Friday, March 26, 2010

The Times -They Are a Changin’

At the last bottle show I attended a friend purchased a freshly dug rare western fifth with some very minor content and light ground contact staining. As he was showing me the bottle he mentioned that after it was cleaned it would be in mint condition.

This got me to thinking about how we grade the condition of our bottles and the time and money spent trying to get these bottles to “mint condition”.

Let’s start right off with defining “mint”. Mint condition is an expression used in the description of pre-owned goods. Originally, the phrase comes from the way collectors describe the condition of coins. Mint is the place where the coin was manufactured. Mint condition is the condition a coin is in as it leaves the mint. Over time, the term "mint" began to be used to describe many different items having excellent, like-new quality.

For a bottle to be mint it must be in the same condition as when it left the factory. Agreed? If you agree with the term mint condition then stress cracks, annealing checks and other in making flaws are acceptable distractions to a bottle, it came from the factory that way didn’t it? . Are you still with me on this or are you collecting “perfect” bottles?

Perfection is a philosophical concept and not necessarily a condition of a piece of glass. If you want a “perfect” bottle then just maybe you will need to improve on what the factory manufactured.

Back in the day it didn’t matter if you dug a bottle, bought it or was given it. You had it “cleaned” It was the thing to do. Cleaned? At first, bottles that were stained or even just a little dull, “got the treatment”. By that I mean they were polished to death. Heck, I remember a couple of diggers that worked over at the muffler shop “buffing” their bottles just like the chrome on the mufflers that they were manufacturing. Those bottles were so slick that you couldn’t hold on to them, water ran off of them like off of a duck’s back and the muffler boys were proud as punch of their bottles.

Then there was the bottle dealer from Northern California that was believed to work for some winery in the Napa Valley purchasing bottles for the wineries “collection” of antique bottles.
I was warned by a buddy NEVER to let this joker clean my bottles. “Why” I inquired. My buddy replied “I gave him a Hostetter’s to clean and when I got it back all the corners were round and the embossing was gone!”

The point here is everybody cleaned their bottles in the old days. If you didn’t own a bottle tumbler you knew someone who did and would do your bottles for you. As with everything one thing led to another and the next thing you know folks are buffing out chips, replacing tops, taking mint condition bottles and making them perfect.

As a collector matures and becomes more sophisticated he starts to appreciate the character of a collectable piece. Whether it is the unique handmade appearance, apparent in making flaws or just an honest wear pattern, the not so perfect has become perfect in his or her eyes.

My friend just called to let me know that he decided to just lightly clean the content stain from the inside of the fifth. “Your gonna’ love this bottle” he said, “I left the outside with the original patina, it’s a little dull but original and looks great”

You're halfway there Amigo.


  1. My personal preference is to leave good bottles in as-dug condition. Many of the bottles in my meager collection have light content stain and a little "no-faze haze". A blast from the front yard hose and soap and water treatment is all they get. I remember bringing the green Grange home and blowing out the dirt with the hose. I thought AT was going to collapse. HAR!

    Annealing checks are another off-putting "issue" with bottle purists. Sorry y'all, but they's pufeckly nachul. Nope, those tiny little checks in the neck didn't happen as the bottle was restin' comfortably 'neath the surface, or when it was first brought back to light, but were caused during the cooling of the glass immediately after being removed from the mold. They don't bother me none. No problemo, Señor, ellos me son indiferentes.

  2. Well said O C, The defects in the glass put their by the glass blowers and their helpers "boys" are the primary reason that I love and collect antique bottles in the first place!! If ya want new glass go to safeway.....Andy

  3. Rick,

    You are right on with your commentary! I have been studying western blown glass for some time, and there are many different in-making flaws that these bottles had when they left the glassworks. Crazing,splits,vitrification (crystalization),flashes,bruising,pitting, potstone fractures,etc. All part of the glass making process. It is these characteristics that make western glass appealing to most of us. For those who insist on perfect glass without factory flaws, don't collect the 'early stuff'.

  4. Amen to this,my collection is what it is some are in nice condition and others are cloudy and dull. The problem with condition is too many people are buying bottles for investment. If people want investments buy stocks !

  5. "Investment" buyers are problematic, as they only see a particular bottle from a strict value standpoint, and, in doing so, tend to drive the market artificially upward. These folks know very little about their purchases and primarily concerned with the "bottom line". This practice often times forces the true collector to pony up more for a prized bottle than anticipated, and can also eliminate them from the hobby. Not everyone has their pockets lined with golden thread.

    By the same token, stocks are by and large a poor investment. "Tangible" assets are much more likely to reap rewards, and come without fear of taxation, in most cases. Antique firearms are another collectable that have surged dramatically in the past few years, with quality examples quadrupling almost overnight. By comparison, bottles have remained static, with some exceptions, and are still a bargain in these tough economic times. Hopefully, investment buyers will not stay the course and move on to the next "hot buy", leaving the old glass for us who fully appreciate it for what it is.

  6. Speaking of cleaning bottles back in the "old days"--remember that stuff called Dexter's? When I first started digging I thought that stuff was the bomb. Started using it on everything until I accidentally let a group of bottles sit overnight and found them paper-thin the next day with no embossing. Thank goodness tumbling came onto the scene. Even when tumbling, I prefer a slight stain to remain. There's nothing worse looking than an over-tumbled piece of glass.

  7. OH BOY! Dexter Sundberg. That name goes back a few years. His goop was nothing more than diluted Hydroflouric Acid, a harsh chemical that dissolves glass. Pure Hyd. has to be stored in wax containers as it will eventually eat through even plastic. There was another similar product called Miracle Water that was a popular cleaning solution back in the early '70s, but it would also badly etch bottles if left too long in it. Bad JU-JU! Quality western glass needs only a light cleaning with soap and water. Leave the scuzzy eastern bottles as-is. Sicko stuff like junky Hostetter's get the toss right back into the pit. After packing those things around for decades at 5 bucks, what's the point? The recyclers around this 'hood prob'ly wonder where all the old bottles are coming from.