About 45 years ago, I went to a Saturday evening auction about a mile down the road and walked out with an Alta Crest Farm milk bottle. Even though I was just starting farming and 'fun money' was scarce, I and another farmer had run it up to six dollars. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I was just looking for a way to pass the time and thought the bottle was kind of neat.
As I began to retire about seven years ago, I discovered Milk Bottle Collectors and came to realize that the Alta Crest bottle I had was extremely rare and was up in the four-figure range. The other bottle in that range is a Borden's red glass. The Borden Company introduced the red bottle in one plant. The customers didn't take to white milk in red bottles, so they recalled and crushed them. All the ones they could find, that is; some people saved them for flower vases and the like. Some collectors have them, but I have never seen one.
Some people principally collect their town's or county's bottles and trade with other collectors for some they don't have. Other folks grew up on farms that peddled milk, or had an uncle or grandpa in the dairy business and they would like to get a 'nostalgic' bottle.
There are a lot of collecting specialties. Some people try to collect bottles from every state, but it is quite a job just to get one from every dairy in your county, especially where there is a concentration of population. One can go to a fairly large library that saved old telephone books for research and look up the dairies that are listed in the yellow pages. In my small town there were three dairies. When tracking down bottles, you have to know where to look. The principal places where you find them are flea markets and tag sales. Antique shops have discovered they can sell them but they are at a little higher price there.
In the days before homogenization, Cream-Top bottles featured a rounded neck to trap the cream. Sometimes they molded the neck to the image of baby face or a policeman's face with a police man's hat and they called them 'cop the cream'. The more modern 'pyro-glaze' are most popular. Dairies could order any colorful picture or their name and slogan without it washing off.
To display their bottles, many collectors order white styrofoam beads that enhance the appearance just like milk did. Some collectors specialize in pyro-glazed creamers (the kind in which restaurants used to serve cream).
In addition, all the collectors snap up the 'go-with' such as cork-insulated boxes to set on the porch to keep the milk from freezing or souring. Every collector seems to be looking for a separator or churn or butter molds. I stumbled on a wooden butter worker to separate the buttermilk from the solid butter. Signs of all kinds are great addition to a collection, including those advertising premiums that milk companies used give out, such as pot holders or ice cream scoops with their names on them. (The lever action ice cream scoops they didn't give out.) The old 'Gilchrist' are the most famous and dependable scoops.
The national Milk Bottle Collectors organization meets in Hershey, Pa., each June and publishes the newsletter The Milk Route.
For more information, write The Milk Route, 4 Ox Bow Rd., Westport, CT 06880.
Photos are from the collection of Larry Berndt. Visit his website at: www.anselfire.com/mi/bottle/