images