Bottle Identification

11 Jul 2021, last revised 04 Feb 2023

Collecting, studying, and appreciating antique Copper Country bottles starts with being able to identify them. First, how do we know if a bottle is a Copper Country bottle? Simple. If the embossing states a local town name, it is a Copper Country bottle. If a bottle is not embossed, we have no way of knowing, and the bottle will not be valued as a Copper Country bottle even though it may have been used by a local bottler. Unembossed bottles are generic. We may be able to identify bottle type, but they lack identity. Some bottles have embossing for the company name or proprietor(s) but not for the location. In such cases, we must rely on local history information to determine its provenance.

bottle antomy

First, let's review the features of a bottle, using Torch Lake Brewery #1 as an example.

Top: The top of the bottle was hand finished for a particular closure; in this case, a lightning stopper.

Molded Shape: Molten glass was blown into a mold to form the shape of the body, shoulders, and neck. This shape is characteristic of a particular type of bottle; in this case, a champagne beer bottle.

Plate: A plate was inserted into the mold to create signature embossing for the bottler. The embossing associates a bottle to a particular bottling company from a particular town. It gives the bottle an identity.

Maker's Mark: Some bottles are embossed with a mark from the bottle maker. These marks can be found on the base or the heel. In this case, we see the C & I mark on the base, which signifies that Cunninghams & Ihmsen of Pittsburgh, PA made this bottle.

Generic Embossing: Some bottles contain embossing indicating that the bottle needed to be returned to the bottler. A common notice was THIS BOTTLE NOT TO BE SOLD. This is generic embossing because it was not particular to any bottler or bottle maker. It may be located on the back, base, or above the heel.

Other Marks: In some cases, particularly for soda bottles, the base contains initials or a logo for the bottler or its proprietor(s). Some bottles also bear letter and/or number codes on the base or heel that may be factory and/or mold identification marks. Only a few bottle makers embossed a date code on their bottles.

Bottle Typing

Next, we may ask, how do we know what type of bottle we have. Or, likewise, what product did the bottle contain? Our scope for bottle typing is greatly simplified given that the Copper Country had primarily three types of bottles: beer, soda, and pharmacy, plus a few miscellaneous bottles of different types. Again, we can reference the embossing. If a bottle states BREWERY or BREWING CO., we can rest assured that it contained beer and thus it is a beer bottle. If it states PHARMACY or DRUGGIST, we have a pharmacy bottle, and it most likely contained prescription medicine, although pharmacists also dispensed other products for the body. You may then think soda bottles should state SODA on them, but none from the Copper Country do. Interestingly, one bottler, Hancock Pop Co., used POP instead of SODA. Otherwise, they tend to have BOTTLING WORKS as part of their company name. Unfortunately, this only tells us that they bottled a beverage, not what type of beverage. In fact, Sanborn maps label the bottling building of a brewery as Bottling Works. When we don't have local history information to inform us, we need to resort to bottle typing based on bottle shape. Different closures and colors also accompany particular types.

beer shapes

Beer Bottles: As listed in the Illinois Glass Co. 1906 catalog and the North Baltimore Bottle Glass Co. c.1900 catalog, beer bottles had several characteristic shapes: export, apollinaris, champagne, select, Weiss, and malt extract or tonic. For the Copper Country, we find mostly the champagne shape, with a few export, select, and tonic. The champagne has a classic bottle shape with tapered shoulders that smoothly transition from the neck to the body. The export is characterized with a swollen neck and sharply tapered shoulders. We find two styles of export, the classic more-slender form and an earlier fatter-bodied form. The select has a shorter body and taller shoulders that are continuous with the neck. The tonic has a swollen neck, like the export, but is short and squatty with a base narrower than the shoulders. The closures we find on Copper Country beers are the lightning stopper, Baltimore loop seal, cork seal, and crown cap. Most are amber in color but a few are aqua or colorless.

soda shapes

Soda Bottles: Copper Country soda bottles basically have a short-necked shape for a Hutchinson or Twitchell marble stopper or a long-necked shape for a cork and wire, Baltimore loop seal, or crown cap. In contrast to beers, most Copper Country soda bottles are aqua in color, with a few being amber or colorless. Mold shape varied, especially for the quart-sized Hutchinsons, with some being narrower and taller while others being wider and shorter.

