Glass is fantastic, isn’t it? From containers for putting up vegetables and jams to decorative flower vases, glass is a universal substance. I remember reading Robinson Crusoe as a kid, and when he made pots on the fire, the sand within started to turn to glass. It was my first scientific explanation of where glass came from.
Like modern glassware, ancient bottles relied on three basic ingredients: Sand or silica, sodium carbonate, and lime, also known as calcium oxide.
Like many baby boomers, my early life was full of glass. Milk came in glass bottles, shampoo, ketchup, and of course all our favorite soft drinks. Although a little more expensive, I’ll still buy a cold Coke or Pepsi on a hot day in a glass bottle because they really do taste better.
There is a lot of information on the web about which is better – plastic, glass, or aluminum – when it comes to the health of our planet. I’m not here to preach, but just so you know aluminum is the clear winner, with glass coming in second. Plastic may be killing us all.
Now, this post is all about collecting glass containers as a hobby or even a profession. I was recently at a Holiday Craft Bazaar and meet Don Rothrock who buys and sells glass bottles. He had an excellent display of everything from vinegar and mayonnaise containers, perfume bottles and whiskey bottles, and more. Some of his most eye-catching items were an assortment of soft drink bottles. I confess I was drawn to the old Mountain Dew bottles with the Hillbilly Man shooting his gun off into the distance. Two of the bottles in the collection were Christmas Coca-Cola bottles. It seems, at one time, each county in North Carolina (there are 100) had their own bottling plant. Each plant would manufacture its own Christmas bottle. No painted Santa or some other festive design to catch the eye like today’s canned drinks. Just the word Christmas is embossed in the glass with a number registering it to the appropriate plant. Neither of the bottles seemed terribly overpriced for such unique items from the early days of soft drink distribution.
The rarest and most prized bottles include mouthblown glass bottles (as opposed to machine-made), especially those with interesting shapes, like figural bitters; dire warnings, like those on medicine and poison bottles; or other unusual embossings.
In talking with Don, I learned there are hundreds of different types of soft drink bottles produced from the 1800s to the late 1970s. Why the 1970s? That is when aluminum cans became the industry standard, and that would give way to the plastic bottle. Vintage bottles sell from $10 to $30, with rare brands, anniversary editions, and unique designs selling for more.
If you’re a bottle freak, I encourage you to check out the Bottle House in Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina. Created in honor of artist/garden gatekeeper Minnie Evans, the house is constructed of bottles of all shapes and sizes. From pancake syrup bottles, boot bottles, and so many more bottles all donated by the community for the project. Go in the day to seek and find all the different examples of glass, and return at night to see the house lite up. It’s amazing.