How to Identify & Value Antique Medicine Bottles

Did you know that antiques with signs of damage are incredibly valuable? And not only tables or chairs but also unusual artifacts like 18th-century medicine bottles are precious. But how can you identify an ancient medicine bottle and estimate its worth?

Today, we’ll discuss some factors to value vintage medicine bottles and curate a checklist to understand better. So, let’s explore more!

Key Takeaways

  • You can identify antique medicine bottles based on their age, color, and shape. The oldest bottles in darker, black, or amber shades will be the most valuable. 
  • ‘Branded’ medicine bottles fetch more returns than ‘non-branded’ ones. So, it’s important to check the brand valuation. 
  • Marks, chips, or cracks may devalue the antiques. But limited edition antique bottles are always valued more regardless of their condition. 
  • It’s best to analyze the bottle’s thickness as most high-valued bottles will be thick and slightly crude. For more identification and valuation parameters, read along! 

What Do Antique Medicine Bottles Look Like?

Three old antique medicine bottles

Not all antique bottles have asymmetrical designs and crooked edges. In fact, most medieval antique bottles have heavier glass and cabin-shaped sections. But how do you sort out different medicine bottles?

Here are various attributes of antique medicine bottles:

  • Clear, embossed labeling and date on the sides
  • Brownish plastic, acrylic, or glass surfaces
  • Often have a circular rod or ‘pontil’ mark at the base of the bottle
  • Complex structure with machine molding at the base and hand molding at the top and neck
  • Wider seams and a sheared bottle lip
  • Inscribed slogans, messages, and ingredients on the inside edge

The History & Evolution

Medicine bottles popped up in the 18th and 19th centuries. But, they were hand-blown and had textured forms with different patterns and dots. And, such uneven bottles are in high demand and value even today!

However, these bottles had lighter glass and narrower necks with brittle walls. So, different manufacturers explored various shapes to make them storable and leak-proof.

They further explored different colors and added amber or blue tinges for easy visibility. And all these combinations lead to fancier, unique medicine bottles that are held in high regard today.

Types of Antique Medicine Bottles

Antique medicine bottles have different shapes, colors, and conditions but have four types in valuation. So, let’s discuss these types and explore the cost of each!

1. Prescription Medicine Bottles

Dr. Pierce's Prescription Medicine Bottle
Image: flickr.com/photos/counselman

Prescription bottles are local pharmacy syrup or ointment bottles with a clear manufacturer stamp and logo. They are mostly rectangular or cylindrical and are machine-blown with a clear finish. So, they have a lower value from $5 – 15, as per the size.

2. Bitters and Tonics

Bitters bottles are relatively new bottles with thicker walls and darker colors to preserve the alcohol content in them. But, they have various shapes – squarish, barrel, cylindrical and conical, and come with a zig-zag finish that increases their price.

These bottles come with different lid options and might have bent or curved lips and a smooth pontil at the bottom. So, they are highly valued at $500 – 2000 per bottle.

Bitter Bottles are further classified as follows:

  • Boker Bitters: These are brown or olive-green syrup bottles with a long neck and a barrel-like appearance. They have a high valuation of $1000 – 1200.
  • Cabin Bitters: Cabin bitters are brown or amber bottles with a wider base, inclined sides, and ribbed edges, valuing around $400 – 600.
  • Fish Bitters: These are clear, yellow, or amber bottles with fish-shaped walls and a slender appearance. Their unique shape makes them highly valued at $500 – 600.

3. Sarsaparillas Bottles

Sarsaparillas bottles are thin and transparent but have thicker walls and wider necks to hold the herb concoctions. They are quite new and have trademark labels on the bases and sides to track their age.

However, they are pretty common and don’t have much demand. So, they are moderately priced and have a valuation of $300 – 400.

4. Remedies Bottles

Remedies bottles are quite small and have the words ‘Remedies’ ‘Tonic’ or ‘ Cures’ clearly inscribed. They are barrel or rectangular and might have clear, amber, yellow, or blue sides.

These antique bottles are pretty new but have a high demand due to their limited availability and circulation. So, they have a high valuation and might cost about $100 – 200.

How to Identify an Antique Medicine Bottle and Check Its Value?

Identifying an antique medicine bottle isn’t as easy as it seems. Many shops sell antique items, but you must have a checklist to determine your vintage bottle’s first-hand value and age.

So, let’s discuss all the key factors and tricks to value an antique medicine bottle.

1. Bottle Age

collection of apothecary bottles

Antique bottles’ valuation changes with the bottle age. The oldest medicine bottles will be the most expensive. Most of these bottles often fall in the limited-edition section and have lesser units but more demand that hikes the price.

On the contrary, newer bottles are cheaper and might fetch a dollar or two at the auction.

How to Find out the Age of Antique Medicine Bottles?How to Check the Trademark?

