June was first designated Dairy Month in 1937 as a way to help distribute extra milk. Now, years later, the tradition continues at county fairs and bottle shows, where collectors show off their collections.
In 1884, Dr. Harvey D. Thatcher, from Potsdam, N.Y., patented the early milk bottle. Milk soon was sealed in paper-capped glass bottles delivered to homes and businesses across the country.
Bottles manufactured during World War II included patriotic motifs advertising a particular dairy’s support for the war effort while encouraging customers on the home front to do their part. An example slogan: “Food fights too! Conserve what you buy. Plan all meals for Victory!”
Vintage glass milk bottles are a sought-after collectible in today’s market. Many glass bottles were destroyed when paper and plastic cartons became popular. They are scarce, and collectors have begun to take notice.
What to look for
Bottle shapes are important, because they give you a hint of the age. Bulges in the neck where cream collects are known as cream-top bottles. In the '40s, squat or square bottles replaced long-necked and round bottles, because they fit more securely into the wire delivery baskets, and were easier to transport. These early bottles are rare.
Bottles from large city dairies that are usually more abundant start around $10 to $20. Bottles from independent farms and smaller dairies are harder to find, and range from $35 to $75, depending on condition, rarity and age.
Bottles bearing patriotic or collegiate graphics, and those with rhyming slogans, are particularly popular and range from $95 to $175. Those little 1-ounce creamers with dairy logos that were once found in restaurants and diners can sell for $25 to $65, while that cream-top bottle starts around $65, up to as much as $135. Limited-edition bottles for private dairies can range anywhere from $400 on up.
The original Thatcher bottle is the most desirable milk bottle for collectors, with the patented glass dome lid of April 27, 1886. For more information on authentic milk bottles, check out John Tutton’s book “Udderly Splendid”.
Where to find
Sarah Kieffer, Sarah's Uniques & Jim's “Man”tiques, St. Charles: “I try to have different sizes and different creameries for people to choose from. I love getting local creamery bottles like St. Charles, Eyota, Dover and more. They usually range in price from about $3 on up to about $20-$25.
"I personally collect St. Charles milk bottles, and of course, Polly Meadows bottles from Decorah, Iowa, as I have a daughter named Polly. I also collect dairy bottles from different towns, like where my parents grew up, and I collect the little teeny creamers that often have the dairy company on them as well.”
Joan Thilges, New Generations of Harmony: “We have several vendors selling milk bottles, but one, who is a dairy farmer, takes it to the extreme. She has literally many dozens of bottles throughout the mall, ranging from tiny individual creamers to gallon jugs, some with handles, cream tops and caps. We have bottles from the Preston Creamery, Onstad Dairy in Spring Grove, Kasson Dairy, Winona Milk Company, Supreme Brand in Stillwater, Red Oak Dairy in Austin, Little Dutch Mill Dairy in Rochester, and many others. Prices range from under $20 up to $95, depending on size, rarity, age, cap, and other characteristics making them unique.”
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at email@example.com.