The Hobby of Bottle Collecting

Bottle Collecting is a relatively new hobby which started in the UK in the early 1970's. The vast majority of collectors seek the bottles and other artetacts that were once everyday containers for a range of household articles. Such items would have been bought from a shop, their contents used and then the bottle or jar would have been despatched with other waste to the nearest council tip. Here the various artefacts would have lain undisturbed for centuries but for the new breed of 1970's mudlarks, who dug large holes in the ground in search of the containers once used by their own ancestestors.

Organised refuse collection did not begin until the early 1880's and this forms a start date for many types of bottle collections. By the early 1920's, many glass bottles were being manufactured in automated bottle machines and much of the charm of the earlier hand finished bottles had gone. Similarly, the hand thrown stoneware ginger beers and cream pots seemed to lose much of their quality and interest when increasing production saw new methods of manufacture. Not surprisingly then, most collectable old bottles come from the 1880-1920 time period.

It seems highly likely that bottle collecting first came to this country from the USA where bottles could be found in the old privies and dumps of abandoned towns, especially in California. However, the founding father of bottle collecting in the UK was undoubtedly Ted Fletcher. He wrote a whole series of authoritative and interesting books which was just what the fledgling hobby needed back in the early 1970's..His book "Bottle Collecting" will probably go down as an all time classic. This book simply told you everything you needed to know. How to find old bottles - where to look - dating your finds - cleaning, collecting and displaying, even buying and selling. Ted was the first person to carry out any serious research into old bottles from the late Victorian period. He went on to found the first ever National UK bottle club - The British Bottle Collectors Club. Eventually Ted left the hobby to move on to a related interest - metal detecting.

However, the hobby went from strength to strength. The early swap meets organised by the British Bottle Collectors Club turned into the first bottle clubs and the first ever national bottle shows. More and more people joined in a fascinating hobby where you could actually go out and find something for free - or assemble a remarkable collection on a shoestring. This was a hobby for all ages with money not even a consideration at first. People had no idea that what they were digging up might be worth anything - they did it for fun ! In the course of time the first quality bottle magazine appeared - though Ted Fletcher had again blazed the trail with his Bottles & Relics News. Old Bottles & Treasure Hunting was the first A4 format magazine printed on quality art paper. Two new and different National bottle clubs were set up but by the late 1970's both had disappeared. Today, in 1999, bottle collecting is a well established hobby. There are a large number of independent bottle clubs meeting once a month. There will be a national bottle and collectors fair taking place somewhere in the country every month. A national and international website -A WORLD of BOTTLES & BYGONES - is the forum for all national and local news and lists where the national shows are taking place while also providing some essential background information about a range of bottles and artefacts. Some bottle collectors started a new hobby by concentrating their searches for old advertising in the form of enamel signs, card adverts, old tins etc - though the two hobbies have many close ties.

Bottle collecting is an international hobby, though it is interesting to note that the vast majority of bottle collectors are white and English speaking and either come from Great Britain or the former "Colonies". The biggest concentration of collectors is in the United States. Next comes the British Isles followed by Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. In Europe, apart from the UK, Holland has most collectors with a few more in Germany. There are important national differences in the types of bottles collected. In the USA the three most popular categories are bitters, historical flasks and fruit jars. In the UK it would be the codd bottle ( a marble stoppered mineral bottle ) followed by transfered ginger beers, cream pots and advertising pot lids. In Australia, blue glass and black glass items have always been popular but in more recent times "Australiana" has become the rage so any interesting Australian produced bottles, or ones made for an Australian company, will be collected. In Holland, not surprisingly the most popular bottle type is the gin ! Many bottle collectors will specialise in one particular type of bottle and they take their collecting very seriously - going to some lengths and some expense to get the bottles they need. In The UK, it became very fashionable to collect items from your home town from about 1980. One of the fascinations here is that you can use old documents and records to trace the histories of the various companies that used the bottles in the first place. In a sense, many of the most serious bottle collectors are like industrial archaeologists. They go out and discover the bottles, carefully clean or repair them, display them and also research them in libraries and museums. Many people collecting bottles have learnt a great deal about history from a hobby that first started as just a hole in the ground ! It has been estimated that only one quarter of all the old UK refuse dumps have yet been probed by collectors so this hobby should last for a few more years at least !

For further information please see our separate pages on bottles clubs as well as the events page.

If you want to learn more or wish to become a bottle collector we strongly recommend that you try your local bottle club first, or try to attend a bottle and collectors fair and meet and talk to other collectors