Some "soda bottles" actually contained mineral water. This is clearly the case for Sterling Spring Mineral Water Co., Houghton Mineral Water Bottling Works, and Mountain Valley Water Co. However, because they used soda-type bottles, we catalog them with the soda companies. In fact, a so-called "mineral water bottle" would be a different bottle type used mainly during the first half of the 1800s.

soda vs beer shapes

Beer vs. Soda Bottles: The long-necked soda bottles have a shape similar to the champagne beer bottles, but there are subtle differences. The quart crown top or Baltimore loop seal soda bottle is narrower in diameter (3¼" vs. 3½") with a shorter body and longer neck than a typical champagne beer bottle. The half-pint crown top soda bottle is shorter with a shorter neck than a pint champagne beer bottle.

What confuses the distinction between soda bottles and beer bottles is that sometimes (but rarely) a soda bottle was used to bottle beer, or a beer bottle was used to bottle soda. What do we call them then? For example, N. & J. Bottling Works #88 is a quart bottle with a Hutchinson top but it has a long neck and squatty shape. This shape is pictured in the catalogs with the champagne beers, but N. & J. bottled soda. Thus, we identify it as a beer-type bottle but catalog it with the soda bottlers.

In other cases, we don't know based on the embossing if the bottle contained beer, soda, or mineral water. These include Clifton Bottling Works (#121), Excelsior Bottling Works (#122, 123, and 124), and Red Jacket Bottling Works (#126). These bottles are amber, quart, and champagne-shaped with a Baltimore loop seal top, all the hallmarks of a typical beer bottle. Presumably because of their shape, the bottle book numbered them with the beers in a section called "Unknown Brewers and Bottlers". Following suit, we identify them as beer-type bottles and continue to catalog them with the beers even though they may have contained soda or mineral water. Hopefully in the future local history information can resolve what they actually contained.

pharmacy shapes

Pharmacy Bottles: The main type of bottle from a pharmacy was prescription medicine. While beer and soda bottles were cylindrical, prescription medicine bottles had various cross-sectional shapes and shoulder styles, which make them more difficult to characterize as a whole. (They are classified in Pharmacy Bottle Styles below). Most had some type of oval shape with a flat panel. The outwardly tooled lip, called the prescription lip, with later ones being collared, is quite characteristic of prescription medicine bottles.

Some pharmacy bottles were not, or probably not, prescription medicine bottles, and these have their own characteristic shapes. Sodergren & Sodergren #17 was a nursing bottle, and it has a squatty oval shape with a bead finish. Geo. H. Nichols #7 was a citrate of magnesia bottle with a porcelain lightning stopper. Sodergren & Sodergren #18 and C. J. Soren & Co. #25 were ball-neck panel extract bottles with an extract lip. Despite the various shapes, we can say that all the Copper Country pharmacy bottles are colorless.

Bottle Sizes: For beer, the standard sizes were quart and pint, but, as indicated by the catalogs, actual capacities were often lower (24-33 oz. for quart and 11-16 oz. for pint). For soda, the standard sizes were quart and half-pint, but capacities reported in the catalogs tended to be lower for the quart (26-32 oz.) and mostly accurate for the half-pint (8 oz.). Some soda molds had capacities of 10 - 15 oz. and the Copper Country has a few examples of such intermediate sizes (#77, 86, 144, s35). The Illinois Glass Co. 1906 catalog listed siphons in sizes of 18, 28, 37, and 44 oz., but the Copper Country ones seem to all be 26 oz. (as marked on some bottles). Prescription medicines came in sizes of ½ oz. to 32 oz., although we do not find the 32 oz. size for the Copper Country.

pharmacy sizes

Pharmacy bottles were sold under given names for different styles or shapes. Some shapes were patented, as indicated by patent dates embossed on the base. Some were signature types of a particular glass company, but not patented. Some were used by various bottle makers presumably because they were not patented or the patent had expired after 14 years. Lockhart et al. (1) noted that the patent date was unlikely embossed on the bottle after the patent expired, given a 14-year span for dating.

