Old Bottles Rock
Probably many of you are too young to remember the concert at which Bob Dylan took out an electric guitar and shocked the world. For years, Dylan had been known as a folksinger, a traditionalist, and the idea of using electricity or technology to produce music was anathema to most of Dylan's listeners.
I first started collecting bottles back in the 1960s and got started by stumbling across some bottles while I was out for a walk. Most people back then got started by finding bottles in their yard, in the field behind their house, in a local town dump, or other similar places. I remember the great excitement at finding something that I thought no one had touched for 100 years.
It wasn't really until the 1970s, just about the time that Dylan was coming out with his electric music, that bottle collecting became popular. For a long time, a group of us traditionalists would have nothing to do with "new bottles". In fact some of us were so myopic and our vision, we missed great opportunities to get in on the cheap end of a collectible boom, in much the same way that the music traditionalists parted ways with Dylan and who moved on to rock music and played to the Jimmy Hendrix crowd. This blindness to recognize the collectibility of painted label soda bottles, came at a time when painted label soda bottles, also known as ACL bottles, could be had for 25 cents or less. One could buy cases or even a warehouse full of painted label soda bottles from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. As the painted label soda bottles became increasingly expensive, it became apparent to those of us who steadfastly stuck to the idea that bottle collecting meant collecting bottles that were not machine made, we had missed an opportunity of connecting with the next generation of bottle collectors.
There was, and still is, in the bottle collecting world, a prejudice against bottles that are machine made. Those of us that love old bottles, love the fact that they are not only handmade, but that each bottle is unique, having some character of crudity, bubbles, waviness or unevenness, or characteristic that signifies the hand of the maker. Oddly enough early machine made bottles can often times be cruder than their hand-blown counterparts of the same age. The first compressed air bottle machines were invented in the 1890s. There were many kinks to be worked out and the result often was crude misshapen, albeit machine made bottles. However, the technology eventually led to a dull consistency of clear, screwtop, unembossed bottles in the 1920-1940s.
About the time that Dylan was breaking out his electric guitar, American manufacturers of whiskey and other alcohol beverages decided to cash in on the bottle collecting craze. Companies like Jim Bean, Ezra Brooks, Garnier, together with dozens of others began mass-producing commemorative decanters. Sometimes these were produced in limited numbers dubbed 'collectors editions'. Other times as many were produced as the market would bear. These made for the collectible market bottles caught the attention of a number of people prone to collecting. Predictably, probably with the help of the alcohol companies themselves, prices of these commemoratives began to escalate. There was sort of a mania, somewhat like the mania surrounding Dylan's new electric music that grabbed the market. The problem was that the numbers of these items were simply too great to sustain over the long run, the high prices. Today 1960s and 1970s whiskey decanters, unless they have their original contents and original box, often go begging when offered for sale. I must admit a long-standing personal prejudice against these bottles. And it seems as though my reservations are borne out by the massive numbers of these bottles which can be found at thrift stores and yard sales for a quarter. Some are still valuable, but they are not of interest to most people who collect bottles basically because they were made for the collectible market and made to increase the sales of alcohol beverages by the companies making them.
So unfortunately when people send me questions to answer about bottles I often just overlook those whose subject matter contained 1960s Jim Beam or ceramic figure whiskey decanter. So I apologize to my audience for my prejudice but have to admit my bias for old bottles. I still don't own a painted label soda bottle, although I wish I'd gotten in on the boom as I could have made a lot of money had I had the foresight to buy them when they were 25 cents, but I never had that strong of a profit motive.
So don't be surprised as you read through this website that you really don't find much information about these bottles pretty much if someone asks me how much one of these is worth, I'll check on eBay and see what they're selling for, mostly I find them with few bids and little interest.
Dylan's transformation from traditional folksinger to a more rock oriented performer was not only personally successful for him, but also led to the explosion of electronic music that we still hear today. Commemorative decanters on the other hand went the way the model T, and are little more than curiosity items at thrift stores. I'm sure that some will disagree with me, and that's their right to do so for after all this is only my opinion and Lord knows, I was wrong about both Dylan and Painted Label bottles.