What more is there to say that’s new when it comes to glass? Especially antique and vintage glass? More than you would think. As it turns out, glass is trending again. Despite what has been seen as sagging interest in once-coveted 19th-20th century everyday glasswares and objects, the reality is that exceptional and rare pieces, especially from known makers, as well as era-connected glass items and antique glass bottles, continue to attract new buyers and set sales records.
If buyer interest and auction results are any indication, then antique glass bottles, from flasks to bitters, will be enjoying another strong year. A “General Washington” And Bust – Eagle Portrait Flask, c. 1820-1830, realized $79,560 at Heckler’s Select Auction 196 this past June. The top lot in Part I of American Bottle Auctions’ Mel Hammer Collection auction, held in December 2021, went to a rare Dr Renz’s Herb Bitters, 1868-81, that brought in $24,150, well past the most ever paid for a Renz’s Bitters. A deep yellowish “old” amber bottle labeled “G.W. Stone’s — Liquid / Cathartic And / Family Physic — Lowell Mass,” circa 1840-55, sold for $37,440 at Glass Works Auctions Premiere catalog auction this past February 2022. Just the type of good press the glass market needs!
What’s driving the market for antique glass and glass bottles? I would suggest several things:
For one, we are seeing an influx of items from serious, long-time bottle collectors come to market. Many of these collections contain rarely seen or not previously known to exist items, and have remained private and have been privately exchanged, typically among dealers and fellow collectors, for decades. With many of these items now coming to auction, especially online, prospective buyers can be targeted, and interest in top-tier items exponentially increased, helping to drive up prices for especially highly desired and rare examples.
The antique glass bottle market is also benefitting from renewed interest in the amateur hobby of bottle collecting. While you will always find collectors that still want to get their hands dirty in the unearthing of finds and enjoy roaming the aisles at regional bottle shows talking and learning from long-time dealers, the internet has expanded and forever changed the marketplace for both buyers and sellers, as it has across all segments of the antique collectibles marketplace. As it turns out, antique bottle sales are benefitting from buyers who are perfectly content to find their picks online and have them conveniently delivered to their door. This is a boom for dealers and collectors, who can now easily and affordably find their buyers in a marketplace that is search-driven and knows no geographic limitations.
Antique glass bottles, in all their forms, different sizes, and colors are also fun to collect and make great decorative displays. The fact that they can be affordably found on eBay and at antique shops, shows, and thrift stores makes them unique design elements. They are also getting a bump from the online DIY space. On Etsy.com alone, there are over 21,000 listings for antique glass bottles repurposed in new and interesting ways.
The antique glass bottle market itself can also be credited for the exposure and enthusiasm that is attracting new, actively engaged buyers and collectors. The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors, a non-profit established in 1959 to support collectors of historical bottles, flasks, jars and related items, and regional bottle clubs that form communities across the country, provide enthusiasts with collector resources, scholarship, and educational and social opportunities to come together at shows and sales that offer something for everyone interested in antique bottles and glass. This year’s FOHBC’s Annual Convention will be held in Reno, NV, July 28-31. FOHBC has even gone a step further by opening a virtual museum that is free to the public to learn and see rare examples.
Lastly, the amount of research and cataloging that has been done over the past century on bottle companies and bottle collections by collectors, dealers, and auction houses provides, especially new collectors, with a better understanding and appreciation for what to look for and what adds value when buying and bidding on bottles for their collection. Bottles with a good back story only help to inspire market interest and add value.
Antique glass bottles aside, glass is also riding the coattails of renewed market interest in everything Art Deco and Mid-century Modern. Design-era specific glasswares and objects are trending across all segments of the marketplace – online and at antique shops, shows and auction houses. Here, the interest tends to be more about decorating than collecting; nevertheless, everything from cocktail glasses and barware to lighting, decorative objects, vases, and architectural elements are experiencing renewed buyer interest for their recognizable and stylized design and glass artistry.
If all this market momentum was not enough to put the shine back on glass, 2022 is also the UN International Year of Glass. On May 18, 2021, the International Commission on Glass (ICG), along with the Community of Glass Associations (CGA) and ICOM-Glass received approval from the UN General Council for a United Nations International Year of Glass of 2022. The Year will celebrate the essential role glass has and will continue to have in Society. A 2-day opening event at the Palace of Nations in Geneva will feature 30 world-class speakers and streamed worldwide. Museums across the country will be joining in with their own celebrations and exhibitions. You can read more about the UN International Year of Glass on page 23.
There is, however, no better way to get excited about glass than to join a glass club, visit a glass museum, and attend glass shows and conventions. The knowledge and passion behind the dealers, curators, and collectors you will meet will help you to look at and appreciate all forms of glass in a whole new light. To get you started, read our April issue, full of information on glass clubs, upcoming glass exhibitions around the country, glass gatherings and shows, and auction houses always bringing unique, old finds to new buyers.