Bottle Condition Grading
All bottles that I sell use the condition grading scale and terms below.
CONDITION GRADING LEVELS
ROUGH (1-2) - a bottle that looks like it was used as a skateboard wheel can be considered "rough". Other terms are "poor", "bad", "worn", etc... A bottle that is in rough shape is not a likely candidate for cleaning, as cleaning will not help it, due to significant ground wear or case wear, pitting, scaling, scratches and similar problems. On a scale of 1 to 10, a rough bottle grades as a 1 or 2. Any damage such or cracks or chips should still be noted--it is not enough to just say a bottle is rough, and let that be the basis for undescribed chips or cracks.
FAIR (3-4) - a bottle in fair condition will have wear and/or stain and/or scratches, but may be worth cleaning. There will be considerable remaining wear and/or scratches if the bottle is lightly cleaned. If the bottle has already been cleaned, this should be mentioned, as a bottle in fair condition that has already been cleaned is not a likely candidate for further cleaning. A Fair bottle grades 3-4 out of 10. Any damage such or cracks or chips should be noted.
GOOD (5-6) - a bottle in Good condition is your average condition bottle, and it may have some stain, light scratches and light use wear. It is a good candidate for cleaning (if desired) and will have NO damage in the form of chips or cracks. After cleaning, the bottle may improve considerably, but still may have some remaining stain, wear or scratches. If already cleaned, this must be mentioned, along with any remaining condition issues. A Good condition bottle rates 5-6 out of 10.
ABOUT PERFECT (7-8) - this is a bottle which has few if any condition flaws, though it may have minor stain and/or wear and/or light scratching. It can be a very good candidate for cleaning (if desired) as a light cleaning may render it Perfect. If already cleaned, it must be mentioned. There can be NO damage. An About Perfect bottle rates at 7-8 out of 10.
PERFECT (9) - a perfect condition bottle is nearly as good as it gets. It is not a likely candidate for cleaning, as there is really no point. There will be NO damage or condition issues of note. A perfect bottle, upon very close inspection can have traces of very minor wear, scuffs or scratches - consistent with light use and age, but none of these are apparent or distracting with the naked eye under normal lighting. A perfect bottle rates 9 out of 10.
MINT (10) - a Mint bottle is the finest possible example, and is unimprovable. Often referred to as an "attic" bottle or "attic mint". Mint bottles are usually not dug, except in rare cases. A Mint Bottle is a perfect 10. The word MINT should be used sparingly when describing a bottle as MINT bottles represent maybe 1% of all investment quality antique bottles available on the open market at any given time.
DESCRIPTIVE TERMS REFERENCING CONDITION ISSUES
Descriptive terms are used to specify condition issues and should be used in conjunction with the overall grading of the bottle.
BRUISE - a bruise results from glass impact damage and displays as a discolored, opaque area, which is noticeably distracting. It may have a chip, crack or other impact damage associated with it (which should also be mentioned). Some bruises appear as a "rainbow" or prism effect. Bruises can be "faint" or pronounced, depending on the level of damage.
CHIP - a chip typically results from glass impact damage which actually removes a piece of glass in the process. Usually, chips are associated with a bottle's lip, base or corners (where edges occur) but a cylindrical bottle can still have a chip on the body. The size and location of a chip are critical. A chip can be described as "flat" or "deep", "clean" or "rough". A tiny, clean, flat chip on the base of a bottle can be inconsequential, whereas a large, rough chip with associated bruising and cracks coming off of it can be devastating. Occasionally, a chip can be in-making, as with a pontil chip. If minor, in-making chips can be less problematic.
CLEANED - A bottle referred to as having been "cleaned", "professionally cleaned" or "tumbled" generally refers to the mechanical tumbling and polishing of the exterior and/or interior of the glass. This is not to be confused with hand-washing a bottle or using a bottle brush to clean surface dirt or grime. Depending on one's point of view, and the level and quality of cleaning, the result can be considered a big improvement, or a detraction. Generally, a light cleaning which is nearly impossible to detect is a good thing. Conversely, an over-cleaned bottle creates a "waxy" artificial appearance, which is bad. Many shades of gray, and many opinions on cleaning, exist between these two extremes.
CRACK - cracks can result from glass impact damage or can be a result of the cooling process in the "making" of the bottle (the latter being less problematic). When "in-making" cracks are present, they are often referred to as "lines", "legs", or "crazing" to denote the difference. Sodas can often have "crazing lines" at the upper neck when neck and lip temperatures varied in manufacture. Potstones can have tiny "legs" - like the legs on a spider - which may be in-making cooling legs, or the result of cleaning (tumbling) stress on the stone. Occasionally a cooling "line" can appear in an applied lip or other area of a bottle, which may be "inside" the glass, but not extending to the surface. The degree of cracking and whether it is impact or manufacture related can vary greatly, as can it's affect on the display and value of the bottle.
