Custom made bottles
including names, dates and other alterations
Brand names like "Gridley's Celebrated Balsam of Naptha & Wau-A Hoo" and "Ferro Quina Stomach Bitters and Blood Purifie" are now eagerly sought by collectors as much for their strange names as their attractive glass bottles. Prices for such bottles are generally based on the color of the glass used, the bottle's shape, how it was made and the appeal of the company's name. Anyone who collects and deals in such bottles should be aware that modern technologies can be used to "custom make" to order many of the features that make old patent medicine and liquor bottles so interesting. The differences between old and new are explained in the photos.
Fig. 1 Recently created lettering on a new bottle reading: "Dr. Chervenka's Kolache Extract, 1 oz. for men, 2 oz for horses". Bottle is amber glass, 13 1/2". Shape copied from original bottles of H. H. Warner patent medicine company, ca. 1880-1905.
Fig. 2 Recently created lettering on a new bottle reading "Dr. Chervenka's Skunk River Bicycle Tonic, Clive, Iowa". Bottle is aqua glass, square shaped body with pouring spout.
Fig. 3 Illustration from the 1890 catalog of Hagerty Bros bottle manufacturers. This page gives instructions for ordering custom made bottles. Custom lettered bottles could be ordered in quantities as small as 144 pieces (one gross). Customers has a range of bottle shapes, colors and lettering styles.
Fig. 4 New designs and lettering are created by removing the surface around the desired design. The exact method varies but the result is always the same--a roughened or substantially different surface finish on the background surrounding the design. Note the changes in surface above. The lettering is only a few hundredths of an inch thick and has very sharp edges.
Fig. 5 Lettering and designs on all genuinely old bottles are raised above the surrounding surface and have rounded or sloped sides. Molded glass cannot be formed into precisely sharp straight lines because 1) it sags in the mold, and 2) it would not easily be released from the mold. Sharp lines are the result of some mechanical operation performed after the glass has cooled.
Fig. 6 New designs/lettering at same level as overall surface.
New designs/lettering created by removing background leaving sharp edges.
Fig. 7 Old designs/lettering are raised above overall surface and have sloped or rounded edges.
Fig. 8 A new "pontil mark" which cost an additional $10 to put on the new bottle in Fig. 2. Shown about actual size. Don't just look for new lettering and designs on the sides of bottles; bottoms, mouths and other features used for dating are also easily altered.
Fig. 9 Adhesive backed sheets of protective coverings are frequently applied to glass as its being altered. This scratch mark is a clue to such a sheet being cut directly on the glass surface.
Bottle Shapes Available
The bottles illustrated here are what just one firm offers as stock items to put custom lettering and designs on. In practice, any bottle, new or old, can be used. Illustrations include glass color and show a cross section.