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Collecting Antique Bottles

Updated on October 19, 2009

My first experience with antique bottle collecting occurred in Panama. Actually it was the Panama Canal Zone during the period of 1970 through 1973. I was stationed at the Naval Security Group Activity Galeta Island in the Panama Canal Zone. A coworker showed me his antique bottle collection. The bottles were over 100 years old and were handmade. Made by a craftsman who used a blow pipe to make each hand blown specimen. That in itself was fascinating, These bottles were manufactured in a sweat shop environment when men and children worked in difficult conditions from sun up to sun down. I have always been interested in old things and the history behind them. These old bottles had some very interesting stories to tell.

 The handmade bottles were crude and showed many imperfections. No two bottles were alike. Even the bottles that were of the same type had variations. It was easy to see the advances in the bottle making technique. The older bottles being very crude and the newer bottles becoming more refined through the end of the 1800's.

Sheared Top

 The oldest bottles had an unfinished lip called shear top or sheared top. The bottle was cut or sheared from the blow pipe after the blowing process was complete. When the glass was hot it had a consistency of leather. It those old days of early 1800's back into the 1700 and 1600's the bottles had the sheared lip. Those old bottles are beautiful to me. Each lip wrapped with a ribbon of glass the purpose of which was to hold the wire which kept the cork in the bottle neck.

Black Glass Case Gin Bottle


The older bottles were are called black glass. The glass usually isn't black but very dark greens and dark browns that are so dark that you can't see through them. The bottles made during the mid 1800's were more colorful. Some were beautiful cobalt blue, ambers, and emerald green.

Blob Top Soda

That introduction to Collecting Antique Bottles turned into an enjoyable and satisfying hobby for me. The hunts for old bottles took me into the jungles of Panama. I saw exotic birds, many snakes and tarantulas, coati mundi a raccoon like creature, and one time I even saw an ant eater. I walked for miles through the jungle to the sites of old homes and towns. After 100 years the jungle takes everything back. The bottles had sunk into the ground two or three feet, and sometimes it was difficult to find any signs that people had lived there.

I collected about 3000 antique bottles during the rest of my time in Panama. Each bottle has a story and I can remember where I found each one. I haven't been bottle hunting since I left Panama in 1973. I started my own Collecting Antique Bottles Website but haven't been bottle hunting since I returned to the United Sates. If I could find a good spot now I would like to try it again. It is exciting like finding buried treasure.


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    • ChuckBurns profile image

      ChuckBurns 6 years ago from Wisconsin USA

      Hi Pam,

      Thanks for visiting my Antique Bottles web page. I am familiar with the MAN bottle, the DOG bottle, and I have seen a ROOSTER bottle which may be what you are referring to.

      I would have to see your bottles to identify them, but I would have no idea of value.

      You could look for similar bottles on bottle websites. Look at my other site at It has quite a few bottles listed for sale (not my bottles) and you may be able to get an idea of value.

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      pam 6 years ago

      My father dug up bottles in Panama. One he called the chicken bottle.. He said there were only 2 made and he had one of them. I have 2 cases of other bottles and don't know where to go to find out what they are worth. I am trying to find out more about the bottles but any information would be nice

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      Luis 7 years ago

      I have some old bottles for sale from Panama, send me your e-mail and I will send you the pictures

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      old beer bottle 7 years ago

      I dug some bottles not far from Ft San Lorenzo (close to the Panama Canal Zone), not sure if any of my bottles have a lip as you described, I have a few posted at but I will place the others I found up there soon, I have some very interesting ones, not sure how much they are worth, but I figure if I show them on the web, I may get others talking about them and letting me know more of what I have uncovered.

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      Chuck Burns 7 years ago

      Hello Shandra,

      If the bottle is from the Ft. San Lorenzo area then it could very well be an applied lip. I think that is what you are reffering to. An applied lip is in fact a ribbon of glass wrapped around the sheared top of the bottle. The applied lip provided a way to wrap a wire in order to hold the cork in place. If your bottle has an applied lip then it could be early 1700s to mid 1800's and even before. A bottle with applied lip will probably be crude with imperfections, and possibly have an open pontil or improved pontil.

      I couldn't say more without seeing the bottle.

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      Shanda Bruner 7 years ago


      My mother and I bought a box deal at an estate sale & inside was an old bottle with a letter inside to someone explaining that it was a gift and that it came from Fort San Lorenzo near the Chagres River. It is dark green almost black and I cannot find any information or pictures that look anything like it. It is definately older than the latter 1800's, it has a very smooth top and no markings. It is almost a rhine shape. Would this be a ribbon top? Any information you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • ChuckBurns profile image

      ChuckBurns 7 years ago from Wisconsin USA

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I don't have any ribbon seals. I do have a few case gins. Some plain, a couple case gins we called the "man" bottle with an embossed picture of a man. These bottles also say Shciedam on them. I also have a very old, very crude open pontil case gin that I found in the area of Ft. San Lorenzo.

      I have a dozen or so soda bottles from the 1848 era. Beautiful emerald greens, cobalt blue, and also black glass bottles of the same time frame.

      I am not ready to sell any bottles at this time but will keep you in mind if I decide to sell any.

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      Jim Strahan 7 years ago

      I was in Panama about the same time and I to got hooked on bottle collecting. I'm looking for ribbon seals, case gins and sodas. If you have bottles for sale email me at Thanks, Jim