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Antiquing and Bottle Dating: Two Old Fitzgerald Bottles

Posted on by Eric Burke

So I’m feeling great! The antibiotics are gone, the cough is almost gone, the tastebuds…well I guess you could say that they are gone too. I’ve had whiskies I normally love taste like pure ethanol and ones I think are normally find just ok seem quite good. 

In other words everything is out of whack. Until I get my little tasters back in line I’m presenting an educational series based around some antiquing I’ve done lately. This is the second in the series. In it I’m showing what can be found for relatively little money and showing how I go about finding out more about the items I pick up. For me these are not only items that will look cool on the shelf, but stories waiting to be uncovered. 

Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond Empty Mini: 

Picked up for $1 at an antique mall in Southern Minnesota.

This is the cheapest thing I’ve purchased recently. It was in a box of small empty bottles each selling for $1. This was the one bourbon one in there or I might have purchased more. I wasn’t expecting much out of this. In fact, I was thinking it might make a fun addition to my party lights. What I wasn’t expecting was that this would be one of the hardest things to date that I purchased that day. 

As with any time I try to date a bottle, the first thing I do is look at it to see what clues it will give me. I know from the label that this was Bottled in Bond, 100 proof, distilled and bottled at Stitzel-Weller. I also notice that there is a Wisconsin Tax Stamp, a fragment of a green Bottled in Bond Federal Tax Stamp, a painted label and a legal statement. 

There was no UPC and the volume was given in imperial measurements so we can put an upper limit of somewhere in the late 70s. The bottled in bond statement referenced Sections 5205 and 5233 of the Internal Revenue code which puts the lower limit at about 1959-60. So I’ve narrowed it down to about 20 years. Now I need to to do a little digging. 

I know that tax stamps change over time so I tried to find examples of when this style was used. Luckily there are very fanatical people on the internet willing to give us this information. In this case though, the info I received wasn’t lining up. The tax stamp seems to be in a 1949-1950s design, but the serial number style is that from the 1960s. So that’s a clue. Maybe some sort of transitional style? At this point I’m just lining up evidence. 

Now I turn to the label design itself. Surely there is a photo of this design online somewhere. After a couple hours of searching I stumbled onto an auction selling a full mini just like the empty I picked up. As Bottled in Bond tax stamps tell when it was distilled and when it was bottled, I’m going to trust them to be telling the truth in their description. They say theirs was bottled in 1965. 

Finally I turn the darn bottle upside down. In a normal case, I would have done this first. But this one was a bit hard to decipher. Due to which letters and the logo that happened to be embossed in the glass, I couldn’t tell which was was up. The bottom has a 9 (or six) the Owens-Illinois glass company logo (an O with an I inside it), a zero, and a 6 (or nine) below (above?) it. So I did a little digging. One of those numbers on either side of the logo should be a plant code the other should be the year. The one on the right is the year the one on the left should be the plant. On the Society for Historical Archaeology website I found a list of bottle maker permit numbers and sure enough neither permit 6 or 9 was owned by Owens-Illinois. Shoot. It was probably too much to hope for since that requirement was for bottles 8 fluid ounces or larger, but you never know until you look. They did have plants numbered with both a 6 and a 9 in use during the time I was considering. Plus nobody has a permit zero, which is what really gave me a clue as to which was was up and which number was the year. In this case the zero should be the year the bottle was made…maybe.

So the evidence is piling up to point to 1960 or at least the early 60s. The post-1959 Bottled in Bond statement, the zero date code, the late 1950s/early 60s tax stamp and a bottle design that was in use during the time frame. It wasn’t easy, but I think I have this one puzzled out as far as I’m going to. That was a lot of fun for $1.

Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond Decanter-style Bottle:

Picked up for $15 at a bottle and advertising show.

This is something that I might or might not have picked up if I hadn’t just picked up the mini the day before. I thought they might look nice displayed together since even though the design painted on the label is different, the shape of the bottle is similar. It is a decanter-style glass bottle with a painted label.  The closure is cork with a glass pull screwed into it.

So what do we know about it that can help me figure out when this is from? There is no UPC and the volume is listed in imperial measurements so we know that it is from before the late 1970s. The bottled in bond statement references sections 2903-9…which isn’t referenced in the helpful site I referenced above. So no help there. 

Looking at the base, though I hit a treasure trove of information. First off, the post-Prohibition statement “Federal Law Forbids Sale or Re-Use of This Bottle” is present. This gives us both an earliest date and a hint as to the latest date it could be. This statement was mandated on all liquor bottles produced from the end of Prohibition until 1964. Though due to the cost of changing the molds it was phased out after that point. So this should be in that range. So we now have a 29 year range to work with. But there is more information there so let’s narrow that down a bit further.

In the center there are three lines of information that will help me narrow this down further. After Prohibition, it seems that everyone who made anything that touched liquor needed a permit. And it all needed to be in the glass. The top line says D-379. The D stands for distiller and the number is Stitzel-Weller’s code to have liquor bottles created for them. The next line could be arranged in a few ways. In this case it is a two digit code a dash and another two digit code. Below that is the logo for the bottle maker (other arrangements have the logo between the two codes instead of a dash). 

Referencing the SHA.org website manufacturer logos table pdf, we can determine that the logo shows the bottle was made by Owens-Illinois Glass Company. It also shows that this bottle is pre1960-ish as that is the end of the usage of that logo (Owens-Illinois changed their logo in the early 1950s but continued to use mold plates until they wore out). The liquor bottle permit pdf shows that Owens-Illinois had permit number 58, but not 53. I know that the left code is normally the permit number and the right is normally the year, but it is nice to get confirmation since the arrangement seems to have been a matter of custom not enforcement.

That means this is a 1953 bottle of Old Fitzgerald. Looking at ads online I see there should have been a paper label around the neck and possibly a key draped around it. But in any case this one still looks good and it was fun to find the answer so easily. 


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