Sunday, November 11, 2012

Western or Eastern Revisited

Browsing ebay yesterday, while it was snowing here, I came across a couple of square bitters shaped bottles that were advertised as "Western" by the folks offering the bottles for sale.
Seems like if you have an un-embossed bottle that you want to sell (or for that matter any bottle that's origin is in question embossed or not)  the tag "Western" or "Western Blown" stands us western collectors at attention and ready to pull the trigger on the auction bottle.
I'm not an expert on western glass but for the last 40 years I have been digging and collecting bottles here in the west. Over those 40 years I have learned one thing - not everything is what it appears to be.



The ongoing research on western manufactured bottles, by a number of western collectors, have not only uncovered new and exciting information on "what's western" but have set some loose guidelines on how to possibility identify a western blown bottle.
First off and most commonly sited by western collectors (on the origin of a bottle) are a few things that seem to be of paramount importance to left coast bottle collectors. The location of where the bottle was discovered, the color of the bottle and the condition of the glass.
I don't think any of us western collectors are naive enough to believe that just because a bottle was un-earthed in say California it was manufactured here. Sure, it was obviously distributed or transported to California but that's possibility about as much information, about where it was manufactured, as you can garner from the discovery site.
Color is a whole different ballgame for western collectors. A vast number of western collectors believe you can call a bottle western just by the color of the glass. Colors that are attributed to western glass houses exclusively by western collectors such as fire aqua, western aqua, Squarza blue, deep emerald and a host of other color descriptions are also present in eastern manufactured glass. I think a lot of these color descriptions can be attributed to a small circle of western collectors and have been generally adopted by a majority of western bottle collectors. Regardless of whether or not you believe these colors are exclusive to western glass I believe the majority of western collectors use these color descriptions as a guideline for their western glass acquisitions.

Color - Western or Eastern?
"Fire Aqua" Scovill's Blood and Liver Syrup
Condition is another area of concern to western collectors. I don't know how many times I have heard "It came out of the ground in mint condition, its western!" or its definitely western "it shines like a diamond in the wind" 
I have done a bit of digging and soil condition along with what minerals are in the soil plays a major role in the condition of the bottle.

One overlooked area of western glass criteria is the actual shape of the bottle in question. Early western glasshouse authority Warren Friedrich has brought to light a interesting observation on the shape of western manufactured bitters bottles. "Eastern manufactured square bitters shaped bottles exhibit a typical roundness where the beveled corners meet the shoulder of the bottle. This character trait is very common among squares of eastern manufacture. Most other large squares of western origin do not have this characteristic".

Whether a bottle was manufactured in the west or east does not rate high in my collecting criteria. What is of importance to me is if it was distributed ino the west to be purchased by a western consumer.

Shape -Western or Eastern?


  1. Always an interesting subject, good thought provoking post, Rick. I've been working hard ever since I began researching my book several years ago to be able to positively identify early western manufactured bottles, with some relative success. Even more difficult is the ability to identify which western glassworks may have been responsible for particular containers. Pinpointing the times which glassworks were in operation at the time these various bottles were manufactured and/or marketed was certainly helpful along with other clues. Always interested in discussing thoughts with fellow western bottle collectors.

  2. My strong opinion is that the green square pictured is indeed a western blown bitters. The mold is identical to the "TM" square and shares the same shoulder characteristics. The square pictured looks like the Collins Valley Bitters from Red Bluff, but could have been used by other companies. DM