Thursday, January 24, 2013

Guest Post: CJ West

Is This Old Bottle Worth Anything?

Yard sales are all around New England on fall and spring weekends. When I have time to stop and meander, I’m drawn to old things. Bottles. Antique tools. Toys and games that remind me of my childhood. I guess those are pretty old, too.

This year I wrote Dinner At Deadman’s, a mystery about a guy who is obsessed with junk and really knows how to spot the valuable pieces in heaps of old stuff. In this tight economy, people are reusing and reselling old things more often whether it is on the curb, on eBay, or on Craigslist. The great thing about the digital age is that if you find something valuable and decide to sell, it is easier to get what the item is worth because the pool of buyers has expanded from the people who drive down your street to anyone browsing online.

Today I’m going to tell you a little about how to look at an old bottle and tell if it is valuable or not. If you’re lucky, something you buy for a quarter might turn out to be worth fifty dollars or more!

So what do you look for when you see an old bottle?

The major difference between valuable old bottles and the ones you see every day is how they were manufactured. Hand blown bottles and those made in the late 1800s and early 1900s have flaws and identifying marks that are easy to spot if you know what to look for.

Start with the glass itself. Bubbles and imperfections in the glass are a good indicator that a bottle is old and is worth the time to research. The color of a bottle is also a good indicator. Many old ale bottles were colored dark brown or green. Poison and medicine bottles were cobalt blue. And while most bottles today are clear, older bottles have a greenish tinge to the glass.

Once you’ve spotted a bottle that might be promising, take a closer look. Examine the neck for a rough ring where it was broken away from a mold. This is usually a sign the bottle is valuable. If you want to spend a little more time, check out this page that shows how the lip of a bottle can help you date it. 

Turn the bottle over and check the bottom for a pontil mark, which is a small scar made when an iron rod used to hold the bottle during manufacture was removed. Another great indicator that a bottle may be very valuable is that it doesn’t sit squarely on its base. This bottle was probably hand blown and could be worth up to one thousand dollars. 

When you have a bottle you think is valuable, it’s time to get an appraisal. You can take it to an appraiser that specializes in antique bottles, but there’s a great way to check the value of a bottle even before buying it. Note the text on the bottle. Bottles made before 1950 have lettering molded into the glass because paper labels weren’t used yet. If you have a smart phone, try visiting eBay and typing the text from the bottle in and see what similar bottles are selling for. You may be able to know you have a real bargain even before you lay your quarter down.

Have fun out there.

If it’s too cold to hunt through yard sales, pick up a copy of Dinner At Deadman’s while you wait for the spring thaw and see what other valuables you can be on the lookout for.

Lorado Martin has loved junk since his grandparents took him bottle digging in the backwoods of New England when he was a boy. The search for antiques and collectibles led him to a unique hobby: digging through the estates of the newly deceased, arranging the sale of goods for the heirs, and keeping the leftovers for himself.

To make a living he builds and maintains housing for recovering addicts and along the way he’s employed a number of his clients. The men wrestle with the siren call of drugs and teach Lorado about the difficult struggle to stay clean one day at a time.

When these two worlds come together, Lorado learns that not every elderly person dies of natural causes and that some estates are sold to benefit a killer. His latest project hits close to home. A woman he’s known since childhood haunts him from a fresh grave. Her grandson, an affable addict who has fallen off the wagon, stands to inherit a considerable sum whether he deserves it or not.

C.J. West is the author of seven suspense novels including The End of Marking Time and Sin and Vengeance, which was optioned into development for film by Beantown Productions, LLC (screenplay by Marla Cukor). C.J. blogs at You can also find him at or at

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