There are a few areas of the Antique, Collectible and Fine Art markets I find I don't have enough knowledge about. The ones that give me the hardest time are Asian antiques and antique bottles. Both of these areas require years of experience and much study before a person can claim to be an expert. This doesn't eliminate these types of items from consideration, but finding an expert in these fields you can trust and consult with is highly advisable. This would be the person you could contact to authenticate an item so you could decide if it's something you might buy. If it's an item you picked up at a garage sale or a house sale, you might find out you have a real treasure.
A man I know inherited collection of Asian collectibles from his parents, along with a collection of Tiffany Glass. Since his interest was in art glass, and he was not attached to any of the Asian pieces, he decided to sell a few of the lesser items. A major auction house was interested in a rather small jade piece they seemed to think would bring in a fair dollar, maybe $30,000-$50,000. He consigned it to them, and then he and his wife went to New York and sat in the audience during the auction.
When the price of this rather common looking piece sailed past $100,000, they began to sit up quite straight in their seats. At $250,000 this piece hadn't even started. At $500,000 they were having trouble breathing. The final bid was somewhere around $700,000. Wow! Do you think that would make your day?
I can't top that story with an old bottle story, but as a child, I remember collectors would often go to the old buildings and dig for bottles. They also dug for bottles in the country, because the farmers would take their trash and fill gullies to stop erosion. In fact, anywhere trash had been disposed of is a place people would look for bottles. Antique bottles is one area that's a weak spot in my knowledge bank. It is very hard for me to tell a reproduction flask from an old one, but the dollars tell me there is a difference. This is where you must be very careful and depend upon an expert you have cultivated a friendship with.
Here is why it's important to know something about old glass. Recently, a railroad flask sold for $29,000 at an antique bottle auction. Many of the other bottles came in over $10,000 and most managed to top over $3,000.
There are some great bottle guides on the market, but I believe this is one area where you must handle the real things over and over again before you could trust your own judgment.
I see these old bottles and flasks at almost every sale, and if they are cheap enough they may be worth risking$1 to $5 dollars. Then, you do research. You might find you've walked away with the prize of the day.
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Great Link for Bottles:
The Society of Historical Archaeology together with the U.S. Department of the Interior/Bureau of Land Management has the best site I've ever seen for information about utilitarian bottles and jars. Great information and photos. Today's Photo is from their site.
AmericanBottle.com has a good history of glass
National Bottle Museum
The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors
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