In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, glass bottles like this one for Sylmar brand olive oil were used multiple times, often until they broke. Because all bottles were hand blown before about 1900, they held considerable value, especially to producers who had to pay for each bottle their product was to fill. Note in a different image at right how labor intensive the process of corking and capping olive oil bottles was, even with a “hand machine.”
Even after mechanical mass production took hold, returnable and reusable bottles were the norm. According to one historian, during the Great Depression many glass bottles made 20 or 30 round trips between producer and market before being discarded. Such bottles were designed for reuse; they simply needed to be washed and re-capped.
Additional content in the Hagley Digital Archive: