Collectors Corner: Bottle Caps
By Michele Alice
A bottle cap is a bottle cap is a bottle cap.
But not to legions of collectors!
As long as there have been bottles, people have sought ways to safely seal in the bottles' contents. Individuals and companies have long experimented with little contraptions composed of such things as bailing wire and plugs of marble, glass, or rubber.
There were also internal stoppers that necessitated the filling of bottles upside-down, and screw tops that fitted threads inside, not outside, the bottles.
Cork, though common, proved to be not always reliable, especially if allowed to dry out and shrink. (It is still used for wines because its special properties allow them to "breath.")
To keep manufacturing, transportation, and storage costs down, an inexpensive and reliable sealing method had to be found.
Enter the crown cap.
Patented in the U.S. in 1892 by William Painter, the crown cap, or "crown cork" as it was and is still often called, consisted of a metal cap with a corrugated flange pressed around the lip of a bottle. A thin slice of solid cork served as the liner, helping to seal the bottle against contamination. To pry off the caps, simple tools resembling the bottle openers of today were used.
Some collectors seek specimens of various types of bottle sealers, but when speaking about bottle caps, most are invariably referring to the crown cork. Not only is it still in use today (primarily on beer bottles; most soda bottlers have switched to all-plastic twist-off caps), but the caps have also long functioned as miniature advertising pieces. Oftentimes, this might consist of little more than a brand name stamped atop the cap. Other times, quite imaginative logos combining words and pictures might appear.
Most caps sell for a dollar or two or even less, but condition, rarity, and cross-collectibility can push values way up. For example, an old orange-colored, cork-lined Pepsi Cola (Richmond, Virginia) cap recently sold online for $60.99; a lot of six Reisch Brewing Co./Ward's Lime Crush caps fetched $305; and a 1959 YOO-HOO cap featuring Mickey Mantle garnered a final bid of $840!
Then there are all the related products that augment crown cap collections like the old boxes of caps sold for home bottling; company-logo bottle cap openers; and the large bottle cap signs that regularly fetch several hundred dollars, on up.
Want to figure out how old a cap might be? The designs of company logos change over time, and some company references will include pictorial guides, allowing you to pinpoint an era.
Another way to date your crown cap is to check the liner. In general, solid cork liners were in use until the beginning of World War I, composition-cork liners until the late 1960's, and plastic liners up to the present.
Have a cap that is rare, but bent? There are special tools, like the Reser Crown Press, for restoring caps to close to original shape. Have a cap that is common and a duplicate? Turn it into bottle-cap jewelry!
Would you like to learn more about collectible bottle caps? Check out the resources listed below, and
Bottle Cap Jewelry (2518) by Suzanne McNeill
"Soda and Beer Bottle Closures, 1850-1910," by David Graci - Link to book on SodasAndBeers.com
The Bottle Cap Man - link to website - Check out the Collectors Info page for dates and descriptions of various cap liners.
Bottle Cap-O-Rama - link to website - Site displays over 4700 caps; offers tips on safely removing and displaying caps.
Caps Navigator - link to website - Collector Art Zhitnik's site, interesting for its compilation of articles on dent removal, crown cap history, copy of original Painter patent, more. Zhitnik also created CANACO (Caps Navigator Community).
Crowncap Collectors Society International (CCSI) - link to website - Association maintains database of over 21,000 crowns, and counting. Hosts annual CrownVention and publishes CrownCappers' Exchange magazine (past issues available online).
Crowncaps.Info - link to website - Major site provides information on over 900 collectors and their collections, and a Crown Cap Catalog searchable by picture, brand, liner, etc.
Crown History - link to website - Official history of Crown Holdings Inc. (originally Crown Cork & Seal Company) from its founding by inventor William Painter in 1892 up to the present.
North American Soda & Beer Bottles - Closures - link to website - Discusses the many different closures used, including manufacturing periods and patents.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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