Identifying these shapes can be pivotal for distinguishing one pharmacy bottle from another. Here we categorize the bottle styles for Copper Country pharmacy bottles to aid in bottle identification. Note that different styles can differ in base outline, shoulder shape, body height, top style, and graduated marks. Some styles have the same base outline but differ in other features.

  • cylindrical
  • found on #7

Baltimore Nurser
  • extended lip for rubber hose and nipple
  • found on #17

Millville Round
  • round with flat face
  • patented by Whitall Tatum & Co., 22 Jan 1878 (9)
  • found on #31

Penn Oval
  • oval with flat face and rounded shoulders
  • patented by Whitall Tatum & Co., 18 Jan 1898 (9)
  • found on #s31, s60, s73, s74, s75

unknown name
  • same base outline as Penn Oval but with concaved shoulders
  • found on #16, 21, 23, 24, 36, s26, s36, s40

  • footed base with straight-taper shoulders
  • sold by A. M. Foster & Co. (6)
  • found on #10

unknown name
  • same base outline as KLONDIKE Oval but without footed base
  • found on #5 and 6

Knickerbocker Oval
  • somewhat flattened sides and concaved shoulders
  • patented by Whitall Tatum & Co., 11 Dec 1894 (9)
  • found on #11, s68

  • same base outline and similar shoulders as Knickerbocker Oval
  • embossed SHELDON on base
  • likely from Sheldon-Foster Glass Co. (10)
  • found on #2

unknown name
  • same base outline as Knickerbocker Oval and SHELDON Oval
  • rounded shoulders with sharp transition
  • found on #20

Eastlake Oval
  • slightly fatter than Knickerbocker Oval
  • rounded shoulders with sharp transition
  • sold by Dean, Foster & Co. (8)
  • found on #3, s63, s69

unknown name
  • three flat sides with rounded corners and slightly-curved back
  • found on #27

unknown name
  • slightly wider with smaller panel than KLONDIKE Oval
  • straight-taper shoulders
  • marked by Whitney Glass Works
  • found on #s25

unknown name
  • same dimensions as KELLOGG Oval but with very slightly-curved back
  • found on #19

  • face and back flat with rounded sides
  • some with embossed KELLOGG on base
  • used by A. M. Foster & Co. (6)
  • found on #9, 14, 22, s24, s56, s57

unknown name
  • like KELLOGG Oval but wider
  • found on #35

Baltimore Oval
  • four flat sides with rounded corners and side-straps
  • fatter than KELLOGG Oval
  • found on #1, 26, 28, 32

Double Philadelphia Oval
  • wider than Baltimore Oval
  • patented by W. T. & Co. on 07 May 1878 (1)
  • found on #s30, s39, s71

unknown name
  • beveled front corners, curved back, and flat sides
  • paneled shoulders and collared top
  • found on #s23

unknown name
  • like O but fatter with strongly curved back
  • rounded shoulders
  • found on #34

BREED Square
  • like Paris Square but with curved back
  • originated by Western Bottle Mfg. Co., 1901 (7)
  • found on 15, s27, and s32

Sylvan Oval
  • same base outline as BREED Square but with tall body, graduations, and continuously concave shoulders
  • found on #13, s59

Chicago Oval
  • three flat sides with curved back
  • patented by A. M. Foster, 15 May 1888 (8)
  • found on #4, 8, 33

unknown name
  • sides flat but smoothly rounded to back
  • wider than Chicago Oval
  • contains graduation
  • found on #s38

