Humble Glass Food Containers
Decorative, Collectible

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, August, 2005


19th Century peppersauce bottle with gothic arch motif, Courtesy Skinner Auctions, Boston, MA

Collectors have long loved the look of glass food and beverage bottles and jars, old and not so old. Now is the time for beginning collectors to look for the many examples of interesting packaging now on the market. One example that caught my eye was the Arizona diet, green tea ,bottle with a colorful Geisha girl motif. Not too long ago 20th century milk bottles were thrown away. Now, collectors search for them and prices keep going up.     

Historically, the earliest jars made in America to preserve foods, were free-blown from 1790 to 1850. These rarities are very expensive, costing from $800 to the high thousands. They were sealed with whatever was at hand; a cork, or a cloth, tied on with a string and coated with wax. Pitch or wax helped keep out the air. By the 1830s a variety of jars for preserves, pickles, etc., were commercially blown in nearly all the glass factories that made bottles. The names of the glass works were sometimes scratched on the side. This is one way to date them. The most common colors were aqua and deep green.      

The first important step in air-tight food containers was patented in 1858 by John Landis Mason, a tinsmith. His invention combined a mold for a jar with a threaded mouth and a zinc screw-on lid. All the jars, for the first time, were a standard size and could use the same lid style. Unfortunately, the zinc added an unpleasant taste to the food.

In 1868 another change was made by the Hero Glass Works. The jar mouth was covered with a flat, glass insert, held in place by the zinc lid. However, it wasnít till 1869 that the bad taste was finally eliminated, when Lewis Boyd of the New York Metals Company created a white glass liner for the zinc lid.   

20th Century milk bottle Photos Courtesy Skinner Auctions, Boston, MA


Rarities, and most expensive, are the New England, mold blown, ribbed jars. In a transparent green with a glass lid, they were made around 1860. Since they werenít mass produced, like other food containers of the period they can cost hundreds of dollars.      

Still affordable are the 19th century pickle jars and pepper sauce bottles. Usually aqua in color, the pickle jars can be recognized by their gothic arch design.

Late 19th century pickle jars were made in amber as well as aqua. Exceptions are the large size that can sell for over $400.

CLUES:  You can often recognize the type of food bottle by the shape. For instance cooking oil bottles were tall and slim. The largest of all of the food bottles was made for pickles and was cylindrical or square in shape with a wide mouth. They were usually aqua in color. Chili sauce and mustard bottles had embossed decorations.      

Inscriptions of makers and embossing ended in 1903 when bottles were machine-made and paper labels were introduced.    

Hand blown, early 19th century food jar. Courtesy Skinner Auctions, Boston, MA


Be sure and keep paper labels intact, they add to the value. This is a must with collecting recently made bottles and jars.      

Keep in mind that color and age count. For instance, Bordenís ruby-red, quart bottle, though made in 1950 by Anchor hocking Glass Co., has sold for as much as $700. However, most Borden bottles are in the $30 range.      

Since Mason-type jars were made by many glass houses, prices depend on how long the copy-cats were made and if made in faulty molds. Strangely enough, since the less than perfect jars were usually destroyed, survivors are rare and fetch good prices.

For many collectors searching for old glass food containers, half the fun is in the digging. Dumps, old farm home sites even their own back yards. If you arenít into digging there are yard sales, flea markets and auctions for the bargains.

If you have any questions, you can Email us at

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