I’ve had a vintage baby bottle collection for several years, and have found out from various sources (eBay, websites for collectors, etc) that there are a lot of us out here !! 🙂 My collection started via the realistic baby doll collection, when I wanted to get a ‘period’ bottle to put with a doll that had an outfit that was from the same time period as when I was born (early 60s), along with a vintage 60s infant seat for a complete display. I wanted it to be a cohesive ‘set’. So, I found my first one at an antique store in Comfort, TX (near where I lived)… a 4 oz Evenflo glass bottle with the black ring and disc- perfect ! It was the black ring and disc that were the hardest to find, as well as the vertical Evenflo name on one of the sides of the bottle.
Then I started seeing vintage bottles now and then at thrift stores, as well as ‘hospital issue’ newborn nursery type bottles, which was what the doll collection was beginning to look like- a nursery! The local Salvation Army Thrift Store manager would see things come in and hold them for me (I was in there many times a week- big entertainment in the small Texas town I was living in). Thus began a bigger effort to find bottles that reminded me of babies I’d known, or times in my life, as well as my original dream of being a hospital nursery or NICU RN (that’s why I went to nursing school…that’s covered in another post). That grew into wanting to get a bigger representation of how babies were fed over the many, many decades of bottle-feeding.
The next ‘dream’ bottle was one of the old white Playtex nursers with the pull-over nipple. I’d known many babies who had those, from friend’s siblings, to neighbors, to babies I babysat. I never thought I’d find one, when low and behold, my Salvation Army ‘dealer’ showed me an entire bag of the white ‘shells’, some caps and retaining rings, and a few of the old nipples. Nipples are always the biggest issue in getting a complete bottle, as latex deteriorates over time. First they discolor (not usually a display/collection issue), then they become stiff, harden, and start to crumble… not something I desire in my collection 🙂 I had several complete bottles (minus the insert bags I could find at the grocery store- those hadn’t changed enough over the years to be an issue). I later sold two of them via eBay for over $80 to someone who lived about 100 miles from where I got a bag full of them at a thrift store for 8 bucks. One was also sent to Switzerland.
Once I discovered eBay (in 2004), it was game on ! I found many more Evenflo bottles (different models), along with old Davol, Storck, Hygeia, Curity, Gerber, Nursematic, and the various versions of old Playtex bottles of the old brands of ‘home use’ bottles. I also got some really old hospital nursery bottles from Similac, Enfamil, SMA, Wyeth, and some others I have no clue about, other than some vague assumptions about the general time period they likely came from. A few have the paper labels with the actual dates/expiration dates (1960s).
I’d never had much interest in the bottles from the late 1800s, since getting decent nipples had been nearly impossible. Well, eBay to the rescue again ! Someone in the UK found some ‘new old stock’ in the basement of an old pharmacy- meaning they were brand new nipples that had been forgotten, and saved in perfect or near perfect condition. WOW ! I’ve been able to put together complete bottles with those, and have a history of bottle feeding on my shelves ( which are being rearranged to display them in less of a ‘sardine can’ manner). I still have a few of those left if I find a narrow-neck bottle that would be nice to have, and doesn’t have a nipple. Note the aqua box in the second photo- more on that in a minute !
I’ve discovered some interesting information along the way when researching the time period bottles have been from, and even some of the ways bottles were used to advertise anything from formula to diaper services to insurance. I’ve acquired some odd triangular Evenflo bottles (that the Evenflo company couldn’t pin down the production dates for, though the font is a clue; we agreed that they were likely from the 70s). I’ve also added some more recent bottles that will one day be vintage- and mine will be in perfect condition 🙂
The bottle in the aqua box is called a ‘banana’ bottle. They didn’t have nipples on both ends. Both ends were open, and one would get a pullover nipple, and the other end was covered by the finger of the person feeding the baby (over a latex ‘barrier’) to adjust any flow rate issues. Before nipples, pieces of wool, leather, or even wood would be stuffed in the hole at the feeding end, so the flow rate adjustment would be even more critical. I wonder how many babies ended up choking on those pieces of wool, leather, or wood. 😦 There were also early nipples that were black rubber- evidently they tasted more like present-day car tires, but were an improvement over risking the babies inhaling wood, leather, or wool. Latex was a huge deal in improving feeding safety.
