Bottle Collecting in the UK
by Steve Day
Bottle Collecting really started in earnest in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s.
Since then, it has become one of the fastest growing collecting hobbies, with Bottle Collecting
Clubs all over the country mainly organised on a county basis. There are several quarterly magazines
published, together with club newsletters, and an increasing number of new
Apart from the Avon perfume type bottles, collectors are usually only interested in pre-1920s containers, when glass examples were still
at least partly hand-finished during manufacture. Most glass bottles after this date were machine made and do not have the same appeal as that of
items with earlier, cruder appearance.
Stoneware bottles, used mainly for ginger beer in late Victorian and Edwardian times, continued to be produced individually, by hand, for some
time after 1920. In some parts of the country as late as the 1940s. Most of these stoneware bottles are obtained from digging on long forgotten Victorian and Edwardian rubbish dumps. Many
of the larger U.K. city and town dumps have been discovered and well dug. (That is if they had not beeen built on by
developers before bottle collecting took off.)
Today smaller dumps in woods, countryside and on farmland can be explored with the same success, remember to obtaind permission
before you start digging. As a beginner, finding your first dump could be the hardest part in starting a collection. Obtaining permission
to dig someone’s land is not difficult if you go about it the right way. Sometimes the ‘rubbish’ is just below
the surface but at other locations it could be five or six feet down before you reach a seam old enough to be of interest.
The most popular bottles collected are: Ginger Beers, Mineral Water bottles (glass Codd’s, named after the
inventor of the marble stoppered type; Hamilton’s – glass, egg-shaped bottles which had cork stoppers), Poisons, Medicines, Cures, Inks and Beer bottles. There
is also a variety of other items that turn up when digging old dumps. These include
pot lids, cream pots, ointment pots, clay pipes and china dolls’ heads. All of these
items (and others) come under the general umbrella of bottle collecting. Older sealed wine
bottles and stoneware containers are also popular but are much rarer and older.
If you do not fancy hard digging you can still build up a collection by searching for bottles at flea markets, car boot sales,
(usually cheaper) auctions, antique fairs (can be expensive) and Bottle Shows. The latter take place most weekends in the UK throughout the year.
Bottles vary tremendously in price from a few pence for very common
glass examples to several hundred or even thousand pounds depending
on rarity and condition. Most collectors want pristine items on their
shelves, so bottles have to be in mint condition – no cracks or chips
and the glass sparkling. Generally speaking, glass bottles in unusual
colours are usually rare,[Codds and Hamiltons in amber, green, cobalt
blue or black] as are most coloured top ginger
beers. Pictorial trade marks and strong embossing help with the
price, and local rarities again push the price up. Watch out for a
very famous rarity in the poisons field. It is called a Wasp-waist
and is cobalt blue, flat in shape but with a narrowed waist in the
centre part of the container. There are less than a dozen of these
known and they usually reach £1000 at auction!
The author, Steve Day, has been collecting since 1978 and specialises in ink and veterinary bottles, and ginger beer bottles from the Isle of Wight.
He is a member of the Surrey Bottle Collectors’ Club and is happy to answer any questions regarding bottle collecting.