  • like PARIS square but wider
  • found on #s53

PARIS Square
  • short-rectangular with beveled corners and terraced shoulders
  • originated by Dean, Foster & Co., 1900 (6)
  • found on #12

French Square
  • square with beveled corners
  • popular from 1860s to early 1890s (2)
  • found on #29, 30

Monograph Square
  • square with rounded corners
  • most popular after 1900 (2)
  • found on #s29

Argyle Panel
  • ball neck with extract lip
  • found on #18, 25

Bottle Dating

Next, we might ask, how old is the bottle. It would have been simple if antique bottles came with a date, but very few makers dated their bottles. Instead, we can estimate a date range for a bottle by overlapping the different dimensions of bottle history: bottle making technology, bottle maker history, and local bottler history. We have explored the first two dimensions on separate pages (see Bottle Making and Bottle Closures for bottle making technology and Bottle Makers for bottle maker history). We present local bottler history on each bottler's page. Recall that we explored the process of dating a bottle with S. & S. #2 as an example on the Bottle Making page.

Now let's use Torch Lake Brewery #1, featured for bottle anatomy on this page, as another example of dating a bottle. The key is to use the historical information to narrow the upper and lower limits of a date range. We know that Joseph Bosch started the brewery in 1874, and with partners formed Joseph Bosch & Co. in 1876. The firm became a stock company in 1894 under the name, Bosch Brewing Co. and finally closed in 1973. Because the bottle is embossed, J. BOSCH & Co., we can associate it to the company period of 1876-1894.

We see that the bottle had a lightning stopper, not only based on the shape of the top but also because the actual stopper was preserved. The lightning stopper was patented by Charles de Quillfeldt in 1875 and applied to beverage bottles in 1877 by Karl Hutter. Thus, we can constrain the lower limit of the date range to 1877. Another supporting piece of history is that lager beer was not successfully bottled until pasteurization was available. Louis Pasteur successfully pasteurized beer in 1870 but did not publish the result until 1877. Some brewers learned of Pasteur's experiment before he published and started bottling beer from the early 1870s. This apparently was not the case for Copper Country brewers, since if they bottling prior to 1877, their bottles would not have had a lightning stopper.

Torch Lake Brewery #1 also has the C & I maker's mark. This mark is attributed to Cunninghams & Ihmsen, which was one iteration of a long history of Cunningham family companies. Based on company name changes, the C & I mark dates to 1865-1878. Thus, we can constrain the upper limit of the date range to 1878. Adding these pieces together, we date this bottle quite narrowly to 1877-1878. It should be noted, however, that when a company changed names and thus maker's marks, molds with the old mark may have been used until they wore out, instead of being immediately discarded (Lockhart et al.). It is unknown if this practice applies to C & I changing to C & Co., nor is it known how long a mold lasted. It is a point to keep in mind when dating bottles using maker's marks from a company succession.

Bottle Cataloging

Collectors strive to obtain at least one example of each bottle. But what makes one bottle distinct from another?

Our Bottle Numbering System: We use the same numbers used by the book and expand upon its classification system. Obvious differences led to distinct bottles, which were given ID numbers. Differences in maker's marks of otherwise similar bottles were listed as bottle variants. Thus, for our classification system:

  1. Bottle ID Number: Assigned to a distinct bottle (e.g., beer #1). These are the same numbers used by the book. Beer, soda, pharmacy, and misc. each have their own set of numbers (e.g., there is a beer #1 and a soda #1).
  2. Supplemental (s) ID Number: Assigned to a distinct bottle not featured in the book (e.g., beer #s1). We use the same set of s-numbers for all types of bottles. The next bottle that is discovered and logged will receive the next number in the sequence.
  3. Suffix Letter: Assigned to a variant of a bottle (e.g., beer #1a).
  4. ABM Beers and Sodas: We start a new numbering sequence with "abm-" as a prefix (e.g., abm-1). Only embossed or ACL, non-franchised (for sodas) bottles are cataloged.
  5. Milks: We start a new numbering sequence with "m-" as a prefix (e.g., m-1). Most milks are ABMs but a few were hand blown.