I’ve started getting a bit irritated when I see listings on eBay that call something ‘vintage from the 50s’ that I was still using with pediatric patients in 2003. The Similac (Ross) company used the same basic 4 oz bottle for decades… take off the label, and it’s hard to tell when it’s from- but when someone puts on a nipple from a different bottle that wasn’t on the market until the 90s, and I get a bit huffy. I don’t like the false advertising.
I keep a list in my head of bottles I would still like to get for my collection. Dairies used to give bottles with their names on them to families with new babies , back when milk used to be delivered to the door. I’d love to find one from one of the bigger dairies around here (Muller Pinehurst). I see them on eBay now and then, but for whatever reason, don’t have the money at the time. I’ve sold several bottles over the years, and am now going through my collection to weed things out a bit. I’ve decided I don’t need 6 of any one size/shape/brand. 🙂
I’ve learned how the way the bottle is labeled narrows down when it’s from. Evenflo changed from a vertical block type capital-lettering to a more ‘relaxed’ font with only the ‘E’ being capitalized, being read horizontally sometime in the 70s, and it’s the same font/labeling they use now. The rings and discs have also changed, from black bakelite to opaque black, white, and even brown plastic, to pastel colored plastic, to a translucent white plastic. For my collection, there is no excuse for putting a translucent disc/ring on a vintage Pyrex Evenflo bottle. They just don’t work as a collectible ‘set’. Fortunately, I can still get the same latex nipples to complete Evenflo bottles I find, though I’m not sure I don’t already have the vast majority of their glass and plastic bottles. I have one of their disposable bottles from the 70s… haven’t been all that interested in those, though a mint-in-box set would be nice !
Hospital nursery bottles started the most recent update in the early 2000s. The last overall change came in the 1950s, when they were labeled with raised glass directly on the bottle (no paper labels), with Similac, ’20’ ( the number of calories per ounce), and the measurement readings . With the most recent update, first Enfamil went to 3oz glass bottles, and Ross/Simlac went to 2 oz plastic bottles, then Enfamil also went to 2 oz plastic. Those were the most common brands I’d see when I was working pediatrics (with the occasional ‘float’ to the NICU, with the preemies). Good Start also was in the mix on drugstore shelves, but the big players were (and are) Enfamil and Similac. SMA and Wyeth bottles (when seen now) are always ‘recent’ vintage- those were basically phased out by the other two sometime by the late 1980s to early 1990s.
I keep spare parts from various brands on hand if I find something I didn’t know I was looking for 😀 There is also some collectible value in having the original packaging for nipples and parts, as well as the bottles- even if empty.
I’ve recently found a complete 8-bottle set from one of the last brands I’ve been looking for for years: Sears. It should be ‘in the mail’ any day now, and it’s truly a great ‘find’ for me. I was looking for one bottle, and ended up with a set that includes all but the nipples (Gerber latex nipples are a suitable replacement; not Evenflo). Anyhoo, I’m really looking forward to this latest addition. I’m sure I’ll do more research on one of the baby bottle history sites, and see others I’m interested in- but that’s half of the fun…. the ‘hunt’ !
I’m sure this seems like an odd collection to many people. But I guess it just goes to show the diversity of interests we all have. Some folks have shelves of salt and pepper shakers, teddy bears, inkwells, paperweights, ball caps, fishing lures, and just about anything else you can think of. This collection of mine came about somewhat by accident. I’d just wanted that one black ring/disc Evenflo from when I was a newborn, then the one old white Playtex with the pullover nipple that reminded me about babies I’d known when I was young.
In the end, I’ve gained some information about how babies were fed over the many decades once something other than the breast was available. Back in and before the early years of bottle feeding, maternal death in childbirth was a huge issue and the baby had to get fed somehow, so the bottle industry began and literally saved lives. It’s given me some insight to the struggle and risks associated with newborns and childbirth 100 + years ago that we don’t think much about these days. It’s turned into more than just a bunch of bottles on a plastic shelving unit. It’s taken me back in history, and awakened me to social, medical, and childrearing issues I’d never thought about. Beginning in the late 1800s (when adequate nipples were first being made), more and more families didn’t have to face the tragedy of losing a child by having a safe way to feed their babies.
Edit: As of July 29, 2015, this post has had 866 ‘hits’… most read blog I’ve done.