Q & A with Ralph and Terry Kovel
What's New in Bottle Collecting?
The Kovels recently published the 13th edition of their Kovels' Bottles Price
Here is what they had to say about what's happening in bottle
How has the bottle market changed in recent years? What new
trends have you noticed?
Collectors in the 1970s wanted historic flasks,
bitters bottles, and other hand-blown bottles from the 19th century. When these
became rare and expensive, newer collectors began searching for medicines, inks
and blob-top sodas. Today, a show will have milk bottles, perfume bottles,
machine-made soft drink bottles with applied color labels, and fruit jars like
the famous Mason jars.
What might surprise a novice collector?
variety of bottles. Many collect bottles by shape, color or use. We search for
paper-label food product bottles. Others we know collect bottles picturing owls,
sports-related bottles, miniatures or bottles labeled with the family name. Some
new bottles, such as special-event or celebrity-related soda bottles, are
collectible. There are 90 different categories of bottles in Kovels' Bottle
Price List. And there are still great bargains to be found.
you during your research for your book?
We went through a time when there
was a huge interest in Avon and Jim Beam bottles we could have written a whole
book on them but then, interest in them kind of died. Despite, this, we
continued to list them in our books, and then in the last two years, we have
seen a renewed interest in them. Nothing like the big flurry of sales in the
early '90s when liquor store owners put out Jim Beam bottles, and they flew off
But they are beginning to come back, especially sports-related
The biggest change we've seen, however, is in milk bottles and soda
pop bottles with applied color labels. Kids like milk bottles; they're
inexpensive and have funny graphics on them. But there are fakes, with messages
about helping with the war effort, for instance. There is also more interest in
bottles with original paper labels. Some reproduction bottles of the past 20
years are also being collected.
Another surprise we found in our research was
the crazy prices for perfume bottles of any age, and particularly oversize
display bottles made for stores. Ink bottles, particularly blown glass, are
Collectors also want "go-withs" like ads, signs, bottle openers
and milk bottle caps.
Are there major differences between bottle collecting
in the North and in the South?
Every region has had its own bottle makers,
and state names are often embossed on bottles. Many collectors like bottles from
near home. In the North, you can find digs near highways, old houses or trash
dumps. In the South, bricked-in privies are good spots to dig, and so are
swamps, where bottles might be trapped in tree roots or mud.
Today, there is
big money historic flasks and bitters bottles. They are always the most
expensive. Bitters are medicines with a high alcohol content, that were sold as
medicine from wagons. They were very popular in Victorian times because there was little pain medicine then. Some
bitters had cocaine in them, which also relieved pain.
the North often have exhibits of historic flasks because glass blowing
started in this region in the early 1800s. Now, historic flasks are considered
art, and many are found in museums.
But valuable bottles can be found just
about everywhere. A collector paid a dime for a bottle in a Midwest church sale
that later sold for $4,000. Other bottles have been found that were worth
Bottle collecting is a great family hobby. What tips do you have for
Take your family along on trips to dig bottles or to hunt for
bottles in shops and shows. It is a treasure hunt, and a find is always
exciting. Bottles can be found at thrift shops, garage sales, flea markets, and
shows; near road or house construction sites; and, of course, in Grandma's
attic. We remodeled our front porch and found about 20 soft drink bottles left
by the original builders.
Teach your children how to negotiate a price, how
to check condition, what questions to ask about the bottle's history, and how to
have fun by choosing a bottle that appeals to them. They will not only meet
other collectors, but also learn about geography, money and American
Here are some tips for collectors of all ages:
children are welcome at bottle events. A young child should be taught to clasp
his or her hands when walking through a show and never to touch a bottle before
Children are just the right size to search under the
tables at shows. They may find hidden bargains. But be sure they ask first and
move slowly and carefully.
- Collect the best you can find. Don't settle for
a damaged bottle.
- Beware of possible dangers. Old bottles could still have
traces of dangerous contents, like narcotics or poison. Always carefully empty
old medicine bottles. Take safety precautions wear rubber gloves and make sure
the room is properly ventilated.
- Don't display bottles in a sunny window.
Old bottles may change color in the sun.
- Bottles at a show range in price
from free to thousands of dollars. Look at all of them. Encourage your children
to accept any interesting free ones.
- Milk bottle caps, which sell for 25
cents to about $2, can be displayed in glass-front bug collection boxes or used
in the game of Pog.
What books are you working on now?
We have our annual
Kovels' Antiques and Collectibles Price List coming out in October. A couple of
years ago, we wrote a book on antiques up to the Year 1900, and we recently
turned in the manuscript for a new book on antiques and collectibles from 1900
to 2000. We've found there is a different generation of collectors interested in
items from the 1950s and later. They are collecting the hottest new look
things with weird-looking designs. They're not often interested in the earlier
Kovels' Bottles Price List, 13th Edition, by Ralph and
Terry Kovel, Random House Reference, ISBN: 1-4000-4730-7; Price: $16.95/ $23.95
Ralph and Terry Kovel
Flask with eagle and
cornucopia design, $550.
(All photos, Glass-Works
Auction, unless credited.)
Pyroglazed Betty Boop soda bottle, $20.
Teakettle ink bottle,
6-sided, cobalt blue,
3 1/8 inch, $615.
Figural grandfather clock, screw cap, 1885-1910, 7 7/8 inch, $60.