The Five Critical Mistakes People Make Buying Bottles
& How to Avoid Them

Digger Odell Publications © 2008


Probably the worst mistake bottle buyers might make is paying to much for a bottle. This is often simply a lack of knowledge about prices but sometimes is a result of auction fever. It can get expensive if your thinking runs, ‘I’ll never see another one of these.’

Some places are more expensive to buy bottles than others. Antique stores frequently have good bottles but they are offered at high prices. You might find the same good bottle at a bottle show, where the competition is greater for less money. Obviously, yard sales, thrift stores and flea markets are good sources for potential bargains but you’ll need to wade through numerous junk and modern bottles before finding a gem.

General merchandise auctions can be sources of reasonable priced good bottles but get one other bidder in a war and the price can rise into the stratosphere. Local items often sell for a premium at these auctions. The most often quote reason for over-paying is, ‘it’s rare!’ When you are the only knowledgeable bottle buyer in the crowd, you can find some great bargains. Educating yourself on bottle prices and trends can help your buying bottles.


Exigency is a state of affairs that makes urgent demands. Advertisers use exigency when they say, ‘Buy Now’ or ‘For a limited time only’. Many bottle buyers believe they will not find this item again – at this or any price. It is true that there are many rare bottle in the bottle arena and many that are unattainable. It is also true that many ‘expensive’ or ‘better bottles’ are plentiful. Finding the best example to fit your budget may take time. Great collections have been built over many years. Few great collections have been built overnight. Decide what is a reasonable price for the item and try not to get carried away. Chances are, depending upon your level of collecting, you’ll get another opportunity to find a similar article.


The most successful collectors network. I know one long-time collectors who used to sent out 5-10 handwritten letters per week to people in search of the bottles he was after. His 2000 bottle collection contains many hard-to-find items he has uncovered through his efforts.

Communicate with other people with similar collecting interests. You can find collector emails on the Federation of Historic Bottle Clubs website. Today more than ever with cell phones and the internet, it is possible to scare up leads with a little diligent searching. There are several online bottle forum sites to help you make contact with other collectors. While not high tech, business cards with your wanted items listed can be helpful as can placement of print or online want ads. Some are even free.

Attending bottle shows, bottle club meetings, antique shows and frequenting antique shops and flea markets offer another avenue to get the word out as to what you are looking to buy.


This is one mistake I still have to watch myself on. sometimes I will find a bottle at a bottle show and in my haste to “get the bottle before anyone else sees it”, I do not look carefully enough at it and later find damage I had not seen. When making a purchase live, take at least five minutes to carefully inspect the bottle from top to bottom. Look at it in different lights, indoor and outdoor if possible. Five minutes is not much compared to the years you will look at it if you overpaid for a damaged bottle.

Buying bottles online is more difficult. Ask questions! Send the seller an email asking about the condition and the seller return policy. Reader the sellers feedback. Beware of sellers with low feedback ratings or sellers who claim to know nothing about bottles. Also beware of sellers who put up poor and out of focus photos. One scammer on Ebay was recently found to be stealing other people’s pictures of good bottles, then using a photo editing program to make it look like he was holding the bottle. Close inspection of the pictures would make the alert buyer suspicious. When in doubt remember Mistake 2.


It is not my place to decide either your taste or your budget, but I always suggest buying the best bottles you can afford, even if it means you have fewer of them. Just because something is cheap does not mean you should buy it. I cannot believe what some people will pay for junk. To be fair, I have been wrong and at time neglected to abide with the old saying, ‘One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. However in the bottle world there is such a thing as junk bottles. Many common bottles can be found on Ebay with prices for the exact same bottle ranging from $1 to $30. Obviously there are too many to meet the demand and unless the item has some other value to you, like sentimental value then I ask, is the $1 bottle really a bargain?

What’s junk has changed over the many years I have been doing this. Back in the 1970s I could not give away painted label soda bottles. Now some sell for thousands. Go figure. For anything to be become collectible, you need 1) a wide range of items- diversity 2) availability. Some things seen as junk only a few years ago are now gaining in popularity. Labeled 1920-1940 whiskeys are a good example.


They are just bottles [fill in anything you collect]. Collectors have as many reasons for collecting as there are collectors. Following good buying habits can increase your enjoyment of the pursuit and finds. That’s what it is about isn’t it?