  • Bottles from the 1600s – 1800s: These are conical, hand-blown, and have a deep, round indentation or pontil at the base. 
  • Bottles from the early 1800s: These black or amber bottles will have thicker walls, wider necks, and uneven surfaces. Plus, they might have some side labels that confirm their manufacturing date.
  • Bottles from the late 1850s: These bottles might be green, blue, black, or white and will have bubbly surfaces with pontil marks. They also have a date stamp at the base.
  • Bottles from the early 1900s: These bottles might be clear, single, or multicolored. They have smooth, defect-free surfaces and thinner, machine-made walls.
  • Unstamped bottles: Unstamped bottles are tricky to track. But, you can look for a pontil mark, hand-blown sides, or bubbled ages to confirm their age. Manufacturer logos will also help you identify them better.

Analyze the bottle material before valuation. Generally, old ceramic or china bottles cost more than modern plastic ones.

2. Shape

Collection of Transparent Antique Medicine Bottles
Image: flickr.com/photos/branestawm

Antique 18th-century medicine bottles are usually circular, cylindrical, or rectangular, with many side indents. They have thicker cross-sections, pointed bases, and narrower rims with mouth-blown holes and cork lids.

Since these shapes evolved during the great depression, they have high value and might cost about $50 – 60. You might even get them in brighter colors, bumpy textures, or bubbled exterior surfaces.

In contrast, the 20th-century antique bottles are quite squarish and have a flatter and wider base for more stability. They have a thin neck that limits evaporation and allows a longer shelf-life. But, these are ergonomic and more affordable.

Lastly, limited-edition coffin-shaped or triangular poison bottles with side embossing and engraved contents are exceptionally valued and fetch higher bidding prices.

Shape of the Medicine BottleAverage Auction Cost
Cylindrical Potion Bottle$ 10 – 12
Embossed Rounded Bottle$ 25 – 40
Rectangular, Heavy Base Bottle$ 50 – 55
Squarish Bottles$15 – 20
Limited-edition or Coffin shaped$100 – 120

Double-check and identify all the manual blowing bubbles, surface distortions or shape deformations for a better resale cost of the antique medicine bottle.

3. Color

18th-century antique bottles are usually Black or Amber. So, needless to say, these bottles are high-aged and fetch a good value at the auction. On the other hand, transparent and aqua bottles from the 18th century are more extensive and have a low value.

vintage medicine bottle from my collection

Similarly, black or whitish bottles from the 19th century are widespread and less valued. But, the light-reflecting cobalt blue or green bottles are highly functional and expensive. And you can also value a frosty green ‘Milk of Magnesia’ bottle between $100-120.

Here’s a table to understand the use and value of antique medicine bottle colors:

ColorPurposeValue
Straw yellow, Amber, or AmethystMaintain heat and preserve the medicine$40 – 60
Cobalt or Sapphire BlueAdd more transparency and check the medicine level$10 – 40
Teal, and PurpleCool certain medicines for better storage$15 – 20 for one bottle
Olive greenProtect the medicine from light$20 – 40
Clear or TransparentCheck the product’s color and texture$3 – 10
Black & WhiteHide the product completely, especially poison and milk of magnesia$5 – 10

Inspect the bottle for multi-colored ribbed patterns, squares, or grooves to raise the valuation by $2-3.

4. Branding

Branded Antique Medicine Bottles
Image: France3470, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you have a Fisch’s bitter or National bitter’s medicine bottle? Well, you are in luck! These US and UK-manufactured branded medicine bottles fetch a good value and could even be used to determine the age and brand of the bottle.

Note that medicine bottles from the early 1850s and 60s will have side branding, whereas newer bottles will have a stamp at the base. But, you can still check all the labels and packaging of your bottle and figure out its origin and age easily.

Branded and stamped medicine bottles yield $100 – 200, whereas unstamped bottles fetch a lower price at the auction.

How to Check the Trademark?

  • Look for the glass-mold inscriptions on both sides of the bottle and its bottom edge. They mostly have a brand and date stamp on the sides of the base. 
  • Check for the drug store’s date, name, and address and estimate the age.
  • Later, track the medicine, figure out its contents and decide a price accordingly. For example, dry herbs and alcohol bitters fetch about $20 – 35 at the bid, whereas typical apothecary bottles cost about $10 -15.

