Surname-oriented Antique Bottle Collecting

Surname-oriented antique bottle collecting

The link between Genealogy and Antique Bottles 

The explosion of interest in family history (genealogy) has been rapidly increasing in recent years, as evidenced by popular sites such as and other sources that offer available data from early census forms, city directories, early telephone directories, obscure books, newspapers, and magazines, etc.

Within the field of glass, in recent years it’s become increasingly popular to search for and collect antique and vintage bottles (whether hand-blown or machine-made) that bear a particular embossed surname (last name), especially a name of particular interest or relevance to the collector, antique buff, bottle digger, amateur historian, genealogist, teacher, researcher, or just a curious family member.

[Note: Although this website is geared toward information on glass containers, there are, of course, many, many older pottery and ceramic bottles, jugs, jars, crocks, and related ware in existence that carry surnames, either incised, stamped, embossed, or painted on the surface] .

This field is an often-overlooked potential source of interest to genealogy buffs.  Information from old bottles may be useful when combined with data that can be gleaned from period city and business directories, newspaper and magazine ads, government census data and other contemporary sources.

The interested collector may search for any glass containers that bear his or her own family name, regardless of whether there is/was any relationship to the owner or proprietor of the business that issued/used the bottles with that embossing.    These can form an interesting collection in and of themselves, and spur more involved study on the history of the companies and people that were behind the bottles.

J. M. Clark (possibly a pickle bottle)

J. M. Clark & Co. (possibly a pickle bottle)

A tremendous variety of surnames have been embossed on glass bottles, extending back for a period of nearly 200 years.  Tens of thousands, even a hundred thousand or more individually distinct surnames probably exist as an integral part of the embossed (raised) markings on bottles made just in the United States alone.  Counting bottles manufactured the world over, the number of surnames in existence would be much, much higher.

The possibilities are virtually unlimited for finding glass containers with rare, uncommon, obscure, or unusual surnames.



Here is a list of just some of the many types of bottles which can be found that commonly carry a surname  (typically, the company name, usually derived from the owner, operator or manager) .

1) Dairies (milk bottles). This is a huge field, with thousands of obscure dairies that once operated across the US. Most of these types of bottles date (in general) from the 1910s to the 1950s.
2) Beer brewers (Beer, ale bottles). Another vast field. Many of the larger cities across the US, especially in the East, including Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Boston, Baltimore, and others, were home to large numbers of breweries and/or beer bottlers. Many of these bottles carry the full name of the owner (or firm name) as well as city and state.
3) Soda manufacturers (Soda, root beer, mineral water, tonic water bottles)
4) Spirits manufacturers/distillers (whiskey and other liquor bottles)
5) Chemical companies (bleach, cleaning agents, acids, blueing, and other chemical bottles)
6) Druggists/Pharmacies (drug, prescription bottles). Easily tens of thousands of druggists across the US had their own personalized bottles manufactured for them to use for customer prescriptions. The heyday for this type of embossed bottle would be circa 1875-1920.
7) Medicine manufacturers (bottles containing “quack” as well as “reputable” medicines, including “remedies”, “cures”, etc).
8) Food products manufacturers/distributors (food containers of a very wide range of types).
9) Pickle and condiment manufacturing/ distributing companies (containers for pickles, olives, chutney, ketchup, vinegar, sauces, relishes, etc).
10) Ink and shoe polish manufacturers. (many types, sizes, designs of shoe dressing, stove blacking, ink, and related product bottles).
11) Bitters manufacturers (bitters bottles)
12) Coffee distributors (Coffee jars)
13) Cosmetic manufacturers (Cologne bottles, lotions, oils, salves)
14) Fruit jar manufacturers

Probably the most common embossed names found on antique and vintage bottles would be SMITH, JONES, WILLIAMS, THOMAS, JOHNSON, BROWN, ADAMS, and others of that genre. The less common the surname, the harder it may be to find unusual examples or variants of bottles.

Some surnames are not that common to begin with, but are frequently found in “the bottle world” simply because the companies were so successful.  “WHITTEMORE” comes to mind, a prolific manufacturer of shoe polish.

Many names, by their very nature, give strong clues concerning the ethnic or country origins of the proprietors of a particular business firm.  For instance, a very large proportion of early beer brewers and bottlers were of German origin.  A large influx of German immigrants occurred throughout much of the mid and late 19th century in the United States, many of them accomplished tradesmen and businessmen in a wide variety of fields.

The auction site can be of great help in finding bottles with a particular surname on them.

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1 Response to Surname-oriented Antique Bottle Collecting

  1. Suzanne Jordan says:

    I am looking for information about a bottle I found. The bottom says S.C.Johnson and son Racine WI. I haven’t been able to find anything about it.

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