Saturday, May 11, 2013

What Makes a Bottle Unlisted?

After adding my last post, I realized I had never really explained the story behind these unlisted bottles.  It is a topic worthy of discussion, so here is a quickly assembled but hopefully helpful explanation of how a bottle is qualified as unlisted.

Rhode Island is one of the only states that collectors have attempted to document all of the known bottles from (excluding milks and ACL sodas).  Even as the smallest state, this proved a monumental task, and since work began in the 1970s, new bottles are still being found every month.
When collectors first began cataloging RI bottles, a fairly simple record was kept.  The embossing was taken down, the size, shape, and color was recorded.
As the years progressed, it became clear that more details were needed.  When a rectangular medicine bottle from one company came in four different rectangular shapes, the description of the shape needed to be more detailed.  Punctuation also needed more scrutiny.  Rather than implying that it was correct, one had to carefully check every comma and period.  There are many old listings online that might actually be the same exact bottle as the next one in the list.  The only way to know for certain is to find that bottle in the flesh or track down the person who owned it when it was cataloged. 
The Antique Bottles of Rhode Island book has not been updated in many years, so when one visits our webpage you will find the amount of bottles listed has nearly doubled since the book was published.  Even with this increase, I still have a couple hundred bottles that are unlisted.  For example, there is only one Augustin Vitale blob top soda listed online.  You could imagine my surprise when I kept finding variants until I had a total of six different versions.  There are also certain types of bottles that have been neglected, which mainly includes ACL sodas and seltzer bottles.  Last I checked, I think five ACL sodas had made their way onto the LRBC website.  However, there are close to 100 RI ACL sodas out there.  The same goes for seltzer bottles. 
Now, are these unlisted versions rare?  Generally, they are no rarer than a similar listed bottle from the same company.  Quite often size variations, particularly in soda and beer bottles, do not quality for unlisted status.  Quite often the height of a hand-tooled blob top could vary by as much as 1/2" depending on who fashioned the lip.  Medicine bottles are a little more precise.  Usually a >1/4" difference in height can mean it is unlisted.  It never hurts, though, to compare the bottle in question next to a listed bottle of nearly identical height. 
All of the embossing variants of blob and crown top soda bottles were often out of the bottler's hands.  The glass companies often used whatever molds they had, so required terms like Registered could have been embossed on the upper/lower shoulder, below the slugplate, on the rear shoulder, or on the rear heel, depending on the mold.  The engravers making the slug plates often had differing skills in spelling and punctuation, hence many subtle variations.

Now all of this can get quite tedious, even for an advanced collector like me.  By far my favorite type of unlisted bottle is one that is completely unknown.  This would be a bottle from a company no one has heard of before.  There are two main categories of these "brand new" finds.  The first is a bottle that is clearly marked from RI.  For example when I dug a Leonard's Electric Pain Lotion Providence, RI, I was very excited.  No one had previously documented a Dr. Leonard, and to sell a product like this in the 1800s one needed to issue a patent. 
The other, more difficult to identify category are bottles that are not marked from RI.  Often times you need to do a lot of research or find a labeled example to confirm it is from RI.  For example, I had a Quick Stop for Headaches embossed medicine bottle in my collection.  While it was neat, I had no idea where it was from.  While I was researching the name, I came across an advertisement for Mattison's Quick Stop for Headaches Providence, RI.  E.F. Mattison was a patent medicine manufacturer, and this happened to be his most successful product.

I hope that explains a lot, and didn't put you to sleep!  If you have any questions feel free to contact me.  Also, if you have a RI bottle that is not listed online or in this blog, I would be most grateful if you could send me a picture of it.  Thanks again for reading!


  1. “…collectors have attempted to document all of the known bottles…” – This is interesting. Thinking about it, I can say it is really a huge challenge for the collectors. But I guess discovering a new one everyday will make this worth it. What are you going to do with the bottles you found, by the way?

    Ora Wilcox @

  2. Hi Ora,
    I hope to open a museum one day, though I fear it might be in the fairly distant future. Most are in boxes until I have room to display them, but I am already itching to get them out for everyone to enjoy!