It was probably a natural thing for Ron Throckmorton of Glencoe, Mo. to wind up collecting oil bottles. He had a grandfather who raced at the Indy 500 as a "mechanic/ pump-man" back when each car carried two men. Ron raced dirt bike motorcycles for 25 years. Maybe he has oil in his blood or maybe he needed something to fill the void when he quit racing in his early fifties.
Oil bottles were used to dispense bulk oil at service stations from early in this century until the 1950's.
The spout style bottle is usually a quart roughly the diameter and height of a round glass milk bottle but with a wide neck and a threaded finish to accommodate a zinc spout. Spout bottles come in a wide variety of shapes.
There are two other types of oil bottles. Tall style bottles are also a quart size, but they are over an inch narrower and more than a half foot taller than the regular style. The tallest is 18 ½" high. Some have distinctive embossed panels and logo figures such as "Shell." Talls have a full pouring lip with no threads or spout.
The third style consists of World War II specials. At first glance, they appear to be 1940's drink bottles or coffee jars. However, they have, as with all oil bottles, the embossed words "fill to line." These specials do not fit regular spouts. Labels or trademarked closures make these more desirable.
Oil bottles were in use from the 1910's to 1950's. The WW II specials were, of course, from the 1940's. The age of the bottle can sometimes be determined by mold marks on the base. Some bottles have two digits that can designate the year. Owens-Illinois-made bottles have a date code to the right of the O-I diamond logo. Often it is only the last digit of the year. For more information on these technical points contact a local antique bottle club through the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors.
Most oil bottles were embossed with the oil company's brand or the retailer's name. Some also had applied color "painted labels." Collectors should be aware that some unscrupulous persons have put decals on plain bottles and sell them as if they were original fired-on color logos. Original color does not scratch easily. There are also generic bottles with no brand name marks.
There are more than 140 different American oil bottles in Ron's collection. He concentrates on American bottles, but displays several dozen imperial quarts from Canada, New Zealand and Austrailia. After buying several collections, Ron has traded bottles with collectors around the country. There are at least 350 different ones in the world, 220 in the U.S.alone.
Ron started by collecting oil company metal signs. He has financed some of his growing bottle collection by selling a few signs as they appreciate in value. The value of signs, bottles and some other petroliana have been increasing steadily in recent years.
His travels in motorcycle racing and his occupation have afforded Ron the opportunity to visit many antique stores, flea markets, and oil & gas memorabilia shows. He recommends the oil & gas shows in Des Moines, Iowa; Columbus, Ohio; Tulsa, Okla.; Columbia, Mo. and Hershey, Penn. The Des Moines show is the big one, with 250 vendors.
There are only a relative few collectors specializing in oil bottles but there are many petroliana and car enthusiasts who include them to some extent in their hobby. Two of the biggest oil bottle collectors live in the same town- Lawrence, Kansas. Ron enjoys networking with them and others to share information and trade bottles. One of the Kansas collectors has made a book with drawings of known oil bottles, now out of print. A new version is in the works.
Ron's favorite bottles include those that showcase the moldmaker's art, those with embossed figures, patterns and panels. One special bottle is diamond shaped with the figure of a gargoyle embossed on it. It is distinctive also for it's proprietary pressure-fill spout.
There are also a variety of threaded spouts for the collector to top off his bottles. Only a few spout manufacturers put their mark on their products. There is little to guide the collector as to the "right" spout for each bottle. Ron thinks that while the oil company may have provided the bottles, the retailer could get spouts from a third party. Mobil branded spouts are a good find among various other markings. Old dies are being used to make new Master spouts today for collectors.
Ron Throckmorton's collection would be interesting to one who remembers oil bottles. It would be surprising to those who are too young to have seen them in use in the 1950's. He laments that the efficient bottles are no longer used in our throw-away society.
Gone are the metal and wood carriers of filled oil bottles on service station islands. Service stations themselves are on the endangered list.
Photo - of Ron and his son at their swap meet table
Ron can be contacted at 636-458-3577 or Throcksals@aol.com
A new oil bottle book is being compiled by Kent McCullough, 1035 Sunset Dr., Lawrence, KS 66044, phone 913-843-7111
Drawings and photos by Jim Potts
The gas station collectible supersite
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