Here’s a list of some high-value medicine bottles brands and content:

Medicine NameManufacturerMedicine ContentYearPattern or ShapeValueNo. of bottles in Circulation
Plantation BittersDrakeHerbs and Alcohol1859Sloping Collar$ 380 – 400200 – 300
Artillery BittersGeneral ScottAnise, Nutmeg and Gin1865 – 1870Slender Cannon$6000 – 6500Only 4
Indian herb BittersBrownIndian herbs, Turmeric, Ivy guard and alcohol1874 – 1876Indian Maiden$1600 – 2000100 – 150
Old-cabin BittersKellyWhiskey1860 – 1880Zig-zagged Cabin bottle$1500 – 1800100 – 150
National BittersAtwoodJaundice Herbs and AlcoholEarly 1900sClear, Side inscribed$40 – 100 as per size1000 – 1500
Apothecary JarDuplexCodeine Base & Alcohol20th CenturyDouble finger loop bottle$1000 – 2000120 – 150

Check whether the bottle’s weight falls between 7-8 oz and look for a pontil mark at the base to avoid first-edition scams.

5. Rarity

Limited edition antique bottles, especially poison, specific-use bottles, are high-valued regardless of their condition. Moreover, some bottles might have thin gold filaments, quartz sides, and inscribed labels that hike the cost.

  • Limited – Edition: These medicine bottles are scarce, with less than ten pieces available in the market. They have a unique cannon or coffin shape with amber color sides and cost $2000 – 6000 as per the neck and base diameter.
  • Rare: These bottles have about 20-30 pieces in circulation and are mostly conical with a smaller opening. So, these are functional and might have some manufacturing labels on the sides. They fetch about $1000 – 3000 at the auction.
  • Commonly Available: These medicine bottles are transparent or whitish and have a simple rectangular shape with a wider base. They have about 200-400 pieces in circulation and cost less around $7 – 10.

Here are some most valuable antique medicine bottles:

NameValueTypeCirculation NumberShapeColorColor
Artillery Bitters$6000 – 6500Limited-Edition4Cannon-ballAmber
Giant Old Owl$6500 – 7000Limited-Edition10PipeCobalt Blue
Pontil Bitters$2000 – 2500Rare20 – 30BarrelAmber
Safe Cure Bottle$200 – 300Commonly Available200 – 400CylindricalClear to Amber

Beware of scammers and first-hand copies of limited-edition bottles and always check for the pontil mark or glass bubbles before purchase.

6. Bottle Condition

Antique bottles without discoloration, chips, cracks, and deformations fetch good returns at the auction. And bottles with slight bubbly surfaces, poor grade material, or stains might not be worth a lot.

Here’s a quick guide on expected cost deductions for each problem:

DeformityOriginal ValueExpected Cost Deduction
Etched or Discolored Surface$10 – 12$1 – 2
Torn Stamps or Trademarks$15 – 20$5 – 6
Stuck Dirt or Debris$10 – 12$5 – 6
Hazing or Whitening$10 – 15$2 – 3
Chips or Cracks$35 – 40$7 – 8

Wash any whitish or frosted bottles with vinegar, lemon or non-abrasive cleaners to remove the stains and have a clear bottle surface.

Tips to Identify & Value Antique Medicine Bottles

  • Always look for inscribed logos, trademarks, or dates and track the bottle’s age accordingly.
  • Analyze the bottle’s thickness. Most high-valued bottles will be thick and slightly crude.
  • Look for any base markings to track the factory location or address and determine the bottle’s age. 
  • Get amber, blue, green, or red-colored bottles for better valuation and returns.
  • Check for any chips, cracks, or inscriptions on the bottle’s surface or lip, and remove any discolorations with vinegar.
  • Always look for circular indentations or smooth pontils to identify vintage medicine bottles.
  • Scrape all the golden lids and covers to check their authenticity before purchase.
  • Never purchase any narcotics or slow-poison bottles, as they may land you in legal trouble.

How Do You Date Old Medicine Bottles?

You can use a magnifying glass and check the bottle for any manufacturer’s logo or factory dates. You can track the bottle’s content and company and calculate its approximate age. Or, check for any pontil or hand-blown mark at the base of the bottle. Generally, curved pontils age back to the 1860s, whereas smooth marks are relatively new.

What Is a Pontil Mark on a Medicine Bottle?

Pontil marks are any scars or deformations left by a hand-blower or pontil during manufacturing. But, pontil-marked bottles are highly-valued at $40-50 for an average medicine bottle.

Which Is the Rarest Color Medicine Bottle?

Purple, Olive-green, Red, and Straw-yellow are the rarest colored medicine bottles. These are purpose-driven colors and are highly valued at $15-20 for a simple bottle.

Antique medicine bottles are a great addition to your display. But, you must know their typical colors, shapes, and age to test their authenticity and determine their value.

We hope this guide has cleared all your doubts on antique medicine bottle valuation and helped you analyze it yourself. So, just arm yourself with a magnifying glass and clean gloves, and you are good to go!

Judith Miller
Judith Miller

Judith is an antique expert with nearly 20 years of experience in the field of antique identification and valuation. She has reviewed over 30 thousand vintage items and has worked with numerous antique shops. She enjoys seeing new places, attending antique shows and events, and sharing her knowledge with people! Know more about me

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