Bottles are listed in presumed chronological order for each bottling company. Note that sometimes this order deviates from the chronological order of bottle ID numbers. As we learn more about the bottles, we will continue to revise the chronological order to better reflect the succession of bottles used by a bottler. Also note that most of the bottles we feature on this website have had their embossed labels painted for clearer photography.

Based on how mouth-blown, hand finished bottles were made, we can expect some variation that does not necessarily signify different bottles. Specimens of the same bottle are expected to differ in height slightly due to inconsistencies in finishing the top. Thus, it is more important to examine shoulder height and not neck length or overall height. The shade of glass color can vary due to different pots of glass, or appear different if the glass differs in thickness. Clearly, if the embossing differs in lettering or the orientation of the lettering, we have distinct bottles. However, when a plate wore out, the bottler may have opted to purchase a replacement plate with identical design. Because plates were hand cut, the engraver could not prevent producing a replacement plate that differed slightly from the original. It takes close examination of how the letters align, the size and style of individual letters, the spacing between words, and presence or absence of punctuation to determine if plates were mimics of each other. We consider such mimics to be variants of the same bottle.

Recall that the mission of this website is to catalog the mouth-blown, hand finished bottles from the Copper Country. It is important to note that some of the bottlers featured on this site did not end when this method of bottle making ended. Instead, their businesses continued with bottles made by an automatic bottling-making machine (ABM). These bottles also contained signature labeling; at first with embossing and later with a baked-on painted label called an applied color label (ACL). So far, ABM bottles have received less attention from Copper Country collectors, but they are expected to become more desirable in the future. In particular, milk bottles from the Copper Country, which as far as we know are all ABMs, are collected by some.

How do we distinguish between "distinct bottles" vs. "bottle variants"? The features to consider include mold shape, top and closure, plate size, plate position on mold, plate embossing, maker's mark, generic embossing, and glass color. Here are the guidelines we used following our assessment of the book.

plate embossing comparison
Plate Embossing
  • Bottles with plate embossing that differ in lettering or design are cataloged as distinct bottles.
  • Here, Twin City Bottling Works #115 has LOUIS DECKER in the center and the location compared to #116.
mold shapes comparison
Mold Shapes
  • Bottles with different mold shapes are cataloged as distinct bottles.
  • Here, Torch Lake Brewery #2 has a taller body than #s2. Otherwise, they have the same plate, top, and maker.
bottle size comparison
Bottle Sizes
  • Bottles of different sizes are cataloged as distinct bottles for sodas and beers, and listed under the same bottle for pharmacy.
  • Here, National Bottling Works #59 is a half-pint while #58 is a quart.
  • Different sizes will obviously have different molds and plates.
tops/closures comparison
Tops and Closures
  • Bottles with different tops for different closures are cataloged as distinct bottles.
  • Here, Torch Lake Brewery #4 has a lightning stopper top while #7 has a Baltimore loop seal top. Otherwise, they have the same plate, mold shape, and no maker's mark.
plate shape/size comparison
Plate Shapes or Sizes
  • Bottles with plates of different shapes or distinctly different sizes are cataloged as distinct bottles.
  • Here, Jos. James Bottling Works #s15 has an oval plate while #83 has a round plate.
  • Different plate shapes or sizes also required different molds.
plate position comparison
Plate Position
  • Bottles with the plate in a different position on the mold are cataloged as distinct bottles. This means the molds were different as well.
  • Here, Calumet Bottling Works #123 has the plate lower on the mold than #122. The plates are also mimics.
glass color comparison
Glass Colors
  • Bottles with distinctly different colors are cataloged as distinct bottles.
  • Here, Torch Lake Brewery #1a is aqua while #s2 is amber. Otherwise, they have the same plate, mold shape, top, and maker's mark.
color variant comparison
Color Variants
  • Bottles with different, but related colors but are otherwise the same or similar are cataloged as bottle variants.
  • Here, Torch Lake Brewery #9 is amber while #9a is light olive green. Otherwise, they have the same plate, mold shape, top, and maker's mark.
  • Colorless and aqua, or aqua and green would also be considered color variants.
maker's mark comparison
Maker's Marks
  • Bottles with different maker's mark but are otherwise the same or similar are cataloged as bottle variants.
  • Here, Torch Lake Brewery #3 has the E. SON & H mark while #3a has the E S & H mark. Otherwise, they have the same plate, top, and mold shape.
  • Usually, a different maker means the plate will be different, but in this case, the change in maker's mark represents a name change for the same glass operation.
generic embossing comparison
Generic Embossing
  • Bottles with vs. without generic embossing on the mold but are otherwise the same or similar are cataloged as bottle variants.
  • Here, Bosch Brewing Co. #12a has REGISTERED while #12 does not. Otherwise, they have the same plate, top, and mold shape.
  • Generic embossing on the plate, however, forms part of the plate design and warrants distinct bottles.
  • Note that the book catalogued a distinct bottle when generic embossing was on the front of the bottle, but not when on the back or base.

