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Hawaiian Glass Bottles
Collecting Hawaiian Bottles
By Steve Goodenow

Hawaii is no different than any other state in the Union in that there are glass and ceramic bottles that were manufactured as containers to be used by Hawaii's companies. What is unusual is the fact that bottles and other containers first came to the State when it was a kingdom and possibly long before many of the other 50 states. Most know that Hawaii is the last state to be admitted to the Union in 1959. What many don't realize is that Hawaii was fully operational as a Hawaiian Kingdom, Sovereign Nation, and Territory of the United States well before 1959.

Look at some of Hawaii's firsts. First Public School west of the Rockies was Lahaianaluna on Maui. The first private business club was The Pacific Club founded in 1851. What's interesting about 1851 is the fact that Ulrich Alting, a German merchant, imported the first known Hawaiian embossed soda bottle. Even before, bottles may have been manufactured for the Hawaii market.

Thirsty whalers who wintered in Hawaii were served whiskey from bottles with the abbreviation S.I. for Sandwich Islands. As the Kingdom of Hawaii was acknowledged by business, the initials H.I. for Hawaiian Islands started appearing on bottles. After the Hawaiian Islands became an official territory of the United State in 1900, the abbreviation H.T. or T.H. begin to appear (Hawaiian Territory or Territory of Hawaii). The initials of H.I. and H.T. were used on both Hawaiian Bimals and machine made bottles until the 1920's.

What made Hawaiian bottles somewhat unique and diverse was the geography of Hawaii and its relative island-by-island isolation. Difficulty in transportation from the mainland and within the islands created the need for small businesses to have their own brands thus different bottles.

When drilling discovered water and sugar and pineapple companies became the principal economy of Hawaii, each island had a number of sugar and pineapple companies each with a company store. For a state small in square miles people are shocked when they learn that there were over 38 different soda companies that produced over 270 varieties of bimal (bottles hand blown into a mold) soda bottles. The variety of soda works companies continued when ABM (machine blown bottles) first appeared. By the 1930's, however, a consolidation of bottling companies was taking place. As with the other 49 states, soda companies disappeared or were absorbed by Coca-Cola, Pepsi and others.

Milk bottles followed a similar fate. Again the relative isolation of the islands and difficulties in transportation on individual islands created the necessity of establishing many dairies. On Oahu alone, there were over 400 dairies, many using different embossed and stenciled (painted) bottles. Each Island was the same. While only a few milk bottles are bimals, there are hundreds of different ABM's both embossed and painted that reflect the variety and location of the dairy.

What is not widely understood is the fact that Hawaii had no glass manufacturing capacity and all bottles were shipped from the mainland, Japan or abroad. Some of the bottles were manufactured by Pacific Coast Glass Works and the initials P.C.G.W. appear. Bottles came from other manufactures in California, Indiana, London and New Jersey.

The variety of bottles runs the gamut from torpedo type bottles, Codd's marble bottles, Hutchison types and crowns as well. Colors range from the standard aqua and clear to beautiful citrons, amber and sun turned amethyst. Some think that Hawaii has the most desirable collectible bottles and many of the soda bottles are among the rarest and are highly valued.

Oahu was known as the "Gathering Place." It can be said that the principal old ports of Lahaina, Maui and Honolulu show evidence of the world's bottles. The West discovered Hawaii in 1778. It wouldn't surprise me that someone threw a ceramic bottle or crude glass bottle off that first ship into a harbor (which would have been on Kauai or the Big Island). Divers find incredible bottles from all over the world. My personal collection includes bottles from Asia, Europe and the rest of the United States that somehow made their way to Hawaii.

Likewise Hawaiian bottles made their way to the mainland. While to my knowledge no Hawaiian bottles have been discovered in Astoria Oregon, home to early fur traders, earlier Hawaiians were sent there to assist in the fur trade. Did you know there was an Oyhee county in Idaho? Oyhee is the very old way of spelling Oahu. Early Hawaiians were taken to Idaho, again to assist in the fir trade. Of course there were many travelers to and from Hawaii. The military, transferred employees, etc. may have taken bottles back home. I have attended many bottle shows on the mainland and it is not surprising to find Hawaiian bottles. Remember they were manufactured there and of course many never made it to Hawaii. This is especially true of siphon bottles.

Bottles unique to Hawaii include whiskeys, gins, beers and a variety of medicines. Interesting there are no bitters manufactured for Hawaii. Most likely this was because of the missionary influence that knew booze when they saw it. There are a number of publications that feature Hawaiian bottles. The "bible" of bimals is Hawaiian Bottles of Long Ago by Elliott and Gould. There are publications on milks and ABM bottles (pre-statehood), which have been assembled by local collectors who are members of the local bottle club.

While officially bottle collection took off in the late 1960's and early 1970's, there were probably a few early collectors in the 1950's. We all say we wish we knew then what we know now! I remember taking glass bottles to the stores to get the refunds. While that dates me, I wish had had kept the good ones back. They would be worth a lot more now.

The Hawaii Historical Bottle Collectors Club was founded in 1970 and still has an active membership. They hold monthly meetings and once a year hold an annual bottle show. This show is widely attended by locals and mainlanders. For more information on the Club click here

Those wishing more information on Hawaiian bottles can email me at Info @ HawaiianCollectibles.com. Enjoy your collecting. I've found bottle collectors to be among the world's best people always willing to help educate and share their knowledge. Bottle collecting is just another form of gathering historical evidence. Have fun and Aloha!

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