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Bottle Cap Collecting

Updated on May 2, 2012

There are many antique bottle collectors today, but there are just as many who are more interested in the caps, cork and wood bottle stoppers that came with them as a hobby. Cork and wood bottle stoppers are considered to be the oldest bottle caps and even today some of the finer wine makers still use them.

Cork is a spongy material which comes from the bark of the cork tree and has traditionally been used to seal wine bottles. The best cork is said to come from Portugal.Corks have been used as bottle stoppers for as long as there has been wine. Greeks in the 5th century BCE were known to have used them.

However, progress marched on and in 1856 a screw cap was invented with a cork disc attached to seal glass jars. The same year a re-closeable wire-and-cap type of bottle cap was also introduced and was actually the preferred stopper of the day for beer manufacturers. It’s still used on some of the finer high-end beers.

The modern “crown” bottle cap with its cork liner, so called because of its resemblance to the British Queen’s crown, first appeared in 1890. It was invented by William Painter and is still in wide use today by the beer industry.

The first ones produced had 24 teeth, or tines, but was later reduced to 21. These rarely contain cork. Soon, nearly all soft drink and beer bottles were using them. Next were “pilfer proof” caps in 1936, followed by twist-off bottle caps in 1966 and later, plastic caps.

Now the history lesson is over, let’s look at why bottle cap collecting is so appealing. First, there is a rich history associated with every bottle cap. Many were produced by companies and products no longer in existence and collecting them for many is a stroll down memory lane. Secondly, most were designed with colorful, eye catching logos, which also served as advertisements and they make attractive displays. Many collectors create art by arranging the caps to form colorful pictures and words. Last, but not least they can be found practically anywhere. People tend to casually toss them aside once they have been removed from a container.

For those collecting caps for historical and colorful art work, care should be given to protect them from being scratched by lining display cases with a non abrasive material. Empty jewelry cases make excellent display containers. Furthermore, be careful when removing a cap since it can sometimes be difficult to do without bending them.

But even if you do bungle the procedure, don’t panic. Tools are available to help straighten them back to their original shapes. It’s also advisable to thoroughly wash caps to remove food or substances which could decay and cause unpleasant odors. If you come across a rusted bottle cap, soak it in lemon juice for several hours and then rinse with soap and water. Allow it to dry thoroughly before storing it. Toothpicks come in handy to thoroughly clean and scrape residue off of the inside of bottle caps. Non-abrasive cleaning agents should also be used to ensure the color or material is not damaged.

In the past few decades the hobby has become quite popular as companies are using more colorful designs on bottle caps to market their brands. Some even release unique, limited edition bottle caps which over time may increase in value.

Bottle caps are of interest to people that collect beer and soft drink memorabilia or are interested in vintage bottle caps with cork liners. Online auction sites, such as eBay and flea markets are great places to find them. There are bottle cap groups and societies where experienced collectors can display their collections and share information on rare bottle caps they have found.

Many collectors specialize in collecting one type, such as beer of soft drink caps. However, there are many other things which can be done with them. More aggressive collectors may even ask restaurant or tavern owners to get them in bulk. Why? Some enterprising people have gone into business making a variety of objects out of them. Small picture frames to be worn as a necklace, jewelry, refrigerator magnets, ear rings, or even decorating the face of a clock to name just a few. Your handmade items can be sold at local flea or farmer’s markets.

Others have taken on larger projects such as making table tops, mosaic art or even decorating entire walls. To make a table top just mark a high quality, precut piece of wood where each cap is to be placed and glue them to it. Then cover it with a thick layer of clear lacquer or resin and let dry. More detailed instructions can be found at:http://windfarmisrecords.blogspot.com/2009/07/how-to-make-bottle-cap-table.html

If these ideas don’t get your creative juices flowing, well then you might just want to “Put a cork in it.”

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    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      That table in the photo, btw, reminds me of how pub owners with a warped sense of humor decoupage paper money and/or coins in certain spot on a bar top, then watch customers go nuts trying to pick up the money! hehe

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      I didn't save beer bottle caps or wine corks either...they just kinda piled up alongside the empties. :-)

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I'm not a collector, per se, but at one time DID put aside Lone Star beer caps because I liked the variety. Each one in a six-pack had a slightly different design. And when I worked for a caterer, I snagged the corks from wine bottles in anticipation of making the bulletin board I saw in a magazine. Never got enough corks to do that, but DID keep a grandson entertained for an entire afternoon once by letting him toss them all over the living room. lol!

      Voted up, useful and awesome! ;D

    • Jeff Gamble profile image

      Jeff Gamble 

      6 years ago from Denton, Texas

      Cap collecting seems like it would be a lot of fun. Very creative ways to display collections.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      Really creative ways to use bottle tops. Love the pics, the care instructions--and the history lesson. Vote up!

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