Bottle Rarity

Rarity is based on what has been discovered. Yet rarity is difficult to gauge without knowing the content of everyone's collections. Non-collectors may also possess a few antique Copper Country bottles with little knowledge about them.

For the bottle listings, we present the same rarity scale and assessment as the book.

  • common = more than 50 specimens known
  • scarce = 25 - 50 specimens known
  • rare = 10 - 25 specimens known
  • extremely rare = less than 10 specimens known

In some cases, shards indicate the existence of a bottle, but no whole example is known to exist.

We expect that more specimens of various bottles have been discovered since the publication of the book in 1978. Thus, the rarity scale may need to shift, however, it still functions as a relative assessment of rarity that can guide collectors.

  1. Lockhart, B., P. Schulz, B. Schriever, B. Lindsey, C. Serr, and B. Brown. 2020. Whitall Tatum - Part I - Whitall Tatum & Co. In: Encyclopedia of Manufacturer's Marks on Historic Bottles. posted on Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/WhitallTatum1.pdf
  2. Lindsey, B. accessed in 2021. Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. sha.org/bottle/medicinal.htm
  3. Illinois Glass Co. 1906. Illustrated Catalogue and Price List. posted on Bill Lindsey's site.
  4. Putnam, H. E. 1965. Bottle Identification. Old Time Bottle Publishing Co. Salem, OR.
  5. Hochschild-Kelter Co. 1908. Catalog.
  6. Lockhart, B., B. Schriever, B. Lindsey, C. Serr, and B. Brown. 2013, revised 2021. A.M. Foster & Co. In: Encyclopedia of Manufacturer's Marks on Historic Bottles. posted on Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/AMFoster.pdf
  7. Lockhart, B., B. Schriever, B. Lindsey, C. Serr, and B. Brown. 2020. Western Glass Mfg. Co. In: Encyclopedia of Manufacturer's Marks on Historic Bottles. posted on Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/WesternBottle.pdf
  8. Lockhart, B., B. Schriever, B. Lindsey, and C. Serr. 2015. The Dean and Foster companies. In: Encyclopedia of Manufacturer's Marks on Historic Bottles. posted on Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/DeanFoster.pdf
  9. Lockhart, B., P. Schulz, B. Schriever, B. Lindsey, C. Serr, and B. Brown. 2020. Whitall Tatum - Part I - Whitall Tatum & Co. In: Encyclopedia of Manufacturer's Marks on Historic Bottles. posted on Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/WhitallTatum1.pdf
  10. Lockhart, B., B. Schriever, B. Lindsey, and C. Serr. 2019. The Sheldon-Foster Glass Co. and related companies. In: Encyclopedia of Manufacturer's Marks on Historic Bottles. posted on Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/Sheldon-FosterGlass.pdf