DIP - like a chip, a "dip" usually refers to a spot in a lip, base or corner, which is similar to a chip, but smooth. Dips can be the result of a slip of the hand, a misshapen area in the mold, or just a natural dip of missing glass in the gather (which is in-making) or a dip can be a chip which has been ground smooth and buffed to resemble an in-making flaw. Buffed chips can be somewhat hard to detect if done well prior to tumbling a bottle--especially one that has been tumbled using a cutting agent. Natural dips can be identified by the surrounding glass on an uncleaned bottle if certain fine surface characteristics in the glass are present. Dips usually create controversy either way.
FLAKE - usually not as rough or large as a chip, the term "flake" is used to describe a single spot of missing glass. A "clean, flat flake" can denote a very minor, and sometimes hard to detect chip, which could be buffed out (if desired) or just left as is.
OPEN BUBBLE - an open bubble can also vary in degree from a small, "onion skin" type open bubble which was in the making to a large bubble that has been opened by impact, and may have associated cracks in the cover glass (if any remains). Open bubbles can be on the interior, or exterior of the bottle. Interior bubbles which open as a result of cleaning can have remnants of cleaning compound residue in all or part of the bubble. Exterior bubbles can have dirt stuck under the thin edges of the cover glass which is impossible to remove without damaging the glass. Thin, flat, exterior bubbles which burst in making and melt cleanly back into the surface are hardly worth mentioning; these may even add crudity appeal, whereas partially opened bubbles with crud in them are quite detracting.
PITTING - pitting occurs on a bottle that has had some acidic reaction in the glass, or results from tumbling away heavy scaling or heavy calcification. Generally there are small pits in the glass in a particular area, or all over, depending on the degree of deterioration. Because pitting is the result of actual glass deterioration, it can only be removed (if at all) by heavy tumbling, which is not recommended on bottles with embossed lettering, and is precarious at best on those without.
POTSTONES - potstones, in and of themselves, are not generally considered to be condition issues unless there are cracks, or "potstone legs" radiating out from them. These are sometimes called "spiders" due to their resemblance to spider legs. The presence of large potstones in a bottle which is earmarked for cleaning should be noted, as there is always the chance that "spider legs" will appear around the stone due to the stress that tumbling places on the weak area of thin glass surrounding a potstone, right where the stones edges meet the glass.
REPAIRS - repairs are like cleaning--depending on one's point of view they can be an enhancement, or a distraction. If not described, they are certainly problematic. Usually repairs refer to the use of epoxy to replace missing glass from a chip or similar segment of missing glass, but we commonly find entire tops replaced on bottles with severe lip damage. This is accomplished by using an actual original glass lip that matches the damaged bottle, sawing off the damaged top at the neck and gluing the replacement top back on. Sometimes, a chip is buffed out of a bottle to resemble an in-making "dip" -- this also must be classified as a repair.
SCALING - scaling is a condition particular to dug bottles which are periodically or continually subjected to underground water conditions. New Orleans dug bottles have a high tendency toward scaling, for example, due to the low water table, and the constant leaching of mineral and fertilizer runoff. Like pitting, scaling is actual glass deterioration which manifests as rough swirls in the glass and/or glass "layering" which appears as irregular marks, similar to whittle, but less uniform in shape and size. Like pitting, scaling can only be removed by heavy tumbling, so is pretty devastating, condition-wise.
SCRATCHES - scratches range from very light to very heavy on a bottle. They commonly occur over years of use, but often are the result of a poorly excavated bottle. Scratches, if not too severe, can be buffed before cleaning a bottle, or a cutter can be used in the first stage of tumbling, to minimize or remove them. Scratches can be bad, but are easier to remedy than chips are cracks.
STAIN - stain, like scaling, usually results from some mineral reaction in the ground. Attic bottles seldom have stain, other than inside content stain--which can result from liquid content reaction to the interior glass in a sealed bottle over a 100-200 year period. Stain manifests as a milky or cloudy covering, and can have a chalky layer. Some stain creates a multi-colored rainbow effect in reflected light which some collectors admire. This type of stain is sometimes referred to as "Benicia" glass due to the tendency of bottles dug in Benicia (Calif.) to exhibit this effect (though the effect is certainly not limited to this area). Stain can be removed with polishing agents in the tumbling process if not too severe. Most stain can be removed if a cutting agent is used before polishing, but some stains can be stubborn, and never be completely removed (especially some inside stain).
WEAR - wear is a catch-all phrase which encompasses elements of some of the aforementioned condition issues. It is often broken down into two categories. "Case wear" occurs mostly on a bottle's high points (like the embossing) and is the result of above ground normal use during the life of the bottle, which if returned and reused many times can be many years. "Ground wear" occurs after the bottle has been discarded and includes wear from the shifting of earth and debris over the years, and water and mineral leaching which really creates minor scaling and pitting, mixed with stain all lumped together under "ground wear". Wear ranges from very light to very heavy, and the impact of wear on condition is commensurate with these levels.
It must be noted that many creative terms like "flea bites", "chigger bites", "nicks", "dings", "pings", "moons", "marks" etc. have been coined in order to soften the impact of damage, but most of these translate in some form or other to the terms above.